These are the adventures of Big Picture Reviews, so on, so forth; Lee and Maria review Star Trek Beyond.
Characters are the special trick a screenwriter pulls out when they want to make their straight-forward action movie stand out from the cacophony of the hundreds of other, competing, straight-forward action movies. Not to disregard action as a lesser form of storytelling by any means, it forms the bones and muscles from which to launch movement and interaction and drama, but without characters to latch to, a movie stands only to lose investment, reducing a film to a selection of spectacle minus substance.
From the non-sequitur opening scene, Star Trek Beyond demonstrates how comfortable the screenwriters are in letting their characters be the star of this action fantasy, and the manner in which they prove it seems somewhat paradoxical: they take their characters out.
Kirk, Spock and Uhura are all at sorts; disillusioned, dismantled, distraught. The patterns that have defined their adventures thus far have grown stale, and so too have their relationships. What’s more, within 30 minutes they take our home base: the ship itself. Ground swept beneath the gang, the screenwriters could easily use the power of action set-pieces and the spirit of adventure to mend all the ailments. Instead, they mess with the established formula, drag our established leads apart and pair them with the characters they’ve had the least chemistry with so far, and it works.
Spock and Bones, the logician and the cynic, are the odd couple from heaven. Kirk and Chekov, tired veteran and plucky, if nervous, sworn cohort keep the plot zipping along. Uhura and Sulu, usually benchwarmers for the boys, spend all their time right at the heart of the villain’s stronghold scheming and escaping. And Scotty, free at last from his non-speaking companion, meets his match in Jaylah, bad-ass scavenger slash engineer. The screenwriters assign characters somewhere left of their comfort zone and task them with returning, with the intention of reflecting on the nature of their purpose as characters, and the results are, for the most part, splendid.
Without tried and tested dialogues, conversations feel fresh and character arcs satisfying and well-earned, as each scenario is an uphill battle. No one has their crutch, so it’s a hop to the top, and the exploration of these new dynamics produce some sure-fire winners to keep the audience engaged. Taking the time to explore what our characters have grown used to only to then rip it away from them gives us a clear objective to follow, meaning all the techno-and-tactical-babble in the world can’t distract us from the simpler overarching goal: reunite. It makes for great action, as each little victory feels like a distinctive step in the right direction, and each set-back comes with a double-down in resolve.
All this helps invest the audience in the action, which is now more essential than ever as not only have the set-pieces gotten bigger and more complex, but also, due to some unfortunate decisions, significantly harder to follow. Clear and fun are the spaceship battles, which eschew the shakes and handheld cameras of the ground battles for more focussed wide-shots to give a clear representation of damage. Frustrating and confusing are the hand-to-hand combat scenes, of which there are a few; choppily edited and shaky giving us no sense of location or impact. Somewhere in between are the escapes, which range from frightfully underwhelming (Uhura and Sulu), to blurry but traceable (Kirk on a bike), to incomprehensible and overblown (Kirk and Chekov, escaping the damaged Enterprise); the lattermost being a scene unnecessarily set at night and featuring a sweeping crane transition that only serves to further complicate what should be a tight mid-movie set-piece.
The middling action can’t detract from the good characterisation however, which even includes the two new additions: Jaylah and our villain, Krall. Both serve to be a little deeper entrenched in the mythos than your typical add-ins, with Jaylah in particular serving to add a fresh new dynamic to the already pretty dynamic group. Sure, Uhura and Sulu never quite pans out the way you hope it might, and Chekov only really exists to help Kirk remember how much he loves Spock, but the third act really ties the intentions together in a positive and warm way with very few dangling threads, and continues that Star Trek tradition of being the thinking-man’s action movie.
Bones stole the show in this film. I can’t think of him as anything but ‘concentration face’ from Lord of the Rings, where he seemed to spend 3 years with a furrowed brow in New Zealand. Despite my prejudice he was bloody hilarious and kept the mood of this film light and fun. I also liked the feisty Zora-girl character for her general bad-assery.
While being a good all-round film, I also felt that the story was more of a television episode plot than big screen. Something was missing for me throughout, I felt absolutely no tension at all in the film, so when it ended and they succeeded… well, I had no doubt that would happen. And that’s not very interesting.
I also have to comment on the sets here. My god, when bones and spock are together, the rock walls couldn’t have looked any more plaster cast. The paint didnt even look dry! A throwback to the series or just shit design? Who knows. Either way I was too easily distracted by the gloss paint. Also there is a hilarious moment of cgi worth watching, where chris pine is on a motorbike. That moment is worth watching the entire film for. Oh, oh and the base or whatever it was that was meant to be civilisation or something, was taken completely from Guardians of the Galaxy. Was really rooting for Chris Pine vs. Rocket Racoon. One can dream.
All in all the perfect inoffensive film for my dad to fall asleep to.
[Lee’s review originally uploaded 26th July 2016]