Wednesday 27 July 2016
Star Trek Beyond
After the disappointment of the confused, incoherent Star Trek: Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is at least a film that can be enjoyed on a surface level without too many objections. I confess that I'm not a huge fan of the rebooted series as a whole, finding the films to be visually spectacular, excellently cast, genuinely moving and/or funny in places, but otherwise shallow, with gaping inconsistencies in basic plot logic - a failing I also found in the first of the new Star Wars films, which started unravelling in my head almost before I'd got to the carpark.
But Star Trek Beyond is probably the best of the three, and a desperate improvement on the second. Once again, I can't find anything to complain about in the casting; all the central roles are beautifully handled by their respective actors, with the recurring parts inhabited with a wonderful conviction, while also bringing fresh touches to these long-established figures. It also, for the first time, felt much closer to what a Star Trek film ought to be like, with a clear narrative line and a strong sense of Starfleet both growing out of and emblematic of a Better Future - and we could certainly use a bit of that optimism now.
The opening sequence - after a comedic episode with Kirk trying to negotiate a peace treaty with some scrappy, puppy-like aliens - is terrific, with the Enterprise docking inside a ridiculously vast Starbase, with some lovely shots of the ship sliding through glassy tubes that penetrate the main living space of the enormous structure. It's also completely bonkers, with several cities worth of skyscrapers folded up into a gravity-defying Escher-like interior landscape, so complexly visualised that it's a fair bet it's going to have to turn up later in the film just to justify the rendering costs. Minor quibbles were starting to circulate at this point: if it's the twenty third century, and this structure has been built anew in space, why is the civic architecture of these buildings so crushingly familiar, as if all the skyscrapers had been transplanted from Toronto, Sydney, etc? Why do the plazas and malls look like they're contemporary civic settings CGI'd into this virtual space? Because they are, I suspect, and perhaps it's no bad thing as the entire sequence functions as a loving throwback to those episodes in the original series where a Starbase would look suspiciously like a 1960s university campus or shopping complex. It did, however, all remind me of the similar alien mall-scape in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Things quickly go awry when the Enterprise leaves the Starbase to respond to a distress signal, which in grand Star Trek fashion turns out to be a trap, and before long we're back into the same "villain with superweapon" plot which underpinned the two previous episodes. But at least the story is well handled this time, cross-cutting between the main groups of characters in a way that was mostly followable and developing a story that, while in no way groundbreaking, at least still feels narratively satisfying by the time you've left the cinema. The main new character, Jaylah, is very good and it would be nice to see more of her in the follow-up, presuming such a thing happens.
So it's a colourful, fast paced action film with some very enjoyable character beats, impressive effects and a plot that does at least withstand superficial scrutiny. What it isn't is a film in any way interested in new ways of thinking about the future. It's put together very well, and it's thrilling in parts, but if science fiction is the literature of ideas, this isn't science fiction.