by DICK CHENEY
Star Trek Beyond
dir. Justin Lim
What kind of interest do you have in hearing Idris Elba perform a distinctly racist version of his own voice as a pseudo-alien named Krall as Zoe Saldana, looking like the mom of everyone involved, screams, “You already got what you wanted! Let her go!” I hope the answer is none.
At the beginning of the interminable Star Trek Beyond, Saldana’s character Lieutenant Uhura politely informs her boyfriend Spock (Zachary Quinto) that she no longer feels attracted to him and she would like to part ways. She offers back a necklace he gave to her, but he allows her to keep it because it tracks her location. He will always know where she is.
This is the most entertaining scene in the entire movie.
Shortly thereafter screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg entertain us with the worst fucking cliche in all of Star Trek: the destruction of the Enterprise. Director Justin Lim has Idris Elba’s ships swarm and destroy the larger the vessel, and what feels like it should take only moments lasts a good half hour. Pretty much everyone survives, and the artifact Elba pursues is luckily safe. It easily might have been destroyed, rendering his tactics somewhat questionable at best and jawdroppingly nonsensical at worst.
But I mean you won’t want to be focusing on the plot here, since there really isn’t any. The entire crew is marooned on an alien planet, which would be exciting except there is literally nothing to distinguish this world from any other random place the original Star Trek cast set down upon.
The original Star Trek was always shit and the only reason that these movies even exist for J.J. Abrams to torture us with was the tremendous critical and commercial success of the follow-up television serial, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Patrick Stewart singlehandedly carried the entire cast, but the writing was also very good at times and LeVar Burton wasn’t terrible either.
Star Trek: The Next Generation realizes a key lesson about the vast boredom of space intoned by Kirk at the beginning of Star Trek Beyond: if you don’t have someone to ejaculate inside of, it can get super lonely out there. Kirk is so completely done with space that he applies to become the vice admiral of an orbital installation named Yorktown. I guess if Chris Pine’s career gets bad enough, they can spin that off to series.
Pine’s enthusiasm is usually his strongest selling point, along with his comedic timing. In Star Trek Beyond you can tell that he was ill during some of the shooting, because many of his line readings are completely off and he sounds like he has a frog in his throat. The end result is the most unprofessional final cut of an actor I have seen in awhile.
In order to compensate, most of the attention is thrown to the Enterprise’s engineer, Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg). Pegg makes himself basically the star of this movie the exact same way he did in the last horrid Mission: Impossible jaunt. In that movie he at least had lots of great lines and a decent foil in the playful wiles of tiny Tom Cruise, but here his partner in crime is a bit more serious: an alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).
The thing Star Trek Beyond misses the most is any sense of wonder at all. Even encountering this strange woman on an alien planet who lives in the desiccated shell of a Starfleet ship should be a moment of astonishing vitality and novelty. Instead two seconds later Montgomery Scott is being called a cute nickname by the alien and they are bickering like old friends. In every conceivable way it can, Star Trek Beyond skips the B that comes between A and C.
The rest of the cast is given very little. The supposedly southern accent of Bones (Karl Urban) waves completely from scene-to-scene, and he is paired with Spock for most of the film for in-depth conversations about serious and important topics like fear of death and their respective futures in Starfleet. Elba’s Krall is not particularly calculating or fearsome villain, and the reveal of his true identity later on both repeats notes from the previous film and makes you wonder why they waited that long.
At the box office, early returns on Star Trek Beyond were that it was down fourteen percent from the previous film. That isn’t so bad, but the previous movie really struggled with its tone as well and it had the benefit of a far better villain and story. At least with Star Wars, Abrams can just remake The Empire Strikes Back like he did A New Hope and at least the story itself won’t be absolutely terrible. He seems to have no idea what to do with these characters; or maybe he has just realized they don’t have very much potential anyway.
The real answer is war. Star Trek was at its best when it turned space diplomacy into a canvas for the intersections of different ethics and views. A larger, powerful alien enemy is likely to be the focus of the next film, and there is a way to completely revamp this story into something compelling for a modern audience. First contact always has tremendous potential to make us reimagine our own ideas about what meeting other intelligent species in the universe would be like.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.