In a similar fashion to the new “X-Men” franchise, it was rather miraculous when J.J. Abrams was able to take over the “Star Trek” film series and return it to the glorious heights it once enjoyed in the past. Along with screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the 2009 reboot took the franchise in a bold new direction, which continued in the excellent 2013 follow-up “Star Trek Into Darkness” (co-written by Damon Lindelof). As we come to the third entry in the series, “Star Trek Beyond,” a rather large question mark hangs in the air due to the fact that it is now under the command of a different director (Justin Lin) and different writers (Simon Pegg and Doug Jung). Could a new team possibly be able to pick up where J.J. Abrams (who was too busy with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) left off and deliver another great film, or would such a change spell disaster for a franchise that’s been riding high on two outstanding installments?
“Star Trek Beyond” opens with Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) attempting to flex his diplomatic skills by brokering a treaty between two alien races by presenting one with a piece of a weapon from the other. It doesn’t go exactly as planned, but they hardly have time to worry about it as they are soon approached by an alien who claims to need their help. Her ship apparently passed through a dangerous nebula, which resulted in her crew having to take refuge on a nearby planet. Kirk brings her to a starbase where he gets permission to proceed with a rescue mission, but things go terribly wrong when the Enterprise arrives at the planet.
The ship is attacked by a mysterious swarm of aliens led by Krall (Idris Elba), who is seeking the piece of the weapon that is in Kirk’s possession from his earlier mission. With the Enterprise completely crippled and crash-landed on the nearby planet, Kirk, Scotty (Simon Pegg), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban), and fellow victim Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), must find a way to stop Krall before he acquires the rest of the weapon and launches an attack that would result in millions of casualties.
As this latest entry in the franchise opens, everything seems to be going just fine. We have the same old cast returning for a third round, and the chemistry is certainly still there between this amazing group of actors who have become accustomed to these classic roles after the last seven years. The first act even offers us a spectacular setup that features an amazing attack sequence in which the Enterprise is left almost completely destroyed, but little do we know at this early point in the film that this would be the highpoint that it would reach
With the film’s second act, it hits a bit of a slump in the narrative and, unfortunately, it’s never quite able to recover from it. It had all the makings of an interesting story (i.e. an intriguing mission, a major threat, the loveable characters, etc.), but this time around, the writing just isn’t nearly as strong. The first two films had had an incredible spark that made them come alive, particularly in the writing. The stories were well-crafted and developed to the point where the audience was on the edge of their seats as the combination of excellent narratives, characters, and action took hold.
When it comes to “Star Trek Beyond,” there’s a very noticeable dip in the narrative that leaves our beloved heroes stranded on a planet with very little to do for a good portion of the movie. Pegg and Jung try to make up for it by throwing in a little humor now and again, but it’s simply not enough to cover up the fact that this story feels very half-baked, particularly when it comes to the uninspired villain, whose backstory is just as uninteresting as the main plot.
The film does still manage to be entertaining in spurts, particularly when it comes to their efforts in trying to stop Krall, but this also leads to another problem in that the third act ends up being very stretched out as it piles one thing on after another. The first two films never had a problem like this, especially when it came to executing the final encounters with the films’ respective villains. They were paced appropriately and didn’t go on longer than they had to, but here, it felt as though there were several spots that they could have wrapped up, but chose to go on unnecessarily instead.
I realize that all of this makes it sound like it’s a really bad film, but in truth, it’s not. It’s a disappointment for sure, especially when it comes to the weak storyline, but there are still a few things here to like, including the cast, some of the action, and the humor. So what we get is a film that's not bad per se, but one that’s not that good either. In a sense, it ends up falling into the same pattern as the “X-Men” franchise in that, after two great films, the third is the one that finally shows a fair amount of weakness (many of you will recall the joke in “X-Men: Apocalypse” about the third film being the worst).
What needs to happen now is that J.J. Abrams needs to return to the helm. Lin does an ok job directing here, but he does have a small over-reliance on using the same tilting shots over and over. However, most especially, we need some combination of Kurtzman, Orci, and Lindelof to return as the screenwriters. Pegg’s writing career has been very hit and miss. He’s done great work with films like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” but he’s also had less memorable projects like “Paul” and “The World’s End,” while Jung’s only prior feature credit has been the coldly-received “Confidence.” With the original crew returning behind the camera, in addition to the returning crew in front of the camera, then, with a little luck, this franchise would be able to return to the high levels of greatness it had been enjoying for the last several years. “Star Trek Beyond” is a bit of a stumble, but this remains an amazing franchise, and there’s no doubt that it will be able to get past this minor misstep. 2.5/4 stars.
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