In the first Tim Burton Batman movie Jack Nicholson’s joker marvels “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?” Fast forward 27 years from that 1989 film and the foundation for 2016’s Star Trek Beyond is “Where do they get all these wonderful gadgets?”
Gene Rodenberry’s penchant for flashing lights and space-aged sounds has been replaced with high-tech glitzy devices that truly hold a science fiction fans attention. Chris Pine is settling into his James Kirk role nicely, it’s just too bad that Fast and Furious director Justin Lin (and by extension writers Simon “the new Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung (along with the uncredited Roberto Orci, Patrick McKay, John D. Payne and, obviously, the late Gene Rodenberry) make this affair, as the previous two, a color-by-numbers sequel to the original series while in another dimension. It’s that unsettling aspect to this series that upends the aforementioned “settling” by Chris Pine.
Going through the nebula is brilliant, finding a hidden world in uncharted space, exactly where the show should be going, but it always comes down to the villain and this one is not very special. Wrath of Khan he ain’t. The evil genius “Krall” is a take-off on the Fantastic Four’s enemies The Krulls and actor Idris Elba is about as exciting as boring old Ahdar Ru’afo (played by F. Murray Abraham) in 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection. If you are going to recycle make-up from a previous film, why go with bad make-up as well as a bad villain badly played? And to morph the Ahdar Ru’afo complexion with the ferengi from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is just plain lazy filmmaking, especially when the contrast with the stunningly beautiful Enterprise and all her bells and whistles, and huge, revolving, gigantic space station Yorktown with all its space-age Hollywood glamour, makes the diminished villainy a drag on all that is good about this new epic.
It is most sad watching Anton Yelchin —knowing his fate, and the film is dedicated to both he and Leonard Nimoy, as it should be. Yelchin along with Karl Urban’s Doctor McCoy and John Cho’s Sulu are great casting. Zoe Saldana is adequate as Uhura but doesn’t have the brio that Nichelle Nichols brought to the role. Still, Saldana is an improvement over Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto’s robotic digital copies of what came before, and even the otherwise excellent Karl Urban gets stuck in the parody when he quotes DeForest Kelley’s worst moments liberally. They are in another place in space and time and they mimic the 1960s show? It’s as much annoying as it is redundant, and it is most redundant.
The “bees” which are spacecraft all connected to each other a la the Borg (the Next Generation’s best villain, and said to be the next set of attackers in the fourth installment of this series) look more like the buzzing machines from the Matrix Revolusions, like a mad, disturbed hive of bees, zeroing in on Zion. Only Idris Elba doesn’t have the chillingly cold precision of Helmut Bakaitis, the actor who played The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Modeling the ST Beyond antagonist after that creation would have been more appealing than replacing the original Star Trek’s “Tholian web” with machine exiles from the minds of the Wachowski duo.
Jodi Foster’s 2013 film, Elysium, had a magnificent city in the sky (named Elysium, of course) much like Star Trek’s 1969 The Cloud Minder’s episode, and here the Federation lifts Jodie Foster’s world for its stunningly beautiful star post Yorktown, a Federation star base, or fortress, that looks like a good guy’s version of the Star Wars Death Star.
The metaphor is obvious. Star Trek Beyond is about mortality, starting off with Kirk’s Luke Skywalker-styled thoughts of his late father… on Kirk’s birthday (think beginning of Wrath of Khan, repeat and repeat…,) Jaylah, the new character with the quasi- hieroglyphic face, played by Sofia Boutella, lamenting her father being killed, Spock on the death of the planet Vulcan, morbidity permeating a film dedicated to Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy after their respective passing from this world to the next.
Director Lin could have easily had Yelchin die in spectacular fashion during this remix/remake of Star Trek Beyond’s copy of The Matrix Revolutions … just as the bees go after this Zion in the sky, one not in the center of the earth. But, alas, the Fast and the Furious director gives us a carbon copy of another film when what was truly missed out on was the possibilities between Yorktown (of the Federation, the Good “death star,” if you will) and the Class M planet “beyond” the nebula, and the danger in the middle of the two.
Pulling a past villain from the first Star Trek series to really delight the worldwide audience is the obvious softball coming at them at three miles per hour, and they couldn’t pluck it out of the air. Take your villainous picks on who got ignored, from the Talosians in the very first pilot to the Spock in “Mirror, Mirror” as well as the Doomsday Machine, resurrecting a good old meany who is not Khan – certainly Requiem for Methuselah being a prime candidate – would have added some nostalgia along with the pure evil needed to propel this film-with-potential from being a mere summer blast to something very special.
As it is, it’s a summer blast that will entertain, as the Boston Globe’s film critic noted (and I try not to read other reviewers before mine is completed, just looked at the first two sentences of Ty Burr’s essay, honest) but it could have been so much more. Until the filmmakers allow Chris Pine to be his own man and stop standing in the shadow of William Shatner, we will have a cold and mechanical series of old jokes instead of the old villains that the series is in desperate need of. The Borg will be a good choice to bring a jolt to this stuttering, yet still workable, starship. But they need to go beyond the Borg, back in time to the very foundation that made this billion dollar series what it is today
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.