Podcasting… the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Epic Film Guys podcast. Her ongoing mission: To explore strange new films… to seek out new listeners and new, exciting content… to boldly go where no podcast has gone before! This week we’re talking all things Star Trek with our full review of Star Trek: Beyond, the third film in the reboot trilogy started back in 2009 with JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. Abrams, of course, departed the Trek franchise for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 3-6) has stepped in to take the reins.
We joined our brother podcast out of Perth, Australia for a spoiler-free review and discussion of the film this past weekend- check out that episode here. This minisode will go a bit further in depth than we did on the Countdown and we’ve got our full, spoiler-filled review of Star Trek: Beyond for your ears. Our normal episode will still land tomorrow morning (07/28/16), featuring a full review of the new Netflix series Stranger Things with Bryan Loy, and a breakdown of San Diego Comic-Con’s flood of news and trailers in Epic Previews. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you at the movies!
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Nick’s Full Star Trek: Beyond Review:
Star Trek: Beyond is the third film in the reboot series that began in 2009 with JJ Abrams reboot/sequel, which used an incredibly clever script to both adhere to and separate itself from the established Star Trek canon, which now spans some fifty years and another new series headed to television next year. It was a stellar film, and its sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, was even better- it flipped the script for Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan on its head, further showing how the changes to the continuity in 2009 will lead to radically different futures for the original Trek crew. It looked at the danger of a militarized Starfleet searching for war among the stars and offers a scathing criticism of the pre-emptive war mindset of the modern-day military-industrial complex.
Enter Justin Lin, of Fast & Furious 3-6 fame, to step in for the departing Abrams (who, of course, went on to Star Wars Episode VII). Three years into its five-year mission, the Enterprise stops at the Yorktown Federation outpost to take supplies. We catch up with the crew, from Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, and Sulu; seems that Kirk is feeling as though the vastness of space is consuming him. Bones is as sarcastic and quippy as ever (Karl Urban remains the greatest casting choice in a stellar cast). Spock and Uhura are on the outs, while Chekov (the tragically late Anton Yelchin) is now taking a page from Kirk’s womanizing book. Scotty is eccentric as ever, and Sulu is gay, but the film pays zero attention to this factoid- despite its condemnation by, of all people, George Takei (the original Sulu, who came out several years ago). Yet, it feels no more out of place than anything else in this film- after all, what is Star Trek if not a totally-inclusive, non-judgmental society? Now more than ever, we find this ideal incredibly present in all of our minds.
The Enterprise heads through a nebula at the behest of Kalara, who claims her ship has crashed on a planet on the other side. On passing through they are instead attacked by a swarm of small ships that make quick work of the Enterprise, because firing a photon torpedo into the swarm and shooting it to cause a big explosion or even ejecting the warp core like they did in the first friggin’ moving and making that explode would be far too complicated and would work against the requirements of the plot. The crew winds up on the planet, split off into several groups, which works extremely well for the most part- Kirk and Chekov have a wonderful chemistry, but the pairing of Spock and Bones is simply brilliant every time the pair arrives on-screen.
Scotty, meanwhile, is paired with a mysterious character named Jaylah, who reveals that she too was marooned on the planet by Krall’s forces some time ago, and she enlists Scotty’s help to fix an old Federation ship that also crashed on the planet. We get some mysterious nuggets of dialogue that allude to a deeper backstory to her character, but the film never bothers to develop her into anything beyond a cool-looking badass who can definitely hold her own in a fight. Who is she? Who cares, that’s who. She actually get a hefty chunk of screentime as well, so much so that she fights against “Manas”- Krall’s right hand and the person who killed her parents, apparently- and the fight drags on and on and on. These characters aren’t even remotely developed, so every moment they’re on screen they make for silly, pointless moments that distract the audience from the fact that the Enterprise crew- the characters we actually care about- are in danger.
The film is the most “Star Trek” of the three films in the reboot series, and as an avid fan of TNG and DS9 it was great to see the film return to that feeling, and it should be enough to warm the heart of any Trek fan. That said, this film did its best to emulate the bad things about the worst of Trek- the worst of the original films, for example- and ends up a deflated flapping mess by the end. The Enterprise crew escapes the planet by “jump starting” a starship how? A car works by jump-starting because the wheels are contacting the ground, providing energy to the vehicle as they turn, which allows the engine to turn over and sustain itself. So how precisely does this work when a starship falls off a cliff?!
Then, the film culminates in a Deus Ex Machina set to the tune of the Beastie Boys, wherein a plot contrivance that makes absolutely no sense pops up and completely eliminates the swarm of ships in an instant, even though the plot never makes the logical connection to this outcome even when it is setting it up. Meantime, an 11th hour reveal that Krall is actually a former Starfleet captain who was once a soldier but is unable to stop living in the past has turned him into a monster, in one of the most hideously mismanaged and mangled attempts at giving the film some thematic heft before it ends. The theme wants to be about the role of the soldier in peacetime. It could have done more vis-a-vis the idea of PTSD and helping to transition soldiers into peacetime, and doubled down on the idea of peace versus perpetual war. Much more needs to be done to help soldiers with their demons from the horrors of war, to cope with their PTSD, and to help them lead normal lives. Yet this theme is tacked-on literally at the film’s climax to try to stick some empathy onto the main villain who has, to this point, been a one-note “Starfleet bad” bad guy whose motivations were completely unknown to anyone.
The film does enough right by the cast of the reboot trilogy, even if it is a touch predictable (like Kirk and Spock are ever going to walk away from the Enterprise), that it still resonates, at least at times. It closes on a touching moment that will definitely tug the heart strings of any Star Trek fan, but it is too packed with ham and cheese to be the thoroughly engaging film that its predecessors were. 5/10.
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Select tracks from the Star Trek: Beyond soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. All rights reserved.