The third installment of the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise takes the best elements of the 2009 film and leaves out the weakest elements of the 2013 sequel, “Into Darkness”. The series has hit its stride with “Star Trek Beyond”, this time directed by Justin Lin (“The Fast and Furious” series), and packs an entertaining punch while also keeping a comic tone intact.
The screenplay was co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays Montgomery Scott on board the Enterprise. His keen awareness of the importance of the chemistry between the characters is very evident, making this probably the most rewarding experience of the three films so far.
The film begins much like “Into Darkness” did, with Kirk doing everything he can to mess up what seems to be a simple mission. The creatures he speaks to look a bit like “Star Wars” prequel rejects, but turn out to be cute little miniature Jumanji hybrids. Though chuckle-inducing, I hope this doesn’t become the standard in subsequent scripts. In fact, the series should probably take a new direction after this one, so as not to become stale too quickly.
The main plot of the film involves a husky lizard-like villain named Krall, who is looking for a relic that Kirk had in his possession in his mission to appease the creatures in the beginning of the film. Apparently this artifact has a lot of unknown power, but Krall is after it. They first encounter him after agreeing to a rescue mission from a distressed former captain of her own ship, Kalara (Lydia Wilson), and seek to aid her while going into the Nebula. While there, they’re greeted by a slew of aggressive ships, and it’s fairly evident that it was a trap laid by Kalara. It’s not at first clear why, until she admits that her crew is at the mercy of Krall (Idris Elba). This is no consolation to Kirk, whose crew is now also taken captive.
Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, Bones and Spock have evaded capture, and are aided by a rogue female being, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has been living in an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin. At first confused why there would be an older Starfleet ship stuck in the rock of this planet, it becomes evident that Krall may have had a link to Starfleet Academy.
Meanwhile, Uhura and Sulu try to release the captives, as they themselves are prisoners as well. Uhura is the one who realizes Krall may not be as simple as a foul tempered, scaly antagonist. There seems to be something deeper within his anger and resentment toward their race.
As mentioned before, the film is directed by the man who gave us much of the “Fast and Furious” sequels, and this film has moments of being too fast and furious for its own good. But for the most part, it’s very well paced and the character interactions are a joy to watch. Bones and Spock have some great scenes together, and Scotty and Jaylah enjoy some nice chemistry as well. The film is probably the most action packed of the three, but it’s never uninteresting; and even at its most brazen and contemptuous of suspension of disbelief, it doesn’t go so far as to take you out of the moment. As unbelievable as some of the stunts are, you’re still rooting for these characters to be safe and return home in one piece.
The strength of the series has always been its cast–that goes back to the original cast of the 1960’s in the first series. It always felt like an ensemble, and this cast preserves that. These characters like each other, and we like them for it. It’s bittersweet to see Chekov one last time, as actor Anton Yelchin tragically died this summer. But he has a nice role in this film, and we will definitely miss him.
Also mentioned before, the series should probably start to take a new direction after this one. They’ve rebooted the cast, rehashed a villain, and now I think we’ve had our fill of revenge plots. Much like the first series of original films, which went in new directions, this series needs to find other stories to tell. They have the cast at their prime, now give them something different. This film is forgivable for its messy antics at times and even confusing narrative; if this is repeated in a fourth film, the series could start to lose itself, and that would be a shame.
For now, though, sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s entertainment at warp speed.
Guillermo Del Toro always fascinates me as a filmmaker because he’s one of the most joyful visual expressionists I’ve seen in my lifetime. He seems to have a knack for creating interesting looking creatures and putting them in colorful and sometimes dangerous worlds, and it’s always intriguing. He had wanted to film an adaptation of the classic H. P. Lovecraft short story “At The Mountains of Madness”, possibly one of Lovecraft’s most beloved stories. Unfortunately, I don’t know that the film will ever be made, which is a shame, because it’s one of my favorites. Though we get tastes of it in movies like John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, I don’t know we’ll ever really get the actual story in motion picture format. With Del Toro at leas you know it’d be visually stunning.
Instead, Del Toro teamed up with screenwriter Travis Beacham, writer of the 2006 remake of “Clash of the Titans”, and made what’s called a “kaiju” film–a movie about giant monsters–and I think some of the creatures were meant to be “similar” to Lovecraft’s Cthuhlu mythos universe. Well, I’m probably reaching, because what they came up with to fight these Kaijus are giant robots. I don’t think Lovecraft really wrote about those.
This is a very odd film. It’s saturated with a backstory that’s crammed into the first act as if we’re just supposed to be able to inhale decades of destruction and feel like the earth has been under attack and in a state of peril and understand where the technology came from to create mega robots. On top of that, we are supposed to care about characters we barely know and have complex backgrounds that aren’t given many payoffs or consequences. For instance, the main protagonist, a young strapping Jaeger pilot named Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who loses his brother in a battle with one of the Kaijus. Jaegers, by the way, are the name given to the giant robots. Apparently two pilots must lock in to be able to absorb the power that Jaegers have in order to operate. There’s basically a “mind meld”, which means the two pilots must have things in common physically and emotionally and can lean on each other. In an ill fated battle, Raleigh loses his brother and is sent out of the program, doing construction work which looks pretty dangerous, but not very fulfilling.
Enter Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), five years later, tracking down his maverick pilot for another showdown with the Kaijus, who are continuing to destroy the earth and all our cities and ports. Apparently they come from under the sea, rather than outer space, but are considered “aliens” I think. If you’re following all of this, by the way, that’s good. Try and keep up. There’s more.
He is eventually partnered with a novice pilot but accomplished student, Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), who has a sketchy past that still haunts her but she is considered a perfect match for Raleigh, much to the chagrin to Pentecost. I’ll spare you the subplot that the United Nations decide to temporarily shut down the Jaeger project in favor of some sort of defense wall because it is imminently destroyed and serves as nothing more than a waste of about 10 minutes of screen time. The point is, Mako and Raleigh are meant to be Jaeger pilots.
But there’s a problem. She can’t let go of her haunting past, and that creates a rift in what’s called the “drift”, where the two minds meld before the Jaeger is fully operational. Pilots have to control their memories and feed them into their co-pilot in a way that isn’t aggressive or detrimental. They need to understand themselves in order to share them. So basically, if you ever happen to find yourself in a Jaeger mecha robot program, and your co-pilot is Amanda Bynes, you may as well jump out of the cockpit as soon as possible, and take your chances with gravity.
On top of all this, there’s another maverick cocky pilot (but he’s no Iceman) named Chuck (Robert Kazinsky) who doesn’t like Raleigh and thinks he’s bad news. But Chuck’s father Herc (Max Martini) has respect for Raleigh and knows the pain of losing his brother, even if Raleigh really doesn’t show it that much…because Charlie Hunnam isn’t that great of an actor. Sorry, Charlie. Loved you in “Undeclared” though.
Speaking of Charlie’s, there’s a miscalculated “humorous” subplot for comic relief I suppose with two nutjob scientists that come into play, trying to understand the Kaijus. One of them, Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), wants to find new ways to destroy the Kaijus. The other, Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day), who resembles Louis Tully, wants to study the Kaijus and understand them. He also comes up with the idea of mind melding with part of a brain they captured from one of the Kaijus. Of course Gottlieb and everybody else thinks that Newton is crazy, and he turns into Vinz Clortho and sends the giant Slore against them to kill them all.
Just kidding. However, I realize these two scientists are supposed to be funny; but the comedy kind of clangs instead of amuses. Charlie Day literally looks like he came in from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” solely to crash the set. The only part of the comic sequences that work are with Ron Perlman who plays a black market Kaiju enthusiast, Hannibal Chau. Perlman is always good, even though his character is an unnecessary semi-villain.
Are you still with me? OK, so what Newton finds out is that the Kaijus are only sending their “soldier ants” and are actually preparing an even larger scale monster war, something beyond their “Categories” (Category 5 is the highest on their scale). He does this by mind melding with the brain of the Kaiju, of course, as he wanted to, and of course he’s right and knows how to destroy the Kaijus.
So let’s go back to Raleigh and Mako, who are given an old clunky Jaeger that runs on its own power, which comes in handy when they start facing some more technologically advanced Kaijus, and we find out that Mako’s backstory involves watching her family be destroyed by a Kaiju. But there’s a connection she has with one of the main characters that turns out to be one of the strongest and most emotional parts of the movie, and it works very well.
It took me a while to decide whether I liked this film, because as you can see, there’s a lot I have problems with. It’s very ambitious, it’s so chock full of backstory and exposition that sometimes it hulks around like a Jaeger itself. The battle scenes are tough to describe. In some ways it’s like watching an arcade video fighting game in slow motion. There are some dazzling effects, however, when these battles wind up destroying major (hopefully evacuated) cities.
Apart from some of the hackneyed “science” and major plot holes, I think I liked the main characters enough, and the relationships they develop, that it carried the film for me overall. You can lose all the other stuff and the film would be much shorter and probably more enjoyable. I think that Mako may have actually been a better central character, or Pentecost. Both actors respectively are incredibly strong and give top notch performances.
On balance, I did enjoy the film enough. But I really think that this being simply a movie does the story a disservice. While I’m sure there will be Mangas or comics that will go more into the backstory, I think this would’ve made a very entertaining Saturday morning cartoon series. It reminded me of shows like “Voltron” and “Transformers”, and even “G.I. Joe”.
I’d recommend seeing this film on the biggest possible screen to really get the idea of the scope of the battle sequences. Something like IMAX would be a great experience. I’m not sure whether the whole film will entertain you, but you will at least get your money’s worth of destruction. And for a summer popcorn movie, I guess that’s all you really need. Del Toro can do better, but this works enough for me.