The nostalgic stagnation of a cinematic behemoth

Review of “Star Trek Beyond”

The enjoyment of the latest Star Trek instalment will most probably depend on whether you embrace the ample old-school touches in the film as delightfully in tune with the status quo of the 50-year old franchise or regard them as ancient artefacts which should have never survived past the 80s. The story is as old as time itself, involving a rescue mission gone awry due to a baddie with an inexplicable thirst for destruction. Despite all the odds, the young cast manages to miraculously shine bright among the rubble of times long past but you cannot help but wonder whether they too felt the weight of the past slowing them down.

“Star Trek Beyond” is brimming with rigid conventions and archetypes older than most of its cast. Only the frequent muddled trophy CG interludes try to desperately hammer home the fact that the film was indeed born into the world as we know it today. Contrary to the the breath-taking landscapes and shiny spacecraft, however, the non-human species follow the monster-design of a bygone era. The Play-Doh look of Krall (shamefully hidden Idris Elba) is more reminiscent of low-budget TV fare like “Xena: Warrior Princess” or the plastic-ridden “Fantaghiro” than a summer production splurge aka a blockbuster. The countenance of the intergalactic superbaddie of the far future is a tricky thing to design but in this case, it veers more towards ridiculous than nostalgic.

As predicted, the plot is exactly what you would expect it to be. As it is the franchise which attracts people to the cinema, a certain formula has to be followed to snuggly fit into the canon. However cosy and homely that might sound, the flood of clichés in the dialogue can become a little suffocating. Though topical, the overemphasis on “unity” could have been served in a more subtle way and rephrased where possible. The plot is similarly over-eager to get to the nice cosy bit in the end where everyone is friends again due to which the logic of the narrative (however feeble the term might be in the context of the genre) is completely disregarded. Challenges are no longer even problems because of how quickly they are glossed over. Deus ex machina makes a few too many incredibly convenient appearances when the spaceship needs jump-starting or when the crew needs saving — a strange circus performance on a motorcycle is beyond far-fetched. Not to mention the ludicrous idea to spook the bee-monsters out of sync with loud retro music. The fact that “Guardians of the Galaxy” managed to effortlessly tie catchy old pop music into the storyline does not mean that it is a formula which always works. Especially when it is not supported by any kind of rhyme, logic (narrative or otherwise) or backstory. The plot seems to be a mindless race to get to the happy end but if the journey is not worth writing home about, one might as well just look at a photo of the smiling cast.

There is still a glimpse of untouched territory covered in “Star Trek Beyond”. In the beginning of the film, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) seems to be stuck in the rut and complains that her life has become a bit “episodic”. He has gotten a grasp of how vast the space actually is and how insignificant all his missions are on the grand scale. As Nietzsche said, if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you. The Sisyphos-like grasp of the absurdity of what you are doing could have taken the story to new interesting depths would it not have been silenced by a point-and-shoot adventure and cookie-cutter homecoming.

“Star Trek Beyond” is a new film which feels oh-so old. True Trekkies would probably call it nostalgia but the insistent déjà vu and failure to escape the predictable point towards stagnation instead. Even the sprightly and talented young cast and a whiff of a promising existential undertone cannot stifle the stale smell of the moth-ridden uniforms. Instead of the tingle of the cosy obvious you get the bite of the annoyingly repetitive. It’s a cold porridge on a workday morning.

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