59. Star Trek Beyond

I’ve never considered myself a Trekkie.  I watched some of the original Star Trek series in syndication as a kid (I’m not old enough to have watched it as it originally aired.  It feels so nice to say that.) but it never hooked me.  I did enjoy J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek, however, and – to a lesser extent – Star Trek Into Darkness, as well.  So, at best, I’m a casual Star Trek fan.

I’m absolutely a J.J. Abrams fan, however, and he steps aside for this third franchise installment and hands the reins over to Justin Lin of the Fast and the Furious series.  I haven’t watched any of those films (not a car guy) but I know a lot of people really enjoy them, so my hopes were high.

Those hopes were further boosted by the opening scene, which I thought was tremendous.  When the film begins, we are immediately thrust into the weirdness of the life of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the world that surrounds him.  The scene carries a sense of immediacy and then plays out in a completely unexpected and undeniably entertaining fashion.  It’s a warm welcome back into the Star Trek universe and gets the movie off on the right note and with the perfect tone.

I wish I could say that I felt it all went smoothly from there.  The film is by no means a disaster.  I just found it to be more of the same.  Following that opening sequence, it seems that all ingenuity and imagination is left behind and we get a film that is a run-of-the-mill blockbuster hopeful.  I’m not suggesting that the story is any sort of a retread, such as the case is with The Secret Life of Pets (probably the worst offender of this sort in recent memory).  The story is original (to my knowledge) and it’s fine.  It’s plotted and paced well with solid moments for the principles and emotional arcs that pay off.  The story isn’t a problem and, as I said, the film isn’t a disaster, or even bad.  There are just a couple of areas where I believe it’s underdeveloped.

The first of those is the dialogue.  It’s flat and largely uninteresting.  I had to consciously force myself to listen to it during many sections of the film because it’s mostly devoid of any bite, wit, or energy.  And this isn’t the fault of the cast.  The cast is excellent and they do what they can with it.  Some dialogue is simply so bland that it actively resists artificially-induced kineticism.  And some jokes are so transparent that not even perfect delivery and timing can save them.  Despite a few contradictory moments sprinkled throughout the film, the majority of the script suffers from these issues.

The other problem area is in the action.  And let me once again clarify, it’s the action, not the effects, that I found lacking.  With the exception of the scene that introduces Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the choreography and construction of the action is lazy and uninspired.  I kept waiting for something that I didn’t expect or that felt like something I had never seen before.  I got a little of it in that Jaylah scene, but nothing outside of that.  The expectations for these big-budget tentpoles have been highly elevated over the last decade and to stand out, a film needs to deliver in this arena.  The action looks nice and is well-crafted but not particularly well-conceived.

One other problem I noticed is that the film appears very dark.  Not in tone (the tone remains appropriate throughout the course of the film) but in the visuals.  The daylight scenes are very dreary and the scenes that occur in darkness are sometimes downright hard to make out.  This could have been the fault of the theater, but I’ve seen many movies there and have never had that problem, before.  I hope that was the case, however, and that it was an anomaly.

I know it seems like I’m focusing more on the negative than the positive.  That’s because the negative stands out whereas the positive is just that – positive, but not in any sort of extraordinary way (again, except for that opening scene).  What works (the cast, the story, the pacing, the tone) works but has trouble compensating for what doesn’t work (the dialogue, the action) because the things that don’t work are the very components that should be driving the film.

Still, if for any reason, you’ve been excited about seeing Star Trek Beyond, then go see it!  Don’t let me talk you out of it; you may enjoy it more than I did (and while there are no additional scenes during or after the credits, there is some cool animation and a nice dedication to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, midway through).  I have to assume that there will be another installment in the near-future and I just hope the people behind it take a look at what some others are doing and use it as motivation to raise their game.  The film was fine, but I wanted to be blown away, and it didn’t happen.

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