Let's make one thing clear right away: Since we've all seen the third one by now, I feel that I may speak freely without fear of giving away any of the major surprises.
My basic reaction? Now this
is more like it.
For the first time, I feel truly comfortable with the new actors playing these iconic roles. Although I'll never accept the Spock/Uhura romance -- and I question the scenes in which Spock lets his human side show -- the series has finally returned to form. This is a wine of the old vintage. And yet, paradoxically, this story seems new
, with fresh characters, unusual situations and alien technology that seems truly alien. This story doesn't just rehash ideas lifted from older films in the franchise; for the first time in the rebooted Trek universe, we go where no previous film in the series has gone before.
Well -- perhaps not entirely
. Early on, a Federation bigwig tells Kirk that there's only one ship
in the fleet more sophisticated than the Enterprise. If you've ever seen
a Star Trek movie before, you know what that
means -- especially if you can recall how the fourth film ended.
(I was reminded of a moment from the first act of 1971's Waterloo
, when Veronica
De Laurentiis -- Giada's mom -- tells the Duke of Wellington to bring
her fiance home safe and sound. The poor guy might as well have had a
skull and crossbones superimposed over his head.)
Although most of us take CGI wizardry for granted these days, the visualization of Starbase Yorktown wowed even this jaded sensibility. For the first time, Trek
explores the true possibilities of artificial gravity, introducing us to a planetary environment in which sideways is topways is bottomways, depending on where you happen to be standing and what you happen to be looking at. I loved
it. If the film had spent two hours giving us cool shots of Yorktown, I'd have come away with a smile.
The new character, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella), is a magnificently realized female warrior: Formidable, but still recognizably human -- or at least humane. She reminded me of Wonder Woman. Actually, Jahlah seemed more Wonder Woman-ish than did the Wonder Woman who showed up in the recent Superman/Batman film. One of the most charming things about both Diana Prince and Jaylah is their unfamiliarity with "normal" society: These godlike women have studied us, and they want to help us -- but they are not really one of us. They often stumble when they try to fit in, and when they do, it's kind of adorable.
I was also charmed by the decision to pair off the lead characters in separate-but-related storylines; structurally, the middle section of the film reminded me of The Two Towers
. Scotty (who may be sweet on Jaylah) has more to do than ever before. No surprise there: Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, co-wrote the script.
For once, Kirk doesn't get all
the action, although the most important character arc is his. This is a film about a team, not about the captain.
The film's greatest fault is one it shares with all modern action films: Fear of words, fear that too much talk will alienate an audience of Attention Deficit Disorder sufferers. Too often, the film-makers rely on presumption to do the work of explanation. For example, I was never clear on which "bee" ships were drones and which were piloted by the aliens. The film never bothers to explain how an earth man could become one of the aliens, or how he ascended to a leadership role, or why the Big Scary Alien Guy reverts to a more-or-less human look at the end.
The bee armada is defeated by a plot device borrowed -- I kid you not -- from Mars Attacks
. This time, they play things seriously. But how, exactly, is this trick supposed to work? Why can't the bad guys simply shut off the radio or change the frequency?
The final battle is visually stunning but not as thrilling as it could be, because we often lack a clear notion of what is going on.
In short: The film's phobic reaction toward expository dialogue often does injury to basic comprehension. What this movie needs is an extra ten minutes -- ten minutes of talk
. Sure, modern audiences might get the fidgets during those dialogue scenes, but what of it? Modern audiences should switch to decaf.
All in all, Beyond
is the best Trek film since Wrath of Khan
-- and perhaps the best ever. A welcome surprise.
By the way: As you might have guessed, my ladyfriend and I did not
go out for a drive this evening. She caught a bug that's been going around. We decided to stay home and fire up a movie.
So tell me: What did YOU watch? Anything interesting? Did it feature a big, scary alien bad guy?