The Reviewinator: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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50 years. It’s not easy making it this far. Star Trek really has tried to cover a lot of territory in all that time. After 5 TV shows consisting of 28 seasons (725 episodes), and (now) 13 movies, the fact that they still have stories to tell is nothing short of mind-blowing. And because Star Trek’s objective is to “go where no one has gone before”, the most appropriate title to give a movie after 50 years is Star Trek Beyond.

Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is contemplating a promotion to Vice Admiral, which would take him off the Enterprise and away from space travel. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) learns that his older self, Spock Prime, has died, leaving him with mixed feelings about his own existence. As both men ponder their futures, the Enterprise is sent to rescue a lost ship in an uncharted nebula. Upon arrival, they’re ambushed by an alien race led by a man named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise is eviscerated in battle, with what’s left of it crashing down on a planet below and scattering the surviving crew members. Now they must find each other, think of a way off the planet, and somehow defeat this incredibly powerful new enemy.

I don’t know if they were still reeling from the mistakes of the last movie, but this entry, while enjoyable, plays things a little too safe. You’d think on the 50th anniversary they would try to make the “ultimate” Star Trek adventure, but instead we just get “another” Star Trek adventure. It’s still entertaining, with some fast-paced action, funny moments, and more depth than the previous entry could ever offer. But the story, as well as the villain (no offense to Idris Elba) remain distinctly average from beginning to end. There are no real surprises, and no real sense of danger, even when stranded on a barren planet without a ship. Maybe because after 50 years, it’s way too obvious that they’re going to find a way off the planet and back home again. Oh who am I kidding? We don’t need 50 years to predict an obvious thing like that.

When I said there was more depth than the last movie, I meant it, but it’s still not on par with 2009’s Star Trek. Here, the characters are 3 years into their 5-year mission, and they’re starting to feel it. Kirk, on his birthday, realizes he’s already outlived his father by one year. Spock “logically” assumes his destiny is to continue Spock Prime’s work, and is planning to leave the Enterprise. Sulu (John Cho) turns out to have a daughter, as well as a husband (in an obvious nod to George Takei). Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin, in his final performance as the character before his tragic passing) spend a great portion of the movie together, which is a nice change. Bones (Karl Urban) and an injured Spock are forced to work together, putting their love-hate friendship to the test. Not everything is improved, though. Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay) joins forces with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), another stranded alien who may have a way off the planet. Unfortunately, their partnership is very bland with no substance whatsoever. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is captured early on with Sulu, giving them very little to do for most of the movie. Even worse, Uhura is really only relevant to the story because she’s “Spock’s girlfriend” (even though they break up in the beginning). After proving how tough she was in the first two movies, relegating her to the part of “the girlfriend” is both a waste of her talents and a giant insult to her gender. And finally, the villain: Krall. He’s as one-dimensional as villains can get, and re-enacts the same repetitive angry speeches for most of his scenes. When his “twist” is finally revealed during the film’s climax, it’s too little too late.

Star Trek Beyond is not the ultimate Star Trek adventure, but on the plus side, it doesn’t try to be either. It pays homage to Star Trek III without rehashing it like Into Darkness did with The Wrath of Khan. The characters are still fun to watch, and may even be at their best in this entry (although Uhura deserves better). But “franchise fatigue” is beginning to set in early on this rebooted franchise. With 2 years to go on their 5-year mission, let’s hope they don’t overdo it. All the same: Happy 50th Anniversary, Star Trek!

3 out of 5

[On a personal note, which I don’t normally do, I would just like to talk about the last year of my life. It’s not easy watching 725 episodes in 365 days, with 13 movies thrown in to keep me on my toes. Star Trek was something I’d wanted to binge-watch for over a decade, when they first started coming to DVD. But with 28 seasons at $100 each, I decided to wait. Only with the evolution of streaming services did it finally become feasible. But how would I proceed? The beginning was an obvious starting point, but then there were prequels to consider, not to mention all the overlapping (about 50% of all of Star Trek is chronologically simultaneous with other Star Trek). I knew I needed an action plan. So I created a chronological list, beginning in 1966 and moving forward from there, so that I could watch it as someone who’d been watching Star Trek since it began. And so began my 50-year mission. Star Trek very much became an unhealthy addiction for me. I’d binge-watched long-running TV shows and movies before, but this was the kind of nightmarish challenge I could never have comprehended without experiencing it firsthand. I watched all the shows in the order the episodes first aired, shoehorning the movies in when necessary. I stuck closely to the list I’d made, most especially when I hit the most dreaded era on my list: 1993-1999 (when there was no less than two TV shows on at any given time). I zig-zagged between TV shows for 7 simultaneous seasons, consulting the list before and after each and every episode to make sure I was doing it right. It seemed to go on forever. When I’d finished The Original Series and The Next Generation, I contemplated abandoning the rest. I’d watched the shows from my childhood, and now the weight of my “mission” was starting to take its toll on me. But I knew I’d regret it forever if I quit now. This wasn’t about one set of characters or another. This was about watching the entirety of Star Trek as one 28-season TV show. The first 10 seasons were tough enough. The final 18 were like running a marathon with shoes that are falling apart. It would keep me awake, the theme music looping in my head incessantly, night after night, until I’d ultimately drink myself to sleep. I’d look ahead on my list to see how much was left. It seemed like I always had hundreds of hours to go. Even the halfway point seemed like an unachievable goal for so very long. So I added markers on my list, smaller goals to strive for in the meantime: 200th episode, 300th, halfway point, and so forth. I asked myself how long I wanted to stretch this out. 2 years seemed too long. 1 year seemed too short. But with 50th anniversary reminders all around me, I decided to attempt it in a single year. But making such a decision would mean sacrificing almost everything else until it was over. And for some reason I was willing to do it. But make no mistake: I wouldn’t wish this kind of torment on anyone. I had so many opportunities to quit, some of which were exceptionally tempting (the first season of Deep Space Nine springs to mind). Finally reaching the halfway point, somewhere in 1995 on my list, was when I realized I was in this for the long haul. It was the point of no return for me. It was also the point where I stepped up my game, believe it or not. My 50-year, 5-TV-show mission was half-over! I now watched Star Trek on every device I owned; blu-ray player, game system, computer, phone, tablet, etc. I dragged it around the house with me and watched it while cooking, cleaning, shaving, doing the dishes, any mundane activity in my everyday life. It was the kind of all-consuming life-altering obsession that might inspire my family to call the men in white coats. I loved it exactly as much as I hated it. But when I finally had one TV show and less than 100 episodes left, I knew I was in the home stretch now. And that’s when I began sprinting for the finish line. Usually the end of a long binge is bittersweet. You feel like you’re going to miss the characters and storylines you’ve invested so much of your time with. But I knew this one wouldn’t be like that. As much as I loved it, and I still do, I couldn’t wait to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. To be free of the addiction I’d brought on myself. And then one day, it was just…over. And like an ex-con being released from prison after serving his time, I could feel the sunshine but I couldn’t remember what to do with it. My all-consuming obsession was gone, and now I had an entire world in which to do whatever I wanted, only to find myself wandering aimlessly. But until I figure out what’s next for me, I find solace in knowing that I completed what I’d set out to do a year ago, exactly as I’d set out to do it. Despite zig-zagging between 350 or so episodes from two TV shows for 7 simultaneous seasons, I never once made a mistake chronologically; a fact I’m very proud of. If you combine all 5 Star Trek TV shows, it adds up to 28 seasons (30 if you include The Animated Series), which is 725 episodes. Then you have 13 two-hour movies, which, added together, is about as long as another season. To put it in perspective: The Simpsons recently had its 600th episode. But The Simpsons is only a half-hour show. Star Trek is a full-hour. (So when you think about it, in all the years it’s been on, The Simpsons isn’t even halfway to Star Trek.) So just imagine watching every single episode of The Simpsons, ever, and then, starting over and watching them all again, and then, starting over and watching the first 200 episodes or so, and somewhere during all that you watch The Simpsons Movie 13 times, and you’ll have an idea of what I put myself through in the last year. It’s the longest binge I’ve ever done. The longest binge I will likely ever do. I loved it with all my heart and I hated it with a fiery passion that I could never, ever, put into words. It was psychological torture, and yet I’m still so very glad I did it. It was my personal “trek”, and because I did it, I feel like a “star”. I am now the biggest and proudest Star Trek fan I know. So to all my fellow “Trekkies”, who bugged me over the years to get into this, I say to you: You were right. Now live long, and prosper!]

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