Celebrating the 50th Anniversary since the original ‘Star Trek’ TV series hit screens, this current era of rebooted films serves to continue to franchise but offer new ideas and themes being set in a mirror universe to that what we already know. Justin Lin of ‘Fast & Furious’ fame takes up directing duties after J.J Abrams settled back to produce after he moved to direct in a galaxy far, far away.
Serving as both a celebration of the franchise across all medias and also trying to reign the reboot in after ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, star and sci-fi fanboy Simon Pegg co-writes this effort and while I feel it succeeds in places, it fails in others. While it is undeniably a science fiction adventure, totally different to that of ‘Star Wars’ as it is rooted in a “what if” reality, I don’t feel it has enough appeal to cater to the wider market. While Star Wars does nothing but let you escape and lose yourself in another galaxy, Star Trek reminds you this is a version of your current reality, and tries to make things relatable and a little TOO technical to have you care for.
The film is, essentially, a character piece. The original line-up of 2009’s ‘Star Trek’ continue their voyage across the stars and have all the chemistry you’d desire three films in. The actors all make their characters familiar to their 1966 templates, but have continued energy and motivations to help us invest in them. Be it Kirk and his maturing attitude to life, or Bones and his wry outlook to life, or Scotty and his positive view to life, the fans will be at home with characters they know, and general audiences will be at home with likeable performances from a host of likeable actors.
But away from the characters, who we spend a great deal of time with them and them alone during the opening, the middle and end, there is nothing very new or different or thrilling about this trek into the beyond. Sure, the CG action is dazzling in space thanks to our director with an eye for slick camera moves, fast editing and throwing you right into the thick of it, and there is enough CG spectacle featuring the Enterprise to take your breath away in an assaulting opening attack. After that, the action is very steady, very calm and very un-exciting with the usual chases, blaster shoot-outs and CGI finale that is just like a cutting-edge cartoon.
However this soon calms, and we are presented with characters working in twos or threes in their own little journeys on an unknown planet, coming together eventually to escape our villain, understand our villain and then stop our villain. Standard stuff, but when our villain is forgettable, bland and not very well presented, it’s hard to care very much. Idris Elba is a wasted talent here, spending his time behind prosthetics and costumes and only using his height and baritone voice as markers that it’s him. If you don’t know he’s in it, you won’t know he’s here at all until the end credits.
Relating back to ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ which is, I think, great fun and very engaging, it’s a film that divides fans and critics for their own reasons, be it faithfulness to the Star Trek genre or something else. As a very, very casual Trek fan, I accepted everything I was sold and nothing bothered me about the villain, Khan, played deliciously by Benedict Cumberbatch. Khan, regardless of his history in the genre, was a superb villain. From the first trailer, he was sold as a threat. A cunning, devious and deadly threat which lots of hidden surprises up his sleeve. And we could invest in Cumberbatch as we could see his face, and hear his voice, to believe that Khan was a menace.
Krall doesn’t have any of that. Sure he has an opening assault which is all well and good and he certainly delivers damage to the Enterprise, but he’s just not menacing enough. He’s a very generic alien villain, and his motives are revealed too late to care. At least with Khan we knew his game early on and he kept us guessing.
In some ways it’s a very faithful Trek outing during the second half, as we have alien-inspired sets and locations, baddies in menacing outfits with plenty of plasma guns and gadgets to fuel the fight sequences, but I found it was all very methodical, all very safe and nothing surprised or engaged me to care much. As I say, the characters were the main draw with their thankfully equally funny and touching moments together, as either duos or a unified crew. Kudos to Sofia Boutella as our heroine Jaylah, injecting lots of fire into her role and one of the best characters in the line-up.
I can see why the film is under-performing to ‘Into Darkness’, because there’s nothing much to it in all honesty. Cumberbatch was a huge rising star and he was used generously to market the film. Here, it’s back to the everyday line-up of Enterprise crew with nothing new on offer. It’s like Pegg has taken a step back with the narrative and tried to be more simple, but in some ways he’s made it a little less engaging and something just for hardcore Trek fans.
It WILL cater to Star Trek fans and sci-fi fans, of course. I’m not saying it’s a bad film, because it’s not. It’s entertaining and a faithful slice of Trek adventure. The iconography is here, the music is here, the nods to the 50 years are here. I just don’t feel it has enough to capture the wider market and compete at the box-office. Character wise and visually it excels. Narratively and villain wise, it fails.
I fail to see how much longer this reboot series will continue, because even though it’s a critically approved series, it certainly doesn’t seem to have mighty pulling power in terms of audiences.
Also, a warm nod included to the original Shatner-era crew is very touching, as is the moment for Leonard Nimoy and his passing. And the late Anton Yelchin makes bitter-sweet viewing as his Chekov has got better and better with each film, but now we won’t be able to see him progress more with all the potential he clearly had and gave in the final moments of his final frontier.