I want to like Star Trek Beyond more than I do. I want to be able to look past its problems. It has a whole lot of problems. Michael Giacchino’s music is awful. Stephen F. Windon’s photography is rather wanting. The four editors don’t do any particularly good work, though they’re not working with the best footage. Because the real problem with Beyond is director Lin. All of the action in the first two-thirds is weak. The set pieces are undercooked, with one set at night and visually opaque, and Lin’s no good with directing the comedy. Oh, right, the script. The script is another problem.
No, it’s not because Simon Pegg, promoted from supporting cast to supporting cast and top-billed screenwriter (of two), gives himself too much to do as an actor. He and co-writer Doug Jung arguably don’t give Chris Pine enough to do, definitely don’t give Zachary Quinto enough to do and give villain Idris Elba absolutely nothing to do. They waste Idris Elba. Not just them, Lin too. But the narrative isn’t structured well. The humor’s awkward (since Lin can’t direct it) and the narrative is poorly structured. Beyond is choppy in places it shouldn’t be choppy.
Lin’s not good with all the sci-fi backdrops. His sci-fi action is poorly cut, but it’s also very uncomfortably shot. Lin doesn’t know how to establish the sets. It’s like he’s scared of medium shots on the Enterprise. It’d be more awkward if the ship were visible, but Windon’s photography is really bad, like I said.
But at the same time, it’s all right. Pine’s great this time, Quinto and Karl Urban get to banter, Sofia Boutella’s warrior alien is decent. John Cho and Zoe Saldana get almost nothing to do. Saldana least of all. She’s taken a big hit in terms of franchise positioning. Anton Yelchin gets the implication of more to do, ditto Pegg. But it’s almost a misdirect for Pegg. He and Jung don’t really give him more to do.
And then there’s Elba. He turns in a fine enough performance in a bad role, but gets to hint at what he could have done with it if the film were better written. And what it needs is just more depth, a little more thought, nothing amazing, nothing a decent script doctor wouldn’t be able to do.
The problem with Star Trek Beyond is it’s too aware of its marketplace, too self-aware of itself as a “new” Star Trek movie. Pegg and Jung don’t give enough credit to the actors. They’re on their third Trek, they’re older, they’ve developed. It’s kind of what’s awesome about this movie franchise–people age. Pegg and Jung don’t appreciate it enough. They do in moments, but not in the pace of the film overall. Or maybe deemphasizing the characters for the action comes from Lin, except in the last third, he manages character chemistry and good action. Amidst some of the worst production design on a “Star Trek” ever. Thomas E. Sanders is terrible at visualizing these future worlds.
But it’s all right. I wish I could recommend it and, as always, I’m hopeful for the next one. They just need a better director (and I was rooting for Lin based on his supremely well-directed action sequences in Fast 5 and 6). And a better script. And a better composer. And a better cinematographer. And a better production designer. And a better CG team.
And Pine and Quinto get about a half a real scene together. It’s like Pegg and Jung are scared of writing them together. Star Trek Beyond is scared of taking responsibility for itself. Lin just doesn’t have what it takes to make this script work. Though the bad action is all on Lin.