Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Star Trek Beyond

Title: Star Trek Beyond

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 

Raphael: Whoa, whoa! A fat, sarcastic, Star Trek fan! You must be a devil with the ladies.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two and a half bottles of Saurian brandy out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Maybe this "boldly go" philosophy wasn't such a great idea after all.

Tagline: "From director Justin Lin and producer J.J. Abrams."

Better Tagline: "That's a nice ship. Be a shame if something happened to it."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: In the third year of his current five-year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) of the USS Enterprise is having something of an existential crisis as another birthday approaches and he comes to grips with his late father’s legacy. Unfortunately, he’s barely had enough time to bend an elbow with Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) in commiseration when the lone survivor of a crashed ship convinces the Enterprise to come to their aid. Naturally, the situation isn’t what it seems, and Kirk and company are forced to confront a new enemy with decidedly undiplomatic plans for the Federation.

"Critical" Analysis: You have to credit J.J. Abrams and the crew behind the rebooted Star Trek series – of which Beyond is the third installment – for sticking to their guns. They copied the action-heavy template of the most successful films in the series to date (Wrath of Khan and First Contact) and have been running with it ever since, even upping the ante by choosing Justin Lin, veteran of four Fast/Furious movies, to helm it.

The result has been increasing lip service to the Enterprise’s original purpose as a [*cough*]vehicle for research and exploration. And even though Beyond opens with Kirk attempting to broker a peace between two alien races, the primary plot catalyst is a rescue mission. The mission, needless to say, goes off the nacelles in short order.

Through all this, Kirk and Spock are dealing with their own personal crises. The former is coming to grips with the fact he’s outlived his father, while the latter has received some distressing news from, well…not “home,” since Vulcan bit the big one in the first movie. Let’s just say “back east.” The growing trust and respect between the two men bookends the film, even though they spend hardly any time onscreen together.

Instead, screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung focus more on the Odd Couple friendship between Spock and McCoy.  Urban's note-perfect take on Bones remains the best part of the movie, with Sofia Boutella's Jaylah a close second. She's a kickass if not entirely original character, and she’s also, so far, the first major female character in the series we don’t gratuitously see in her underwear. Progress! Otherwise, the main cast marks time (though every scene with Anton Yelchin was an expected gut punch), and Idris Elba is largely indistinguishable under CGI and choking through an alien accent.

The Trek movies have become more repetitive with every iteration. The technological gibberish used to be charming in its way, a throwback to the days of the old crew “Scotty-rigging” something in the Jefferies Tube. In Beyond, as we suspect will be the case with every Trek movie from here on out, every solution to a mechanical conundrum essentially amounts to “a wizard did it.”

The wizard is probably Scotty’s sidekick, Keenser (Deep Roy), which would explain how the Enterprise’s entire engineering division is run by two people. 

The Star Trek movies have become disheartening on another level as well; namely, the dawning realization that our future really isn’t going to look like that. There’s a scene in Beyond where the Enterprise docks at the massive starbase Yorktown for a little R&R. The Yorktown sits on the edge of Federation space, and is home to several million people, and it represents a pinnacle (or Advancement in Civ II) we’re sadly never going to reach.

Almost half the people in this country don’t believe in evolution, and would rather cut taxes to billionaires than properly fund NASA. Gene Roddenberry’s original conception of his “Wagon Train to the stars” show was, admittedly, optimistic in a world gripped by the Cold War. But if anything, it seems like human beings are even more insular and hateful than they were in the 1960s.

More to the point, the returns have diminished with each successive entry in this series, and while Star Trek Beyond keeps the action humming and shows flashes of the franchise's old self, the spiritual warp core has been breached, and it’ll take more than rerouting the impulse drives (or whatever) to fix it.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar