I finally saw Star Trek Beyond, which will soon get a new wave of publicity; it’s due out on video on November 1. It had great thrills, but I felt disappointed overall. Spoilers ahead.
First: Is any trope grayer and more mossbound than “ancient artifact of great power”? Oh, yeah: “The bad guy used to be one of the good guys.” This movie has both.
What’s more, the specific element that turned the good guy bad — he wanted Starfleet to be warlike, but Starfleet refused — also motivated the villain in the previous Trek movie. (Beyond’s villain, who looks like an alien, is central to another problem: Toward the end of the movie, he begins reverting to his old human appearance. Why? The movie never clarifies.)
Like the villain, Beyond’s main weakness also harks back to the last Trek movie and its key weakness: It starts out in a promising direction involving Kirk’s personality but spends most of its running time concentrating on battles, escapes, and other adventures.
The movie begins with Kirk planning to leave his ship, the beloved U.S.S. Enterprise, forever; it ends with him resolved to stay. His relationship to the ship, its mission, and its crew is key to Star Trek, so his readiness to leave is a rich and important issue for a movie to develop and resolve.
What’s more, the movie separates and re-teams the Enterprise crew members, providing a sequence of events that could make Kirk realize how much he needs them.
But Beyond doesn’t demonstrate how and why Kirk evolves. The movie keeps him and other characters too busy chasing the villain, evading the villain’s troops and weapons, and doing other stuff that has nothing much to do with character.
A side note: Beyond begins with Kirk all alone on a diplomatic mission that fails, after which he sums up his ennui about his past three years cooped up with the crew. Kirk considers taking a desk job — which, by the way, might mean more of the diplomatic stuff at which he had just failed, but never mind that now. Anyway, the movie might have set off in a better, more character-oriented direction if it had put not just Kirk but all of the ship’s key crew members into a situation demonstrating that, after three years of constantly being in each other’s faces, they weren’t meshing with Kirk and with each other as happily they used to.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the whoosh and kapow of a rousing space adventure. The first J.J. Abrams Trek movie proved brilliant at integrating those thrills with a strong feeling for character. In addition, Beyond does sprinkle some nice moments among the crew members.
But the movie concentrates far more on thrills than on character. If that’s your jam and jelly, then the movie’s a spectacular success.
For me, though — not so much.