In a 2016 that tarnished my hope in my beloved Star Wars, could the latest installment of the disposable Star Trek reboot, or “Star Schlock” as I’ll call it, have fared any better?
I mean, I don’t hate this Star Schlock series, but I don’t care much for it. What the best of legit Star Trek does is both make me feel smart and mindlessly entertain me; Star Schlock mindlessly entertains me, but it also makes me feel kind of stupid. After the worst offender so far, Star Schlock Into Darkness, I’d at least call Beyond the most competent Star Schlock so far.
Like its predecessors, the pacing is brisk to the point of some scenes getting cut short of their emotional impact, the action is far-fetched to the point of characters quite literally getting fetched far, and the well-acted characters make one or two really poorly written decisions. The film also gets off on the wrong foot as the Enterprise gets obliterated at the end of the first act, which could have been devastating if the ship hadn’t already pretty much gotten destroyed in previous entries, and if said entries had let me care for the ship.
Nonetheless, it’s all more in the spirit of the Original Series amid its same dumbness, and not just for its touching callbacks to said series (although there is a George Takei-disapproved revelation about Sulu’s sexuality, which is too minor to significantly impact the story). We see truly strange, new worlds—one in particular that’s awe-inspiring. Characters even struggle with questions of identity and the ideals that drive society.
Almost every crew member is utilized better than ever; Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk particularly has finally come into his own as a captain—a rank he was prematurely awarded by a Starfleet that really should have been run by Vulcans. Alas, Chekov’s the one character who really has nothing to do, which is quite unfortunate for the late Anton Yelchin’s final portrayal as him.
Amid the returners, we have a couple of newcomers: Idris Elba as an alien villain who comes off as generic until a late plot twist and Sofia Boutella as Star Schlock‘s answer to Star Wars‘s Rey; if she ends up being a one-off character, she’ll leave a more agreeable impression than Into Darkness‘s demeaned Carol Marcus, but she’s too endearing to drop.
Given both the hints at braininess and the breathing room the crew has, the thing that really prevents me from seeing this as a true Star Trek movie is its hipness. As creative and thrilling as the set pieces are—the most innovative non-Doctor Strange action scenes of 2016—, the advanced alien swarms at the centers of many of them would feel more at home in the Independence Day sequel that could have been, even though the way they’re used in the third act fits that idea. For what it’s worth, the way the film incorporates “classical” rock is brilliant.
In terms of Michael Giacchino-scored 2016 entries from iconic and influential space operas, I’ll take this largely standalone story set in a separate timeline from its source material, now called the Prime Universe, over that cynical expansion upon one of the most optimistic Hollywood movies ever made that happens to be one of my favorites.
Will the next Star Schlocks still be schlocky? Of course. But if they eventually leave behind all callbacks to the Prime Universe, I’ll probably enjoy them even more as their own thing.