When director J.J. Abrams revitalized the Star Trek franchise with his 2009 reboot, fans were understandably skeptical. After all, the director’s tone and style (lens flares!) marked a notable shift in the storytelling approach featured in many of the Enterprise crew’s classic stories. However, by positioning Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto’s versions of Kirk and Spock, respectively, as an alternate timeline, Abrams was able to kick off a new era of Star Trek movies without erasing the relevance of the previous films.
Now Star Trek Beyond — the third film in this incarnation of the franchise — continues the tale of the Enterprise, now midway into its five year mission. In many ways, the film is an improvement over the 2013 predecessor Star Trek Into Darkness, a film which relied too heavily on callbacks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Star Trek Beyond is truly the first adventure of the so-called “Kelvin Timeline” to stand on it own. The film manages to fit in loving tributes to Leonard Nimoy and the original cast, while providing the late Anton Yelchin’s character, Chekov with the most screen time he’s had thus far. Yet, this film is far from perfect and here are a few glaring problems.
1. An underdeveloped villain
Fans rejoiced when beloved actor Idris Elba was cast as the latest Star Trek baddie, but mystery still loomed large on the exact nature of the villainous Krall. Although delving into his backstory and motivation would spoil one of the film’s greatest surprises, the issue with Krall’s role is that his vague characterization through most of the film is a waste of Elba’s considerable talents. Sure, the wait for answers may ultimately be rewarded, but some audiences may lose interest in the meantime.
2. We saw less of Uhura and Sulu
Star Trek Beyond made headlines with news that John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu would share a daughter with his same-sex husband. Even original Sulu actor George Takei weighed in on this change. Sadly, that bit of development is all we really get for Sulu, as he and Zoe Saldana’s Nyota Uhura remain captive by Krall for much of the film. While Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban) receive more attention than ever before, the only two minority members of the main crew are sadly given short shrift. Considering how diverse the franchise is, that’s a pretty glaring fail.
3. Style trumped substance
One of the most common complaints about recent Star Trek films has been the continuing focus on spectacle and action over thoughtful contemplation of our future and scientific exploration. Unfortunately, that still rings true with Beyond. The film very clearly fits the survival-centered adventure story mold that leaves little room for such pontification. The Krall reveal towards the end of the film contributes a bit to the ideas behind all the sci-fi mayhem, but those fans craving a Star Trek story that will stimulate their mind as much as their desire for thrills will likely be disappointed.
4. Episodic in nature
Before Star Trek Beyond even hit theaters, we already heard confirmation that a fourth film was on the way, with Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as Kirk’s departed dad. Yet, Beyond does little to set up this storyline. In fact, the film provides little hint of what’s to come and instead remains content to essentially pick up where the original series left off. Considering how closely tied the original films were and the industry’s tendency toward serialized storytelling, it’s disappointing that Beyond doesn’t aim to create a big-picture thread to whet fans’ appetite for more.
5. It relied on previous narrative tricks
Although the film does make lovely reference to Leonard Nimoy’s passing, it does use this subplot to tease — for what seems like the umpteenth time — the idea that Spock and/or Kirk will exit the Enterprise by film’s end. This has already played out time and again and creates a false sense of stakes masquerading as a throughline to hang the more action-heavy focus. No doubt that this device is a wise one, but we can only hope that the next film is a bit more imaginative.
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