Star Trek Beyond and the Déjà Vu of Summer Blockbusters

why Star Trek Beyond should be less Transformers and more Friends

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Uhura can save herself, thank you very much. (Forbes)

I watched Star Trek Beyond and forgot almost immediately about it. It was an enjoyable two hours, but I feel like somebody Eternal Sunshined me, which is probably all you have to know about the movie.

What intrigues me most is the abrupt hatred-in-retrospect for Into Darkness, the middle volume that initially scored well among critics. Maybe they were just tired of watching it and Skyfall rip off The Dark Knight. But I’ve had a pleasant enough time with the series, though you can see the definite stylistic differences in direction and writing from the J.J. Abrams-helmed version to Doug Jung and star Simon Pegg’s new script. Director Justin Lin rose to fame in the Fast and the Furious franchise managing another famously diverse ensemble in hijinks and violence. The opening visual gag, Kirk’s monologue, everything speaks to a brand new voice, and that voice is serviceable.

It’s quick and kinetic, barely ever pausing to catch its breath between set pieces when you’d rather sit down and chill with the crew. We’ve known them for seven years. We’ve watched their careers blossom and mourned Anton Yelchin, and their easy, sometimes rancorous chemistry has matured. I was one of the few defenders of Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the best scene in that movie was where they were sitting around, trying to lift Thor’s hammer, and generally giving each other crap. It definitely wasn’t punching out hundreds of CGI robots, even if they were voiced by James Spader. Ditto Krall’s drones.

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I suspect Starfleet of hiring based on looks. (Digital Spy/Paramount)

Do I really care about Krall’s evil? His greatest crime is burying Idris Elba’s hard-earned pain beneath the makeup of a Power Rangers villain. Same to Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah, who seems like the faintly wild-child free spirit you might meet on study abroad. I’d love these Star Trek movies to actually make me feel like I’m watching an alien rather than a human in zebra paint, but I suppose that’s not what these films are about. I think it may be about how many times the Enterprise can get wrecked, the scenes of which are probably just spliced in footage from the first two.

But you can’t make a summer blockbuster without villains blowing up some stuff. Except, if you’re going to make that 90% of your movie, it had better come with some visual wit. The movie often devolves into visual incoherence, messy and chopped up more than a steak tartare. The Enterprise’s careening, gravity-less corridors want to be Inception, but it’s been done. There is one moment, when we arrive at Yorktown, a spinning snow globe of a world whose arms defy gravity in a way that brought a sense of grand scale and awe that echoes those opening shots in Star Wars: A New Hope when the Star Destroyer swallows up the sky. I felt briefly transported.

It’s here that the climax separates out Captain Kirk alone for some CGI heroics. Chris Pine has mastered arrogant pretty boy with a hidden heart, but I didn’t come for the Kirk show. I want the whole gang. I don’t know if Yorktown has a zero-G Central Perk, but I’m sure the future has coffee.

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