By Susan JAMES
Full disclosure: I’m a Trekkie. I’ve been a Trekkie since 1966 when the star ship Enterprise warped its way into a brave new universe with a crew that embodied diversity before diversity became a thing. So it is with regret that I say to other Trekkies and almost- Trekkies out there that the new “Star Trek Beyond,” directed by Justin Lin, is disappointing. It lacks the freshness and brio of J. J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot or the Shakespearian gravitas of 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
The players are the same and it’s great to see them again on the flight deck in those retro Star Trek uniforms. New powerful women are introduced; Zoe Saldana’s Uhura kicks butt and stares down Spock – not an easy feat. The problem is the script, whose principal writer is Simon Pegg, Engineer Scott, himself. Despite the brilliant backdrop of flaming nebulas and exploding stars (thanks Hubble telescope), the story is another take on a traditional cowboys and Indians saga. The hostiles have captured the extended pioneer family and the cowboys must rescue them. Not a lot of suspense as to the outcome.
Simon Pegg is typically known for small idiosyncratic comedies where a pair of doofuses fight zombies or small town conspiracies. This skill set doesn’t translate well to large action movies. In a 1967 episode of the original TV show called “This Side of Paradise,” William Shatner’s Kirk memorably remarks that, “Perhaps man wasn’t meant for paradise. Maybe he was meant to claw, to scratch all the way.” Taking inspiration perhaps from this idea and marrying it to a metaphor for modern violence, the movie focuses on the villain du jour, Krall, an underutilized Idris Elba. Krall has little nuance. He’s bad. He has a doomsday weapon. He wants to destroy a large swath of mankind because the Federation has brought peace and prosperity across the galaxy. This is a bad thing because, according to Krall and to quote the early Kirk, man needs violence and war to grow. Uhura gives the skeptical villain a “we’re stronger together, unity from diversity” speech but he just isn’t having it. Mankind must be decimated in order to be saved. Cue bioterrorism.
The script seems as lost as Krall and from a scattershot beginning, where Kirk questions his motives for captaining the Enterprise, quickly reaches a moment when the team is broken into two-person units. On an alien planet, Spock finds himself isolated with McCoy (the usual shtick occurs). Kirk finds himself alone with Chekov and Uhura is partnered with Sulu. The rest of the film revolves around getting the band back together and getting it off the planet – oh and of course saving mankind from the violence and war Krall wants to inflict on it.
This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have moments of suspense, charm and humor. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is always on point and an enduring tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s earlier interpretation. Chris Pine’s Kirk roaring around the villain’s camp on an ancient motorcycle works well and Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is a great addition to the Star Trek team. But there are times when the film veers into farce, a SNL version of itself and that is never good.
At the end of the day, however, full disclosure, I’m still a Trekkie and I look forward to Star Treks 4, 5 and Infinity with impatience.
See you at the movies!