After seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness back in 2013, I swore off the Star Trek film franchise forever. It was a mess of lazy writing, poor character development and the most pandering nerd references I’ve ever seen. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci should be famous at this point for their terrible screenplays to blockbuster movies, ranging from Transformers to The Legend of Zorro (the 2005 movie) to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yet somehow, Into Darkness earned an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so when Beyond scored an 84% I was still wary.
The word coming out of Beyond, however, was that if you hated Into Darkness, you would love Beyond. That’s only half true.
The first thing I noticed about Star Trek Beyond was the vastly improved writing. The dialogue sounds intelligent, but not pretentious. There are actual themes established early in the movie that play throughout. The plot isn’t haphazardly interrupted by action sequences. For almost all of the film, the scope is kept small and focused, which helps us remain connected with the characters when things start exploding. But most importantly, this Star Trek movie isn’t afraid to have a little fun. Aside from basic competence however, the script is unremarkable.
As is the direction. When Fast & Furious director Justin Lin was attached to this movie, I thought there was no way to get me in the theater. Surprisingly, Lin gives the proper attention to character moments in addition to the high-octane action sequences (although the second half of the movie gives way to far more of the latter). The movie does have it’s pacing issues however, with a very drawn out crash sequence early in the film begging to be cut down in size. There are times the film pauses for laughter, when it just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Another failing worth mentioning is Lin’s apparent lack of skill in coaxing performances from his cast. There are cases where line delivery approaches soap opera levels. Considering the caliber of talent on-screen, the blame must lie with the director for this. There are good acting moments as well, but the inconsistency draws attention to the bad moments.
The same can be said for the hit and miss visual effects. It is frankly hard for me to believe $185 million was spent on this production. There is nothing on-screen we wouldn’t have expected to see 10 years ago. The fully CG aliens in the opening are particularly fake looking. The movie itself looks cheap, more like a television pilot than a big-budget blockbuster. Perhaps some of this was intentional, to hearken back to the franchise’ roots. If this was the intent, I’d recommend going with more practical effects next time. The low-rent feel would be fine, if the entire third act wasn’t action sequences stacked on top of one another. Again, the set-pieces aren’t as distracting or uninspired as Into Darkness, but that brings me to my final point.
Being better than Into Darkness doesn’t make this a good movie. If I had to choose one word to describe Star Trek Beyond, it would be competent. It has a competent but unremarkable script in the hands of a mostly competent but unimaginative director with competent but uninspired visual effects. If you see Star Trek Beyond you probably won’t regret it, but I can’t imagine intentionally watching it again.