Hiring dancers to act in a film always makes everyone else look like they’re moving underwater. Star Trek Beyond dozes off, but the last sight before slumber is Sofia Boutella still pivoting under unseen internal tensions and lounging furiously and looking like she might be capable of pouncing from a prone position, a neat trick. And if most of her dialogue sounds like it was written underwater too, that’s hardly her problem.
The rest probably deserves to sink. It’s a drastic course correction by Paramount away from JJ Abrams’ crystalline intellectual rigour in favour of something that in the circumstances would have to be called fast and furious, but to what end? Tough to claim that it’s really aligned with the spirit of the original series just because of a lack of lens flare – not when the film nearly swoons at the prospect of a swarm of holographic James Kirks riding 20th Century motorbikes spraying CGI concrete behind them, or requiring him to trip four switches in the correct order in order to blow the film’s level boss out of an airlock. And both of those are surface-level phenomena. A move away from space action in these space tales is an established red flag of modest ambitions – a switch Abrams tripped himself in Star Wars – replacing the heavyweight physics of battleships with the weightless biology of Tomb Raider, all prison breaks and camouflage and goals and targets, filmed by Justin Lin in a style amounting to point and shoot. The villain – weighed down by obligatory forced causal link to the hero – notes how utopian military and political union tends to just leave bodies bleeding in the gutter, but the background hum of pop-sociology that tries to juice all these films with some modern resonance is really just homeopathy at this point. The Beastie Boys are eventually dragged into things as well, so fannish a flourish that it’s simultaneously hard to knock and an objective low point for Star Trek, doing without the old hints that the series knew how to be funny from a philosophical and performative standpoint rather than a self-reflexive one. So far no director ever grasped that better than William Shatner himself, a lesson learned beneath a mountain of tribbles and never forgotten.