The Trekkies are happy but I’m nonplussed. As I watched Star Trek Beyond, I mused instead on whether my cynical, slightly bored stance had to do with the constant barrage of cynicism on the internet and social media, or with my own experience of the film. As virtually each scene concluded, I could hear the mean-spirited sideswipe comment in my head – a product of too much exposure to Twitter? Or a genuine feeling that Star Trek has been done to death and spirals endlessly into infinity with the same set of characters, simply reinterpreted over and over for new generations.
To say I couldn’t find anything fresh would be a neutral and accurate reflection of my opinion. There goes the Starship Enterprise into the great unknown once again, commandeered by its hippy-dippy multicultural crew – a Benetton ad for all future generations (actually wearing Benetton outfits!). Here is a new array of bipedal aliens with human bodies and silly-looking rubbery heads. Here is the attack from the rogue enemy, intent on destroying all that is good and pure. And all wrapped up in that slight, jaded and fuzzy homily: that we are all stronger together (presumably when the terrorists strike for the umpteenth time).
To hear the cast wittering on about how hopeful and positive the Star Trek message is – that one day all human civilisation will be unified in peaceful diplomacy – is to almost believe in it. All good and well until you remember that in our world, as well as the one dreamt up in Star Trek, the next terrorist attack is always just around the corner. Star Trek is meant to promote a peaceful universe, and yet there it is, always being attacked, ravaged, pulverised and pummelled by the forces of evil, their lasers, tasers, fazers and crafts of destruction. How is this different from the world we already live in?
The energy bestowed upon the rebooted franchise courtesy of sci fi geek turned writing/directing mogul JJ Abrams is undeniable. He directed the first two instalments (Star Trek, 2009, and Into Darkness, 2013) before handing over the reins to the Fast & Furious franchise’s Justin Lin. The change is barely perceptible. Same pat theme about finding yourself and being true to your spirit and friends, masquerading as something deeply meaningful. Same laboured pace, with fits and starts of surging energy (mostly the WWE mano-a-mano knock-down-drag-outs and Star Wars style aerial combat scenes). Same shallow dialogue with the odd wry smile or smirk. This time mostly from the awkward pairing (and sparring) of mirth-free Spock (Zachary Quinto) and feisty medical officer Bones (Karl Urban). Chris Pine’s hot-headed Captain Kirk is still a face looking for a personality.
The most interesting character ends up being a new one: the enigmatic alabaster foxtress Jaylah (presumably so named since J.Lo had already been taken), a strong-willed rogue alien (Sofia Boutella) who is both a fearsome fighter and a dab hand with a kohl pencil.
Star Trek Beyond is a last chance to enjoy the performance of Anton Yelchin as the earnestly geeky officer Chekov. His will be a difficult role to recast, having left an indelible impression on old and new Star Trek fans alike.
Little time is spent on any one relationship: Spock and communications officer Uhura are having a spat, Spock and Bones are having another spat, and once the crew crash land on a planet “beyond the nebula” and are separated, everyone is having a spat with someone. No fear, it’s all wrapped up neatly in 120 minutes so we can all go home and contemplate the already-announced Episode 4.
* All reviews strictly my opinion. I have the greatest respect for the hard work put in by film industry workers (directors, screenwriters, actors and production staff) who care deeply about their craft. They actually do what I am too scared to leave my living room to do. For that, I salute them.