Box Office Democracy: Star Trek Beyond
I can clearly remember the moment that guaranteed that I would never be a Star Trek in the same way I am a fan of so many other science fiction properties. I got a very bad cold in summer camp when I was nine years-old and was put in the infirmary, the only place in the camp that had television. I don’t remember if I choose the programming or if someone else did but I watched an entire evening of Deep Space Nine a feverish miserable mess (so feverish that it could have only been one episode as far as I know) and I’ve never quite gotten over that association enough to enjoy the show as an adult. Unlike Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Firefly, Buffy, et al I have no connection to the Star Trek franchise past enjoying a few of their cinematic efforts and enjoying others less. Star Trek Beyond is in the latter camp, a fine sci-fi action movie I guess but one with thinner characters than I’d prefer and action sequences that, while pleasing, seem a bit like nonsense.
Good science fiction either needs to get the audience very invested in the world, the science, and the process or invested in the characters to the point where none of that really matters. Star Trek Beyond fails to do either of those things, I’m not sure where my affection for these characters is supposed to come from besides the fact that they have very famous names and are on Team Earth and the universe feels vry shallow for a decades old property and the science is basically magic. We get scenes where characters I’m not super invested in are confronted with gigantic problems and then solve them by saying a bunch of big words I don’t understand and then they hit some buttons and poof the problem is over. This feels like it describes 90% of the conflict in the film. I’m being unfair to characters like Kirk and Spock who had a lot of time in the previous two films to get some earned affection but there’s a fair amount of Scottie action in here and none of that feels earned at all.
If a reboot is supposed to be a fresh start, to begin again without all the encumbrances of the original series, how far can you get in to the new thing before it’s just as difficult for outsiders as the original? We’re a mere seven years and three films in to the new Star Trek canon but with Star Trek Beyond we might be getting there. There’s very little here for people new even to this small corner of the franchise and some of it even seems to be relying on familiarity with the orginal series. Bones McCoy has been a criminally underused character in the first two entries in this franchise and while I’m glad to see him thrust in to a larger role this time around I can’t imagine his prickly friendship with Spock feeling even the least bit earned if you’ve only seen the 2009 Star Trek and Into Darkness. This no longer feels like a fresh, interesting, new take on Star Trek but more an acknowledgment that the original cast is far too old to do the action movies they want to make with these characters. Unless you never thought this was a fresh interesting take in which case I don’t know what this movie has to offer you at all.
The heartbreaking thing about this movie coming just a bit short is that it tarnishes the stellar reputation of Justin Lin who, prior to this film, was on run of genre-defining action movies with the Fast & Furious films before failing to impress here. I can see him trying to put his style on the film in moments especially in the scenes that prominently feature 20th and 21st century music but it isn’t enough. The moments that feel like him feel out of place amidst the rest of the film and the more traditional stuff often feel hollow and lacking in follow-through, where his frenetic pace may have saved him before here all of Lin’s missteps have a seemingly unlimited amount of time to breathe.
I don’t want do go in to other people’s fandoms and tell them how their beloved things ought to be. While I was a big fan of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot and thought Into Darkness totally acceptable action movie that I enjoyed watching once and have never been tempted to watch again. Star Trek Beyond I found considerably less enjoyable, it feels like uninspired technobabbly science fiction far too often and at rare moments seems to be playing directly to clichés lampooned in Galaxy Quest ones that probably needed to be permanently retired after being exposed so expertly. Maybe this is the Star Trek movie that will please the die-hard fans but I just couldn’t get in to it.