Franchises are whores. They always have been—painted trollops far more interested in money than meaning. Any amount of love or passion obtained for a franchise film is a coincidental by-product of a business venture engineered to make a return on investment.
Franchises have no better pimp than the movie studios desperate to doll them up and get them into the cinemas to make that paper. Franchises—these oh-so-important pieces of popular pablum—merely guarantee “X” number of dollars every few years. And the “Johns” so desperate to creatively copulate line up for the privilege of an underwhelming, unemotional sweaty tryst that never quite lives up to audience expectations.
“Star Trek” has always been a series that sought out the strengths of humanity while exploring deep space. The characters are assemble to represent the best of our species, and try help bring the concept of peace and unity to the savage reaches of our universe. Creator Gene Roddenberry foresaw a time when we would reach beyond the constraints of our home world and “seek out new life and new civilizations.” It tapped into that yearning desire in all of us to reach into the stars and discover the unknown.
At its core, “Star Trek” has been built on a philosophical foundation of hope, with a framework of strong characters and good, cerebral science fiction … that is until Paramount and JJ Abrams decided to lobotomize and turn it into a series of slightly better-than-average action movies. The studio tricked out “Star Trek,” put it in a nice pair of bedazzled heels, and turned the franchise into a money-making street walker.
For the most part, I’ve liked the new “Star Trek” films. Sure, they’re about as intelligent as a burlap sack filled with VHS tapes of “Battlestar Galactica,” but they’ve managed to make some fun, inoffensive adventure movies. “Star Trek Beyond” is the third in the rebooted series and the lightest in tone. It achieves a kind of carefree fun that was missing in the first two films. 2009’s “Star Trek” was a movie about two men trying to live up to the expectations of others, wrapped in an epic time travel/end-of-the world-as-we-know-it scenario. The second film was an entertaining but misguided piece of fluff that leaned too heavily on nostalgia. “Beyond” is a much more successful attempt at recreating the magic of classic “Star Trek.” It’s the first film in the rebooted franchise that felt like an ensemble adventure.
Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is well into the third year of leading the crew of the USS Enterprise into deep-space exploration. He started to question his choices and where his career in Starfleet has led him. During this existential crisis, he and the crew go on a rescue mission that turns out to be a trap. The crew is stranded on a planet where the nefarious Krall (Idris Elba) is trying to assemble an ancient weapon to wipe out people because … reasons. The Enterprise is broken into a million little pieces and the remaining crew has to rely on their wits and some MacGyver-level technical skills to save the day.
The plot is generic, but the cast manages to make the material work. After watching the chemistry-free cast of “Ghostbusters” last week, the cast of “Star Trek Beyond” made me feel like I’d been paroled. It’s so nice to watch talented actors play off of one another and make it look like cruising through space and being heroic is, you know, fun.
Chris Pine does a great job of making Kirk an earnest, blue-collar kind of hero. There isn’t a situation he can’t fight his way out of. Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban finally are given the opportunity to put their love/hate relationship on the big screen. Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott steals the show as the purveyor of comic relief.
My biggest complaint is how slight this whole adventure is. Director Justin Lin has delivered a fun movie with stakes lower than a filet mignon cooked on the Earth’s core. While he gets the characters right, the story feels like a photocopy of a plot that’s been used in sci-fi films so often that calling it cliché doesn’t seem harsh enough.
“Beyond” is yet another “Star Trek” movie saved by its spry cast in a franchise that always feels like it has the potential to be something better than the finely painted whore trotted out every few summers.