Star Trek: Beyond

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - special to Fortune

As J.J Abrams takes a step back, handing over the reigns to Fast & Furious director Justin Lin, Star Trek experiences yet another rebirth - one that, according to Christian Tesfaye, a Film Reviewer, could well be a step too far. As action replaces depth, he awards the film a measly 5 out of 10 stars, with such heights only reached due to some of the incredible imagery.

They say that the universe is big, but how big is it really? Actually, it is so huge, even though it is finite, it might as well be infinite. Let me paint a picture using the nature of light – the fastest substance in the universe. Light can cover a distance of 186,000 miles in just a second. Here in Ethiopia, we generally use kilometres to measure long distances, so some may not have an idea how fast that may be. Look at it this way: a cheetah is fast, and a Formula One race car is even faster, but light is of a whole new league. It can circumnavigate the Earth’s sphere seven times in just one single second. But even something so incredibly fast has a problem coping with the epic vastness of space. If a ray of light was to travel from this planet to what is believed to be the end of the universe, it would take it a staggering 13.7 billion years.

Mankind used to think everything in the universe was subject to scientific discovery. That was before Albert Einstein made it clear that nothing, and no one, could travel faster than the speed of light. How could we ever hope to uncover all the secrets of the cosmos, of creation, if we can never even get to most parts of it? More theoretical studies showed that there was more bad news to come. The universe, it seems, is expanding. Everything is getting further away from everything else. At some parts of the universe, this expansion is taking place at a gradual pace, while at others, at the furthest reaches of the universe, it is occurring at light speed.

The whole thing is like a slap in the face to human innovation and ingenuity. Even if we could somehow build spaceships that can go as fast as light (assuming Einstein was wrong, which is doubtful), and we get to the end of the universe all those billions of years later, the edge of the cosmos will still be 13.7 billion years away.

But one man saw a silver lining in this unsolvable dilemma. That man was Gene Roddenberry, and to him, space was this astonishing place that would serve to quench man’s perpetual thirst for curiosity and discovery. How fun is a finite universe? Not that much. But one that continues to grow and evolve could offer so many possibilities. A quite humongous void to some may have seemed empty, to Roddenberry, it was just free space waiting to be filled with imagination.

He created the original Star Trek TV show in the late 1960’s, nicely coinciding with man’s first foray to the moon. The show became extremely popular, so there were several reboots, spinoffs and even a film franchise. It inspired a whole new generation of thinkers to become interested in space – a place where future humans would seek out life forms in planets around the universe. Roddenberry’s interpretation of the future was especially unique, in that, where most sci-fi films are cynical, his was much more optimistic.

Star Trek being the property of Hollywood and all, was subject to remakes. In 2009, J.J. Abrams was asked to do one. Named just Star Trek, it was one the most refreshing and adventurous sci-fi movies in recent history. A sequel followed, Star Trek: Into Darkness, by the same director, and that too was well received. For the third instalment, Abrams has left the franchise, choosing to work on a Star Wars movie (a wise choice, if not too similar), and merely produced this film, with Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious school set to direct it. The result is a not so interesting mishmash of clichés and plot holes.

James T. Kirk is captain of the illustrious USS Enterprise. With the help of his crew, he navigates space with the hope of finding new species and bringing them under the Federation (which is some type of cosmic United Nations). Down at a star base of the Federation, he encounters a Starship captain whose crew has been stranded on a planet that has never been identified. Kirk, being the gentleman he is, decides to help, but encounters a very advanced species that wield a very powerful and deadly weapon.

Star Trek: Beyond was written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the former of whom plays the character Montgomery Scott, the ship’s engineer, and a comic relief. Pegg, together with his close friend Edgar Wright, has been responsible for some very good scripts. The writer/actor is mostly associated with humour, but it doesn’t much show here – most importantly because a lot of the jokes seem recycled. In Star Trek, there were several funny moments where Spock (the half-Vulcan, half-human commander of the ship) had problems appearing less formal and Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (the ship’s chief medical officer) grappled with his fear of space. Jokes along the same line were used in Into Darkness, and I endured them as best I could. In Beyond, it just gets annoying.

The major problem here is the plot – it made me want to ask why it is always James Kirk that gets into trouble with major villains around the universe. Is he just in the wrong place at the wrong time, all the while? An audience will also be confounded at his incredible luck. In the past two films, Kirk more or less overwhelmed his opponents because he, or someone else in the ship, was smart. Here, every time he gets into any kind of trouble, he either conveniently meets someone or comes by a futuristic gadget that alleviates his mis. It is as if nature was rigged in his favour.

But I thought the characters were handled more effectively. Kirk is a man married to his work. In Beyond, he starts to wonder where he is going and what he wants to do. Spock, on the other hand, contemplates mortality in a clever turn of events that sees him trying to grapple with the older Spock’s (who have time travelled to the past) death. Nothing comes of these existentialist themes though. By the end of the film, both characters have forgotten about their angst. I guess winning is everything!

It would be unfair not to mention the star base, Yorktown – a kind of space city where the USS Enterprise stops to refuel. I have seen a lot of futuristic cities in a lot of science fiction movies and very few are this awe-inspiring; it is a feast for the eyes. Sophisticated and intriguing as anyone ever thought a city could be, it makes the film almost worth the ticket price.

There is a fourth instalment in the works, which hopefully won’t happen. The franchise is getting tired, like Smartphone companies – there is no innovation and the novelty has worn off. No new plot threads, except a terrorist-like villain attacking the Federation. The only thing an audience will find here is typical Justin Lin stuff, like people catching other people in mid-air. There is more action/adventure here than sci-fi. Roddenberry is turning over in his grave.

By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Aug 02,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 848]



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