Well, JJ Abrams has done it again, but not in a good way. Star Trek Beyond is Abrams’ latest foray into the Star Trek Universe he rebooted six years ago with a younger cast assuming the roles made famous in the 1960’s TV series. His cinematic vision was heralded as an artistic explosion, a veritable feast for the eyes of computer generated effects and fantastic alien landscapes all thrown into a blender of non-stop action. This description was understood to be a compliment, which is a mistake. I have considered it to be the franchise’s downfall from the first Star Trek to the sequel Into Darkness culminating in this weekend’s Beyond—an energetic rush into mass destruction on a galactic scale. The title makes no sense whatsoever. They never really establish what “beyond” means in context of the story. Perhaps Abrams is trying to take Star Trek beyond the limits of the original, but only manages to go beyond reason.
The reboot has some high points. Zachary Quinto makes an excellent Spock. His performance calls to mind Leonard Nimoy’s characterization from the original series. Karl Urban shows his acting chops by recreating Dr. McCoy with great accuracy and maybe even more authenticity for the role. Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, on the other hand, always makes me reach to accept him in the role. Shatner made Kirk almost superhuman and nearly infallible. Pine’s Kirk looks like he has no clue what he’s doing and every time he succeeds, it is with more than a little luck. This bothers me.
The story held promise. Three years into the five-year mission charting unexplored space, Kirk and his crew are dealing with the doldrums of boredom and the lack of contact with friends and family. Kirk even questions his decision to join Star Fleet. During a reprovisioning stop at the newest and biggest starbase ever that looks like something out of an Escher painting (one that defies logic and makes no structural sense whatsoever other than to look cool), a damaged ship almost crashes into the base, sending the Enterprise on a rescue mission into a nearby nebula. Dark secrets from generations past await them inside and threaten not only the ship and crew, but the entire Federation as well. A good—if tired—premise that doesn’t quite succeed.
Where this film fails is where the two previous films failed as well: too much bang and not enough buck. Abrams has a signature visual style and it is ever present and in your face throughout the film. He also likes to take viewers on a rollercoaster of non-stop action. If there is any exposition, Abrams treats it like the plague and only subjects his viewers to the smallest amount needed to tell the story. Beyond has some moments. Uhura and Spock’s relationship has issues. Spock gets some disturbing news that makes him question his purpose. Kirk questions his choices. The most notable, though, is the development of Bones’ and Spock’s relationship. The interplay between these two characters was arguably the best aspect of the film. Sadly, there is not enough story to flesh out these subplots to any satisfaction, since Abrams insists of giving the viewer an explosion or crash or chase every two minutes. Many of which made me think “yeah, right. Like THAT would happen.”
With all the action, explosions, and crashes, it is a wonder the crew ever survives. Abrams has had the ship smash into several things and there is never an explosive decompression, a matter-antimatter explosion, a warp core breech…none of the things that Trek lore has assured us would happen in a moment of crisis. Abrams decides to ignore the laws of physics to ensure we get the cool visuals he sees in his mind’s eye. I knew this was what we would be getting when the studio released the first trailer last year. It featured absolutely no story clues at all, offering only the visuals and explosions.
So, to summarize, Star Trek Beyond goes beyond connecting the viewers with the characters. It goes beyond unrelenting action and explosions, it goes beyond the limits of that which is physically possible and ends up going beyond reason. But it is interesting to look at.