Thursday, August 25, 2016

Captain's Slog: Stardate Summer 2016

Year: 2016
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban 
Run Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned. I have never seen a single episode of any Star Trek series. Hardcore sci-fi fandom is a little above my pay grade. However, I have seen J. J. Abrams’ 2009 lens flare expo Star Trek, so I feel perfectly capable of reviewing Star Trek Beyond, the reason I’ve gathered you here today. However, I’m not certain Star Trek Beyond is capable of being reviewed, because it’s the most Movie movie I’ve ever encountered.

It might as well be called Captain Whiteguy and the MacGuffin Adventure.

Directed by Justin Lin of the Fast and/or Furious franchise, for the first time in this new continuity the screen is actually visible, but you kind of wish it wasn’t. Or at least, you don’t need it to be, because every beat is exactly as predictable and nonsensical as every other sci-fi/fantasy adventure in the past 40 years. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is getting weary of space travel, probably because he still doesn’t have a  love interest, and this film is all about slam-jammin’ forced romances into every nook and cranny. 

He is considering stepping down and letting Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) take the lead of his crew: sassy doctor Bones (Karl Urban), visibly bored Spock love interest Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), outrageously Scottish engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote this film), totally organically gay pilot Sulu (John Cho), and I’m-not-actually-sure-what-he-does Chekov (Anton Yelchin, may he rest in peace). But before Kirk calls it quits, he’ll go on One Last Mission.

Guess how that goes. The USS Enterprise is dealt a devastating blow by the forces of Krall (Idris Elba) who desperately seeks the MacGuffin they have on the ship for no good reason. They crash land on an uncharted planet and must survive the wilderness, relocate the rest of their team, and stop Krall from wreaking wicked, MacGuffiny havoc on a nearby federation base, which the movie stops dead for five minutes to show us the majesty of, even though it looks almost exactly like an M.C. Escher version of that city from the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Zoe Saldana was probably having flashbacks.

The Star Trek franchise is finally free of its lens flare prison. Praise Roddenberry! But nature abhors a vacuum, and so does Hollywood. So they’ve replaced J. J. Abrams’ shiny crutch with a truly shocking profusion of camera spins. The frame rotates this way and that like the DP used a Lazy Susan instead of a tripod, even using spinning shots as reactions to other spinning shots. It’s like being strapped to a windmill and it’s massively unpleasant.

A frustrating aesthetic is a bad starting point when your movie is this numbingly generic, because once you break through that crust there’s nothing really worth digesting on the inside. It feels like a story written with a randomized cliché generator (which might be thanks to the dozen or so studios that collaborated on this film), mixing personal favorites like “they’ve been watching us this whole time,” the convenient injury that’s only debilitating when the plot needs drama, and the Big Evil Thing in the Sky over a City, mixed with some Abrams Star Trek standbys like people having long conversations while their ship is being actively destroyed, and ludicrous technobabble monologues split between a dozen people to keep things snappy.

It’s the “celebrity PSA” method of screenwriting.

Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond opens on one of its strongest sequence, an adventure-of-the-week scenario that depicts Captain Kirk doing his best Jason Bateman impression in a silly popcorn movie diplomatic mission. From here, you would assume that the movie will be full of frothy summer fun, but it quickly devolves once more into dour, self-serious didacticism. That unabashed goofiness returns in spurts, especially in the interplay between Spock and Bones (the only time Quinto is given anything to do other than being the film’s conduit for mourning Leonard Nimoy), but for the most part Beyond is just one more plodding downer in a summer heavy with them.

It finally loosens up for a pair of decent action sequences in the preamble to the finale, and the heavy-handed climax does do some fun (if geographically vexing) things with antigravity, but it’s too little too late for a film that already had a slippery grasp on merely being middling

It’s a thoroughly watchable CGI-laden blockbuster for the majority of its runtime, especially thanks to a charming new character played by Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella, but when Star Trek Beyond is bad, it’s atrocious. The dialogue is so wooden I’m surprised the actors’ mouths didn’t get splinters, and certain scenes are so overloaded with crashing, screeching sound effects that the words are plumb inaudible. But when you’re watching the crew tear through a bundle of half-assed video game levels, I suppose the script isn’t all that necessary.

Star Trek beyond may have shucked off the visually despicable deficiencies of the tyrant J. J. Abrams, but the franchise is left a shallow husk of itself. I suppose it’s too late to warn you away, but man what a miserable move year this is shaping up to be.

TL;DR: Star Trek Beyond is a hideously generic, mildly diverting blockbuster.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 894
Reviews In This Series
Star Trek (Abrams, 2009)
Star Trek Beyond (Lin, 2016)


  1. Right on, brother.

    And it isn't a very good year, is it? I'm trying to figure out why it seems better than 2015, when the best movie of 2016 so far (either Swiss Army Man--or BVS, ha!) is trivially less good than the second best of last year (Fury Road).

    Maybe it's that there were fewer outright disasters that I wound up grinding through in theaters? The Lobster was awful freaking bad, but at least there wasn't that one-two punch of Fantastic Four and Terminator: Genisys. (God knows what I'd have done if I saw SPECTRE in theaters. Vomited from the boredom?)

    Or maybe it's that the first half of the year was pretty good in providing a solid backing of 9/10s and 8/10s, when 2015 was parsiminous in even handing those out.

    2013, man. Now, that was a good year. Also 2006 and 1991. And most of the years that start with a "198."

    1. While I'm grievously offended that you would use MY blog to support your cockamamie theories that Batman v Superman is even in the same stratosphere as Mad Max: Fury Road, I shall deign to respond.

      And honestly, I don't feel the same way. 2015 at least had an interesting film landscape, even if the movies were bad. Here, even though there's just as many sequels and remakes and what have you, it just feels so pointless. I'd rather have Pitch Perfect 2 over TMNT 2 any day.

  2. I completely agree with you Brennan that Star Trek Beyond is an average slog. It moved so fast for me that I was completely bored and utterly uninvested in everything. As for the summer of 2016, it sucks. Summer of 2015 wasn't very good, but the greatness of Mad Max Fury Road and Mission Impossible 5 made it memorable alone. The best summer action movie I can think of from this year is The Nice Guys, and it's a small scaled buddy comedy. As for big movies, Cap Civil War is the next best bet, but even I didn't love that movie. Almost every blockbuster has been a joke, from the crappiness of X-Men Apocalypse, to the accidental hilarity of Independence Day 2, to the inept Jason Bourne, to even the overstuffed mess that was Suicide Squad, every summer film has let its respective franchise and its fans down.