RECAP: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Justin Lin

Beyond what? Beyond the galaxy? Beyond the coherence of normal storytelling? Beyond Chris Pine’s hair part?

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The crew of the USS Enterprise fly into uncharted space to aid a distressed team of scientists when they are attacked by a terrible new enemy. 

Hero (4/10)

The crew of the Enterprise returns to boldly go…yada yada yada. Star Trek Beyond is less interested in its crew this time around.

Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has a birthday coming up, though only doctor Bones (Karl Urban) knows it. He’s older than his father ever was, and that’s weighing on him. The mission, 966 days in, is beginning to feel “episodic.” That’s a joke, y’all.

Kirk and Chekov, the late Anton Yelchin
Kirk and Chekov, the late Anton Yelchin

Spock (Zachary Quinto) struggles with the Vulcan legacy. Remember, his home planet was destroyed in an earlier, say it with me, Kirk: episode. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) dumps him, possibly because he said he wanted to further the Vulcan line. Possibly because of that.

Kirk and Spock are both considering leaving the Enterprise, but they aren’t ready to tell each other. Often Kirk says, “What would I do without you?” and similar questions. Kirk applied for a vice admiralty and Spock seeks to further the legacy of his future self. (See the first movie again.)

The remainder of the crew gets so little screen time you might forget they were there at all. Sulu (John Cho) meets his husband and daughter in Yorktown, an advanced star base near the fringes of known space. Uhura has two or three scenes.

Scotty (Simon Pegg) is around to spit out engineering lines and Bones’s one-liners continue to fall flat. The most tragic character is clearly Chekov, because Anton Yelchin died a few weeks before the film’s release. The movie is dedicated for him.

Star Trek Beyond is crammed with action scenes that do little to advance these characters. This is the third installment of the reboot franchise, making a lack of development excusable, but not ideal.

Villain (5/10)

Idris Elba dons copious makeup and prosthetics to play Krall, a gruff nonhuman seeking to destroy the Federation and/or enslave its citizens, should any survive. If none do, no biggie.

Except Krall’s not a nonhuman at all. He’s human! Star Trek Beyond‘s big reveal is that Krall was once a starship captain who crashed on an unknown planet.

Balthazar Edison, as he was then known, went crazy waiting for the Federation to rescue him. It didn’t. Edison also found a life-extending technology on this stony planet. For centuries he used the technology to extend his life and metamorphose into Krall, the ridge-headed entity eager to kill Kirk and the Federation.

Krall and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day. Actually this was a pretty good day for Krall, he just always looks like that.
Krall and the No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day. Actually this was a pretty good day for Krall, he just always looks like that.

Elba, a terrific actor, channels only rage as Krall. His attack on the Enterprise is savage. His drone ships strike and scythe the Enterprise with ruthless efficiency, sawing away its engines in seconds.

Krall roams the ship searching for a weapon artifact Kirk tried to give away in the opening scene. Krall does not find this item, but finds plenty of young bodies to suck life energy from.

Krall has some new language to communicate with his soldiers, but he hasn’t forgotten English, though he struggles to speak it.

Krall’s hatred of the Federation began before he crashed his ship on the unknown planet. Once a soldier in the pre-Federation days, Edison (as Krall was known then, remember) lost his soldiering duties to become the captain of a peacemaking ship, the USS Franklin. “The Federation has taught you that conflict should not exist,” he says to Sulu.

The need to fight never left Krall. “Without struggle,” he says, “you will never know who you are.” For Krall the struggle is real.

So he’s going to wipe out the Federation to prove the Federation pointless? Krall ignores his rage in his justification. It’s a major character flaw not explored enough.

In the end, Krall cannot stop himself from genocide. As he floats in Yorktown’s gravitational nexus, he sees his reflection in a shard of glass. He seems to contemplate his new/old self, having reverted to his more human appearance.

Has he found redemption in failure? No, he grabs that piece of glass and slices at Kirk. The Abronath envelops him and he’s blown out the airlock.

Action/Effects (6/10)

The Enterprise boldly goes beyond charted space. The ship is sent to investigate a distressed scientific research group beyond a treacherous asteroid field.

The ship passes the ‘roids with little trouble to arrive near an uninhabited planet capable of supporting life called Altamid. As Kirk said before, “There is no such thing as the unknown.”

And here is a known entity–some large cloaked ship jamming Enterprise transmissions. Kirk orders shields up and a red alert. The shimmering ship dead ahead reveals its nature. Thousands of small drones disengage from the primary formation to begin an attack on the Enterprise.

The drones easily penetrate the shields, treating them as if there are no shields. The drones swirl through and around the ship like thousands of speeding, stinging insects, smashing through the warp drive and the two main engines. In seconds the ships have ripped the engines away.

Krall's drone ships poking out the underside of the Enterprise.
Krall’s drone ships poking out the underside of the Enterprise.

Many start to crash into the hull as the Enterprise crew takes positions with hand weapons. Krall is on his command ship orchestrating the attack. The small ships open their front like claws and eject infantry.

One of the first to breach the ship is Manas, Krall’s top lieutenant. He avoids Federation fire and blasts six crew members with one shot from his rifle.

Now it’s Krall’s turn. The camera shows the ship’s point of view as Krall dive bombs the Enterprise. He quickly finds the device he needs stored in the Enterprise’s vaults.

Bones and Spock are sneaking about the ship searching for survivors. Armed only with hand phasers, they shoot at Krall’s troops and hit a few. Kirk has also left the bridge, giving Sulu control. Bones discovers a man with his face desiccated in the way that people are normally desiccated.

There’s problems all across the Enterprise. Structural integrity is at 18%, and you wonder what’s still working. Krall orders the swarm ships to cut the Enterprise’s throat. They rip away the bottommost section of the ship. Hundreds of crew members fly into space. Spock and Bones, riding an elevator, are shot into space. Kirk orders everyone to abandon ship.

Breaking 'em out of jail.
Breaking ’em out of jail.

But first he must separate the disk. I’m not sure why, but it must be done. Kirk makes his way to a special room where this will be done. Krall goes there, too. He’s after the artifact, which he’s lost during the attack.

Krall is tremendously powerful, tossing Kirk about like a petulant dog. Uhura, from the bridge, realizes what Kirk’s doing and goes to help him. With Krall distracted, she’s able to detach the central part of the Enterprise from the disk. Kirk remains on the disk.

Escape pods pop from the ship. Kirk is last to go, and we watch the Enterprise crash on the planet from Kirk’s pod, the despair evident in his face’s reflection.

Well, this was one of several action scenes in Star Trek Beyond. Too many. Justin Lin’s seeming compulsion to go go go tamps down the great characters and ideas that made Star Trek such a hit.

Later, Kirk and Chekov storm the disk and are in a gunfight. There’s a jailbreak scene. We probably didn’t need either of these. The constant motion and noise tempered their effectiveness.

The action scenes might leave much to be desired, but the effects are great. As the Enterprise arcs through space at warp speed, the space-time coils in the ship’s wake. Everything going on in Yorktown was fun and beautiful to look at. Too bad it was barely in the movie.

Sidekicks (2/8)

The chief sidekick in Star Trek Beyond is a new character. Marooned on the Altamid, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is much like the Enterprise crew. She’s been there years ahead of them.

Taylah first shows up in the forest, after she’s tracked Scotty to one of the crashed escape pods. Scotty’s found himself challenged by three forest toughs, all snarling teeth and spiky faced.

Jaylah rolls up with only her staff and her person, until she whips out a hologram machine, and suddenly she’s three Jaylahs, each capable of fighting off the bad guys.

Jaylah rocking is in the captain's chair
Jaylah rocking it in the captain’s chair

 

Jaylah uses trickery and staff skills to rescue Scotty. They form a deal: she will help him find his friends if he helps fix her spaceship.

Turns out that ship is the disappeared USS Franklin, a ship missing from Federation logs for more than a century. Jaylah has rigged it with cloaking cameras atop its cliff perch.

She’s also rigged booby traps around the ship, traps that Kirk and Chekov will hit later. Jaylah has piddled with the ship since she escaped Krall’s prison camp. She’s done well, but lacks the advance knowledge only a Federation engineer can provide.

That’s Scotty for you. Jaylah plays Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, early American hip hop, to help pass the time. She likes the beats and the shouting, which is the whitest description of hip hop I can imagine, and Jaylah is as white as people could be.

Everything’s going fine for Jaylah until Kirk shows up and forms a plan to rescue his crew. Scotty immediately breaks his deal with her. She’s upset because they want to return to Krall’s prison, the place where her father gave his life to allow his daughter to escape.

Jaylah is a character with much tenacity and a clear purpose. Unfortunately she’s smothered by Kirk’s wants. Scotty literally says to her, “We just need you to be brave.” I don’t know where this infantilizing came from, but I didn’t welcome it.

Her fight skills came in handy for what exactly? She fought Krall’s No. 2, but just to fight him. After she leaves the planet, she follows Scotty around as he does hard work of making the ship fly and helping Kirk navigate Federation ships and bases.

A strong character to start with, Jaylah gets squished by the more familiar Enterprise characters.

Henchmen (0/8)

Krall is a powerful enemy. When he sucks the life force from Enterprise crew, that’s a scary damn scene. He has others helping him, notably a lieutenant named Manas with a ridged face that resembles their base planet’s landscape. Krall also has thousands of masked soldiers to storm the Enterprise and Yorktown base.

Maybe I missed it, but where did all those soldiers come from? Edison, in his departure interview as captain of the wrecked USS Franklin, states that the people of the planet “left behind” the life extending technology. In short, there were no people.

Who are these henchmen?
Who are these henchmen?

Krall commands many soldiers, but none ever take off their masks. They could be robots, if robots were part of the Star Trek universe. Who are they, and where did they come from? Jaylah informs us that Krall has enslaved/murdered countless ship crews like hers and the Enterprise’s; might these soldiers be brainwashed survivors of those captured craft?

Whoever they are, we don’t have to care about them. Only the lieutenant guy gets face time, literally, because the other troops don’t have faces. That guy gets to fight Jaylah. He does it out of loyalty to Krall, eager to prove his worth and to let Krall lead the attack on Yorktown. His fighting skills? Whatever. His characterization? Nonexistent?

Stunts (3/6)

Star Trek Beyond offers one scene of hand-to-hand combat. Jaylah versus Manas. Jaylah’s been sniping at Krall’s base until Manas attacks her. He kicks her rifle away and they fight. They don’t fight well. The camera quickly encircles them as they battle inside the mushroom-like yellow rooms Krall uses to kill people with Abronath weapon that he just got.

These aliens possess great martial art skill. They are happy to swing legs at each other and flip around without doing much damage. Too much flash and not enough striking.

Jaylah or her hologram rocking out
Jaylah or her hologram rocking out

And then there’s Kirk riding on a motorcycle. Yeesh. I didn’t need that. Kirk rides for a long time, a distraction to allow Bones and Spock to rescue the Enterprise’s prisoners. And Kirk uses Jaylah’s holographic replicator device, giving us a dozen bike-riding Kirk’s.

The USS Franklin had an antique motorcycle onboard. At least 300 years old, the bike still worked without trouble. Given the noise of the engine, it must have run on good ol’ unleaded gasoline. Gasoline surely deteriorates, not to mention the difficulty of finding such a fuel at that point in time. (Imagine trying to find whale oil in the 21st century.) However, if anyone could get an outdated transportation device to work, a starship captain would be the one.

Climax (2/6)

As the skeleton crew of the USS Franklin watch Krall’s drones stream off planet toward Yorktown, Kirk orders the old ship to launch. To leave the atmosphere, the ship will have to fall from its SUPER convenient perch atop a high cliff, reach terminal velocity, and blast into space. The ship hasn’t worked in centuries, so, good luck with that.

Sulu, with full command of the ship’s navigation, waits as the Franklin careens toward a fast-approaching rocky outcrop called the ground. The camera cuts to show a forest and a ravine. The ship falls into said ravine before bolting out of it. And we’re off.

Jaylah is the one most effected by this. She has waited years to achieve one goal: leave the planet, and she did. Had she not found Scotty in the forest, none of this would have occurred, making her the most important character in Beyond.

Near Yorktown, Krall’s swarm ships have burst from the asteroid belt and stream toward the star base. Numbers are hard to estimate at these sizes, but I’d say tens of thousands of ships are under Krall’s command.

But one isn’t. Kirk sends Bones and Spock to beam aboard a swarm ship. As soon as they do, Bones ejects the two troops manning the thing. The doctor pilots the craft, caroming into other drones, while Spock deciphers the language guiding the drones.

Turns out the best way to disrupt the drones is with radio, with something loud and distracting. Like an aged-out hippie uncle, Scotty smiles at the thought. He’s got just the loud and distracting noises for Krall.

Cue Beastie Boys. Back in the original Star Trek reboot, a young James Kirk drives across Iowa in convertible, blasting “Sabotage” by the Brooklyn trio, a decidedly old oldie. Present day Kirk smiles at the song choice.

The Franklin speeds through scores of drones, the Beastie Boys laying waste to them. Countless craft explode. The drones form a cresting wave, and the Franklin flies through them like a surfer through a wave’s barrel. Explosions everywhere. The physics of this, I can’t even, so I won’t. Let’s just say that it seems out there.

The Franklin transmits the frequency to Yorktown, which bombards the drones with the radio waves. All the rest crash or explode. All but three. It was that easy to annihilate thousands of enemy fighter drones.

Krall, you can guess, is on one of those three enemy ships to enter Yorktown. The Franklin enters as well. All the craft speed toward Yorktown’s center. The Franklin interrupts the enemies by bursting through a large water feature. They all crash.

Krall, alive and looking much like his former self, has the Abronath and stumbles through the city. Uhura takes the time to watch a video of the old Franklin crew. Hey, is that the captain speaking about pushing the frontier? Didn’t Krall say that? Yes to both.

The action screeches to a halt to deliver some information about Krall. Turns out the creature was formerly known as Balthazar Edison, captain of the…USS Franklin! The ship crashed on the planet from where the Abronath originated, and Edison/Krall spent ensuing centuries searching for its two pieces, only to have Kirk find it first.

The weapon will allow Krall to destroy the Federation, the weak Federation that didn’t rescue him all those years ago, the Federation that asked him “to break bread with the enemy.”

Krall about to get got.
Krall about to get got.

He’s a few minutes from realizing vengeance. Krall enters the glass chamber that is Yorktown’s gravitational nexus. From there he can activate the Abronath with maximal effectiveness.

Kirk is on his way as well. They fight in zero gravity. Kirk and Krall/Edison exchange blows as they drive each other into the glass wall. Kirk smashes Edison through a glass wall, leaving them to fall toward the towers stretching toward them in all directions. Forget flat Earth geography. In Yorktown, all points are on a curve. From the center of the sphere, all points are outward or down.

Shoddy glasswork allows the men to float outside the gravitational nexus. Chips arc from the center toward a skyscraper. Atop a tower they argue. Kirk tells Edison that he lost, that he should give up. Give up like Kirk? “At least I know what I am! I am a soldier.”

Edison leaps into a slipstream to return to the nexus. Kirk can’t figure this out, so he has to call Scotty to hear it from him. Back in the nexus, Edison activates the Abronath and tosses it into the center. The black cloud swirls larger and larger. “You can’t stop it,” Edison says after Kirk beats his guts. “Better to die saving lives than to live taking them,” Kirk says.

Scotty delivers a wordy explanation for Kirk’s saving of the star base: flick four levers to blow the weapon into space and get out before he’s sucked in too. Bones says, “Damn it, Jim,” because that’s his thing.

A bloody Edison slips into the center. He sees his reflection, more human than Krall-like, in a shard of glass floating past him. He takes that shard and attacks Kirk, but the captain kicks him into the Abronath’s expanding black cloud. He’s blown toward and through the exhaust hatch as Kirk flicks the last lever.

Kirk is sucked toward the hatch, but Bones flies his craft to intercept. Kirk grabs the exterior, and Spock reaches out to grab his captain.

In space, Edison watches Yorktown survive with cold eyes. The Abronath eats Edison leaving that eye for last. Only his Federation insignia survives. So does Yorktown.

Jokes (2/4)

Star Trek Beyond does a fine job of making us laugh. The funniest character is meant to be Bones. Meant to be. Karl Urban is a fine actor, but he ain’t funny.

Half of Bones’s lines are one-liners that Urban delivers with mouth grimly pressed, as if spitting out the lines is an affront to his person. Perhaps a better comic actor would have sold Bones as a funny character.

Like Simon Pegg. He’s funny. He should have been Bones. Instead, Pegg wrote himself into the role of Scotty, Scot being his last name (a fact I learned watching this movie).

In Beyond Scotty gets to speak all the garbled science/engineering lines. Here is an example: “It’s got to be a wormhole displacement. She’s missing a few driver coils and the EPS conduits are fried.” Many of Pegg’s lines are rapid-fire. He keeps calling Jaylah “Lassie” for some reason. I pinched my nose throughout his appearances on screen.

Beyond is less heartwarming than the previous two Pine-led entries. The Urban-Pegg exchange of humorous lines explains much of the change.

Setting (3/4)

Star Trek shines when it boldly goes. The shiny diamond of Beyond is without doubt the advanced star base of Yorktown.

The Enterprise enters the base early in the film for a restock. A good 30 seconds pass of filming the glass-encased world. It’s spectacular. The giant orb is filled with curving bands of cityscape. Skyscrapers and grass squares cover these bands that twist around each other like a bunch of Mobius strips.

The makers of Star Trek Beyond knew that Yorktown was the star of its movie. Shame they weren’t able to utilize the urban base more. Each strip of “land” seems a block or two wide and stretches above and below others. Standing on the ground, a redshirt could look up at the ground above, look left and see a skyscraper pointing right at them.

Yorktown
Yorktown

I can’t imagine a much more disorienting environment or a more interesting city. Many folk have described Manhattan’s road and tower landscape as canyonesque. Yorktown throws out grounded canyons for floating and twisting ones.

The other planet is Krall’s adoptive home of Altamid. It’s got real canyons, folks. Spock and Bones crash in a blasted yellow landscape of ribbed rocks that resemble whale skeletons. A dash of red leads them to the birthplace of the Abronath.

Krall’s base resembles huge mushrooms blooming in a cold world. A former mining colony, Krall has repurposed the chasms beneath the planet to imprison those who crash on it. It’s not guarded well, because Sulu and Uhura escape immediately.

Why didn’t Krall make a base in the forested mountains? They were beautiful! Stately pines surrounding boulders on soft inclines filter the harsh sun. The Franklin crashed there, and stayed there. The ship was smarter than the captain.

Commentary (0/2)

Star Trek Beyond makes an interesting case against surveillance. Krall has spent his centuries in terrestrial purgatory searching the Federation’s infoscape for clues to the whereabouts of the Abronath. He listens to everything the Federation puts out.

Total surveillance. A superpower with total surveillance seeking the ultimate weapon. Sound familiar? It should. The movie brushed past this so quickly that I don’t think it meant anything by it, but Krall has technology advanced beyond most other skills. He’s basically a hacker with a giant drone air force.

What would Wikileaks do with a thousands of missile-carrying drones? What would ISIS do with thousands of NSA-level hackers and accompanying technology? That’s damn scary.

But the movie makes no other mention of it. That’s a failure.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The Star Trek universe has been diverse for generations, and the reboot series is no exception.

They cast real aliens in Star Trek Beyond.
They cast real aliens in Star Trek Beyond.

Others

  • A favorite cinematographic trick is to make the camera off-kilter. In several scenes the camera starts at a normal angle and rotates from it, or it does the opposite. This keeps the viewer off center. Just a neat trick, is all.

Summary (27/68): 40%

Producer J.J. Abrams brought aboard director Justin Lin to speed up a series already at warp seven. The action scenes whip past the more interesting aspects of the Star Trek universe.

Elba is a fine actor underused. His character studies Federation broadcasts with galaxy-class surveillance technology. The coolest location–Yorktown–occupies about ten minutes of runtime.

The Enterprise is destroyed, again. Bones seems to hate his job, again. A Beastie Boys song plays, again.

Star Trek Beyond sacrifices the most interesting parts for the most generic. The number and length of the action scenes drown the film’s positive moments.