Star Trek Beyond is the latest instalment of the revamped sci fi series, presumably because this is the point where it’s gone beyond a joke. However, anyone wondering why the names of the new Star Trek films bear no relation to their content will be pleased to find an explanation here. The reason they all have generic, meaningless titles is because they’re generic, meaningless films. The plots are all the same: villain has super-duper-ultimate weapon and the Star Trek crew have to stop them from using it. But here, even more so than with JJ Abrams’ two films, the last vestiges of the original series are done away with, and what is left is Mission Impossible in space.
I’ll get all my Trekkie bugbears out the way now.
While Leonard Nimoy gave his first autobiography the provocative-but-ironic title of I Am Not Spock, this would be an accurate title for the memoirs of Zachary Quinto, whose character no longer bears any resemblance to his much-loved namesake, aside from his pointy ears and pudding basin haircut. This ‘Spock’, let’s call him Mike, screams in pain, declares that the crew need to ‘have hope in the impossible’ (?), cries about things and goes on irrational missions of bravado based on his personal attachment to particular individuals. The genius of Spock was making us like, empathise with and read emotions into someone who displayed few human characteristics, but this film’s writers (including Simon Pegg, who should lose his nerd license) clearly have no clue how to do this, and without Nimoy’s influence the character has deteriorated beyond recognition.
The plot involves the crew flying unprepared into a nebula with no communications based on the testimony of one alien who claims her crew need to be rescued. If they’d only watched old Star Trek they might have known this would be a mistake. But it’s apparent that no-one involved has ever watched the original series.
It turns out that generic villain #754 (Idris Elba) has lured the crew to a planet to obtain generic ultimate weapon #3928, which they have for some reason, and which he takes from them after threatening Sulu (John Cho). The crew then have to get the weapon back by fighting their way from A to B to meet objective C and blow everything up. It pays lipservice to Trek values in the opening, where Kirk is trying to solve an interplanetary dispute, they dock on a utopian space station/colony, and Sulu is revealed to be the first gay character in Trek history – but after the first ten minutes it turns into Guardians of the Galaxy, complete with pop music soundtrack.
Even the worst of the original Trek films (The Final Frontier, Generations, Insurrection), with the possible exception of migraine-inducing action mess Nemesis, had a distinct character and there was some nod to a sci-fi concept or moral dilemma. In Beyond, the phasers have one setting: kill.
But Trekkie grievances aside, it’s actually a pretty good action film. The characters bounce off each other well – with Chris Pine and Karl Urban in particular having matured into their respective roles as Kirk and Bones, and successfully invoking the originals. Anton Yelchin gives a fine last performance as Chekov, even if he is disappointingly under-used.
The effects are second-to-none with a visual quality to rival the best in recent sci-fi even if the production design remains fairly generic. There are tense moments and exciting scenes, even if it’s hard to feel anything real beneath the constant explosions, shouting and mind-numbing pointlessness of the plot. It’s big, loud popcorn entertainment, which is what you’d expect from Fast and Furious director Justin Lin. And that might turn out to be fitting preparation, since he’s going to make Star Trek fans furious. Fast.