Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond
By Ben Gruchow
July 28, 2016
Krall makes a better villain than Khan did. Part of this is because Idris Elba is a better actor than Benedict Cumberbatch. Part of it, though, is that his motivation (once revealed) is more immediate and horrifying than Khan’s was, and his rationale for taking the actions he does more understandable within the parameters of recognizably human behavior. Elba’s performance is the best in the film, only slightly eclipsing Simon Pegg’s Scotty (that the film was co-written by Pegg might have something to do with the Scotty character operating so snugly on its wavelength), but a good deal more charismatic and alive than Kirk or Spock, who seem to reside in the background of most scenes despite being the focus of most of the plot and subplots.
I write out these criticism-shaped arguments, but we’re talking more about simple observation here. Within the storytelling and thematic constraints of a mid-summer big-budget sequel, this is still a film that’s more interested in discovery and diplomacy and dialogue than it is in pyrotechnics, and it held my interest on those levels. I like to ID the modus operandi of the Star Trek franchise as being about the social and interpersonal aspects of space travel, while the Star Wars franchise is concerned more with set design, creature design, and special effects. I am not here to say whether one is better than the other in practice, because there have been greater and lesser entries in both; the Trek aesthetic appeals more to me.
This film does a little rudimentary exploration of the effects of time passing unnoticed, and how a short time can become a very long time with very little apparent difficulty. This manifests itself explicitly with some of the later details in the Krall storyline, and obliquely with the subplots and sometimes just the little things relating to the Enterprise crew. There is also poignancy in these details; this was one of the final films of the late Anton Yelchin, who plays Pavel Chekov, and there are two moments that seem to honor him. One involves a drink between Kirk and the ship’s medical officer, McCoy (Karl Urban); McCoy has confiscated a bottle of whiskey from Chekov’s locker, and the quiet toast that follows infers more meaning than it normally would have. This may have been unintentional; less so is a later moment that involves a cut to Yelchin during a key line.
This is an agreeably intimate and informal film, for one with a budget well into nine figures. Apart from the sporadic action sequences, which are variable in their scope and effect (the crash-landing of the Enterprise is a marvelous sequence, landing with surprising precision the chaos of attempting to solve a dozen little immediate crises at once, while the big crisis occurs unchecked in the background; the opening sequence, involving the first appearance of the Abronoth, is offputting and clumsy, and is mostly responsible for the uncertain note the movie starts off on), this is an interpersonal drama, inhabited by actors who comfortably understand the nature of their characters if not every dimension, that happens to take place against science-fiction trappings and backgrounds.