The Watchers

The Watchers

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Review: Star Trek Beyond (UK Cert 12A)

It's a banner year for the Star Trek franchise as it celebrates 50 years since the original TV show started airing. So how better to commemorate this than to release another Star Trek movie?

The crew of the Enterprise are well into their five-year mission, but Captain James T. Kirk is starting to feel a little disillusioned and is thinking of moving on. When they dock on Starbase Yorktown, an unknown alien ship in distress hails the base. Their crew has been taken to a nearby planet by the villainous Krall and the Enterprise is the only ship that can make it through an unstable nebula to help rescue them. But things are never quite what they seem and the planet- and Krall- are more dangerous than the crew could imagine...

Written by Simon Pegg (also reprising the role of Scotty and therefore giving himself a bigger part) and Doug Jung (who cameos as Sulu's husband Ben- more of that later) and directed by Justin Lin (the Fast and Furious franchise), Star Trek Beyond is big, bombastic and a lot of fun. It makes for very easy watching.

Lin is very much at home with the action sequences- including a very stylish distraction involving Kirk and a vintage motorcycle- although there's an over-reliance on shakycam which is annoying and, yet again, a major Hollywood blockbuster skimps on the lighting budget to its detriment with some scenes (noticeably one fight scene between Jaylah and Krall's minion Manas) almost bordering on the unwatchable. One thing to Lin's credit, however- there's minimal lens flare. A few lighting and camera issues aside, the visual effects are- as you would expect- superb with the reveal and exploration of Starbase Yorktown particularly stunning.

Performance-wise, it's all pretty solid. The main returning cast all fit back into their roles well (although having Scotty call Jaylah 'lassie' every few minutes got annoying really quickly). They know these characters well by now so there's no questions there. What the script does, which is interesting, is play around with the usual dynamics by splitting the Enterprise team and pairing disparate characters up. Pairing Bones and Spock up is inspired and both Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto seem to be enjoying their odd-couple bickering. Idris Elba makes for an imposing villain in Krall- even if the back-story felt a little rushed and bolted on. There's a really impressive performance by Sofia Boutella as the alien Jaylah who helps the crew out on the planet.

Some people may be wondering what I made of the decision to make Sulu gay (a decision which dismayed original Sulu actor George Takei). To be honest, whilst I probably would have preferred them to create a new character, I wasn't massively bothered by it. The scene between Ben and Sulu was played very nicely- it's a bit of a blink-and-you-miss-it moment to be fair- and it wasn't really mentioned again, although Ben does appear again at the end. It certainly wasn't sensationalised or felt lurid or done just for shock value. I can appreciate that it sometimes feels like tokenism but you can create a LGBT character and not let their sexuality be their only defining feature; for me, it's the difference between having a gay character (where it is) and a character that is gay (where it isn't).

The film pays a touching tribute not only to the late Leonard Nimoy- whose death is directly addressed and provides one of the more poignant scenes between Spock and Kirk- but also to the original crew of the Enterprise who started the journey off half a century ago. It also pays tribute in the end credits to Anton Yelchin, the Chekhov actor who passed away earlier this year. I couldn't help but feel a little pang of sadness every time the excitable Russian navigator appeared on screen. He has left a big hole in the Star Trek family.

I went to this film to be entertained, to turn my brain off for a few hours and just let the sci-fi silliness wash over me. Whilst it delivers that in spades, don't be surprised if you feel a little emotional throughout it too.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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