The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Star Trek Beyond

The Star Trek movies have been all over the map. Some have been great, others terrible, a few somewhere in between. That range of quality is due to the fact that, no matter the iteration, the franchise has always suffered something of an identity crisis. Films with the original cast (Shatner, Nimoy, etc.) struggled to figure out what Trekkies wanted decades after the show was cancelled. Ones featuring the Next Generation cast struggled to distinguish themselves as something more than bigger episodes of the TV series. The recent entries, meanwhile, have struggled to determine what audiences are looking for in a modernized version of the material.

The J.J. Abrams-directed 2009 reboot was a character-based origin story that managed to stay true to the property while still being accessible enough for non-Trekkies to enjoy. The first sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, took things that had been established in that picture, then tried to go deeper and, as the title suggests, darker with them. Audience reaction was mixed. For the new Star Trek Beyond, the filmmakers have gone in the polar opposite direction, delivering a light-and-fluffy Trek adventure. That may sound like a good idea on the surface, but Beyond is ultimately the least satisfying of this new batch.

The plot is about as basic as they come. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew are attacked by an alien named Krall (Idris Elba), who is in search of an important artifact that will give him immense power. The Enterprise is shot down, leaving the crew scattered on a distant planet. Scotty (Simon Pegg) enlists the help of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien of a different race who is also stranded. Everyone tries to reunite, find a way to take down the villain, and return to Starfleet Headquarters.

Star Trek Beyond has good performances from the entire cast, with Karl Urban a real standout this time as Bones McCoy. It looks great, as there are tons of eye-popping visual effects and a few ingeniously-conceived shots from director Justin Lin (the fourth, fifth, and sixth Fast & Furious movies). It is fast-paced, never slowing down or allowing the viewer to grow bored.

None of those things are the problem. The issue is that Beyond tries to be a “hip” Star Trek story. Star Trek can be many things; hip is not one of them. It can be socially relevant, it can be exciting, it can be metaphorical, it can be imaginative...we could go on all day. Perhaps as a response to the heaviness of Into Darkness, this one bends over backwards to not take itself seriously and to avoid being seen as stuffy. That approach really isn't the strong suit of this modern interpretation.

For example, Scotty introduces himself to Jaylah by his given name, Montgomery Scott, then tells her to call him by his nickname. Instead, she repeatedly refers to him as “Montgomery Scotty.” Jaylah also listens to rap music. (“I like the beat and the yelling,” she says.) A key sequence strangely involves the Enterprise crew using the Beastie Boys' song "Sabotage" in battle. Action scenes, meanwhile, are almost comically over-the-top, relying on improbable coincidences and absurd situations. In one, Kirk hops on a motorcycle and is cloned via a sort-of human Xerox machine so that Krall can't determine which one is really him riding around. The action often plays like one of the latter Fast & Furious movies, in that it seemingly believes that the crazier something is, the better it will be.

That attitude is not a good fit for Star Trek. Important plot points and character motivation often get lost amid the strained efforts to be freewheeling. It's probably safe to say that anyone who goes to see a Star Trek movie at this point wants to spend more time with Kirk, Spock, Sulu, and the others. Scenarios that keep them front and center are best. Beyond puts its “let's make this a party” attitude in that position, turning our heroes into little more than accessories. This especially undermines the story's attempt to wring out a meaningful ending.

Beyond is not the worst Star Trek movie, but it's also far from the best. If the franchise is going to go forward – and it most certainly will – the gatekeepers would be wise to take a look at the most successful installments in all the big screen versions and figure out why they worked so well. What they have done with Beyond is likely to leave fans, devoted and casual, scratching their heads in bewilderment.

( 1/2 out of four)

Star Trek Beyond is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 2 minutes.

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