Some of 2016’s bloated big budget blockbusters absolutely and unapologetically deserved to crash and burn (hello Ghostbusters, hi there Independence Day: Resurgence) whilst some soared despite eye-wateringly vitriolic reviews (yo, Suicide Squad). The failure of Star Trek Beyond to fly at the Box office is altogether more puzzling. Generally well-reviewed and applauded as a significant improvement on its stodgy predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness, the film was met with little more than casual indifference by the multiplex masses and barely limped over the $300 million mark at the worldwide Box Office. It’s disappointing in itself for a nippy, unpretentious entertaining action movie but especially concerning in the year the Star Trek franchise celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.
Following on from two introductory films, which never quite got the USS Enterprise and its redoubtable crew off onto its trek into the stars, Star Trek Beyond hurls us three years into the ship’s five-year mission. Ennui is setting in and the crew are more than happy to enjoy a break at the massive space-station community known as Yorktown. But a random distress call sends the Enterprise off out into the unknown again and before long the crew have lost the security of their starship and finds itself separated on a hostile planet and plunged into battle with an adversary with a particular score to settle. Star Trek Beyond is a brisk, confident movie; its storyline doesn’t try to break any new ground but is in many ways hewn from the stuff of classic Trek and it benefits enormously from a cast who are now securely bedded into their roles and a warm and witty script courtesy of long-time fans, Pegg and Jung, who pepper the narrative with wry gags and knowing throwbacks to the original series. Stranded on the surface of a dangerous new world, the core Enterprise crew are split into groups, allowing Spock and McCoy to develop the snipey relationship, which characterised the pair on television, Pegg’s Scotty steps into the spotlight when he meets up with scavenger/warrior Jaylah (Boutella), Kirk and Chekhov (the much-missed Anton Yelchin) explore the shattered remains of the Enterprise and Sulu, Uhura and a phalanx of anonymous redshirts are imprisoned by the vengeful Krall (Elba, largely unrecognisable under a ton of prosthetics). There’s plenty going on here in a multi-strand story which gives all the main cast their shining moments and doesn’t stint on energetic action sequences which allow new director Lin to bring his very particular skillset, honed on the Fast and Furious series, to the Trek Universe. Star Trek Beyond plays like a movie which is comfortable in its own skin and knows what it’s doing with these iconic characters and how to tell a story which doesn’t disgrace the franchise’s long heritage.
Why, then, the audience apathy towards what’s clearly a sharp, intelligent and action-packed movie? Certainly for hardcore Trek fans (we won’t be calling them Trekkies, thanks all the same) there’s some frustration that we’ve apparently missed three years of the Enterprise’s five-year mission – but then that’s an inevitable consequence of the TV-series-to-movie-series transition. Kirk and co might be bored with wandering the space-lanes but the audience hadn’t had a chance to see them do much of it thanks to the stop/start storylines of the first two reboot movies. Whilst the destruction of the USS Enterprise manoeuvres the characters into position for their battle against Krall and his cronies (and allows for some formidable FX sequences as the ship is blown apart) it’s a shame to see the ship, one of the finest in the Federation’s fleet, destroyed yet again. Kirk and his crew might be better advised to resume their explorations in a modified giant hair-dryer as the Enterprise doesn’t seem to be a particularly reliable form of intergalactic transport. But perhaps – just perhaps – the larger problem for Star Trek is one that seems likely to plague all modern reworkings of ‘classic’ genre properties. The curious and the disenfranchised and those who’ve not had much experience of Trek are drawn to the first reboot movie but in time that casual audience falls away or moves on to some other ‘next big thing’ and all that’s left are the long-time fans, the cosplayers, the collectors and the…er…more committed Star Trek fans (still not Trekkies). This audience attrition has happened to the rebooted Doctor Who on TV, maybe the same is happening to Star Trek – which might not bode too well for next year’s new Discovery TV series?
But the Star Trek movie franchise isn’t out for the count, it’s just fallen back onto the ropes a little. A fourth movie is already greenlit and it’ll be interesting to see what steps can or will be taken to try and draw back the lost audience. Star Trek Beyond certainly boldly goes where the reboot series has not gone before and it’s a shame that this rich, colourful and often genuinely funny movie hasn’t yet found the audience it deserves.
Special Features: 2 Deleted Scenes / 9 Featurettes / Gag Reel.
STAR TREK BEYOND / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: JUSTIN LIN / SCREENPLAY: SIMON PEGG, DOUG JUNG / STARRING: CHRIS PINE, ZACHARY QUINTO, KARL URBAN, SIMON PEGG, ANTON YELCHIN, IDRIS ELBA, SOFIA BOUTELLA, JOHN CHO, ZOE SALDANA / RELEASE DATE: 14TH NOVEMBER (DIGITAL), 21ST NOVEMBER (DVD, BLU RAY)