Star Trek Beyond

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba

Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung


I’m not a huge Star Trek fan. I don’t mean that in the sense that I don’t like it but rather in the sense that I haven’t watched enough of it to consider myself a huge fan. While I have watched all three instalments of the reboot, the only classic Star Trek movie I’ve ever gotten round to seeing is Wrath of Khan (which I found to be a better movie than any of the new ones). Therefore when I talk about the characters in this movie and the universe they inhabit, I do so from an unenlightened perspective. I am not intimately familiar with this franchise and have no substantive opinion of how a Star Trek movie is supposed to be done. The only fair standard I can set for this film is that provided by the J.J. Abrams movies, both of which I enjoyed but didn’t love. That is more or less how I feel about this movie as well.

Three years into their five-year mission, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) starts contemplating the endless nature of their voyage as he approaches his thirtieth birthday, making him one year younger than his father was when he died. While on shore leave Kirk is offered a promotion and recommends Spock (Zachary Quinto) as his successor, should he accept that is. Spock meanwhile finds himself in a similarly dejected state after ending his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and receiving word that Ambassador Spock has died. The Enterprise is then sent on a rescue mission which turns out to be an ambush. The ship is destroyed by Krall (Idris Elba), a ruthless alien seeking revenge against the United Federation of Planets, and most of the crew is taken captive. Kirk manages to escape with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) while Spock escapes with Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban). Stranded, scattered and crippled, it is up to Kirk to reunite his crew, find out what Krall is planning and save the Federation.

While I understand that the classic Star Trek movies were largely concerned with character-based drama and themes of morality and philosophy, these modern takes have leaned more heavily towards aspects of action/adventure. Although I’ve enjoyed these movies for the thrills they’ve provided, I have often felt that the stories and characters have left me wanting. While the characters in these films are certainly memorable, likeable and entertaining to watch, I’ve seldom found them to be truly compelling. In Star Trek Beyond there was a lot of potential for drama that the movie was able to set up but couldn’t quite follow through on. In Kirk’s arc for example it seems like the movie is trying to present him in a lost, estranged state, living under the shadow of the father he never knew and undergoing a crisis of identity. To me however, it just came across as Kirk being bored of his job. Spock, who lost his home planet in the first film and has learned of the passing of his alternate self, could have been allowed to confront issues of mortality, endurance and responsibility. Instead he breaks up with his girlfriend. Because these movies are so focused on getting to the action, there just isn’t enough time for them to really ask the big questions or to delve deeply into these characters. This doesn’t make them bad or boring, it just makes them somewhat unfulfilling.

Still, the action is often spectacular and is a nice change from the shaky cam and lens flares that often proved distracting in the Abrams movies. There are some incredible sequences in this film, such as Krall’s attack on the Enterprise, that had my heart racing. The action does get more generic in the third act but the ones that really work well are simply stunning. The movie also puts its excellent cast to good use, at least on an entertainment level. The banter between Spock and Bones is good for a few laughs. Pegg provides Scotty with plenty of moments in the spotlight and crushes them. Uhura isn’t given really given enough to do but Saldana is still able to deliver far more than what she was given. Pine has really grown into the role of Kirk and carries an undeniable air of authority befitting a strong and respected leader. The only disappointment was the villain who, despite Elba’s best efforts, is let down by a forgettable personality, vague motivations and a weak plot twist.

Star Trek Beyond is a good enough movie on a purely entertaining level. It has good characters portrayed by a superb cast, some great comedic highlights and plenty of action. It’s weakness, as with the previous two instalments, is its inability to give its story and character the depth that they deserve. The promise is there, the films just aren’t brave enough to follow through with it. Star Trek Beyond is thrilling and it is enjoyable, but there ultimately isn’t very much that separates it from all the other sci-fi/action blockbusters being made today. I may not have seen enough of the classic Star Trek movies and TV shows to claim any sort of authority where they are concerned, but what little I have seen I’ve found to be intelligent, captivating and unlike any big budget movie being made in this current climate. If these movies ever took the risk of putting the action in the backseat and allowed themselves to attempt that same level of innovation and nuance, we might have been treated to something truly special.

★★★

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Green Room

Cast: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawcat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier


Boy, did this film make me feel queasy. In this day and age where we have movies by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and more horror-movie directors than I can possibly count, we’ve become pretty desensitised to the portrayal of violence and blood and gore on screen. Yet this film really shocked me with its content in a way that doesn’t often happen to me anymore. Green Room is not an overtly violent film. It isn’t over-the-top in its depiction of violence and certainly never ventures into the realm of torture porn. What made it so disturbing for me, rather, was how realistically graphic it chose to be at infrequent intervals. The film dedicated much of its time towards building an irrepressible atmosphere of dread to the point that you can hardly believe what is happening. Thus the selective use of authentically gruesome violence serves to bring the viewers back down to earth and remind them that this is not a bad dream. The danger these characters find themselves in is all too real and all too distressing. As a viewer I couldn’t help but feel trapped with them.

The film follows a punk rock band who agree to play a gig at a secluded venue in the Pacific Northwest. The band members are Pat (Anton Yelchin), the bassist, Sam (Alia Shawkat), the guitarist, Reece (Joe Cole), the drummer and Tiger (Callum Turner), the singer. They discover that the venue is in fact hosting a festival for white supremacists and so decide not to stay any longer than absolutely necessary. After the gig the band members return to the back room where they witness the stabbing of a young woman. Terrified and horrified, they lock themselves in the room along with the murder victim’s friend Amber (Imogen Poots) to try and work out an escape plan. Meanwhile the leader of the neo-Nazis Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) intends to make sure that none of the witnesses leave the building alive.

I think the kind of tone this film is going for is that of a B-movie, which is a style choice and not a criticism. It has that sort of farfetchedness in its set up and execution coupled with a stark grittiness with no holds barred. However, through the use of its higher-value production, a well-known cast and skilled direction, Green Room offers a more intense and chilling experience than the typical B-movie. The film thrives on claustrophobia as these characters are trapped in a room with no means of escape. It is relentless in its brutality as each plan they attempt only makes their desperate situation even worse. Typically in these kinds of films you can usually tell which characters will end up making it out alright but here it is all up in the air. The film’s refusal to allow these characters any pleasure had me wondering whether any of them would even survive, let alone make it out safely. Any further elaboration on this point risks spoiling the capricious viewing experience so I’ll move on now.

Although the musicians trapped in the back room are the movie’s protagonists, Patrick Stewart is the headliner. As the ruthless leader of the vicious neo-Nazi skinheads he provides the film with an intriguing and menacing villain. Being the class act that he is, Stewart brings some dignity to the role of a cruel and powerful man trying to command a situation that is getting more and more out of his control. His screen-time is limited but Stewart commands every second in which he appears. The young musicians also deliver formidable performances as they are overcome with fear, anxiety and desperation. With only a locked metal door standing between them and a brutal death, it is all these characters can do to not give in to despair or panic. As their situation grows more hopeless with each passing second they try to use what few resources they have at their disposal to escape, only for everything to keep getting worse.

Many people are not going to like this film, that is a simple reality. Having seen it, I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to watch it a second time. Green Room is one of the most gruelling and distressing experiences I’ve ever had in a cinema. It does such an impressive job of creating a desolate and petrifying atmosphere that watching it all the way through to the end feels like a feat of survival. It is so unflinching and convincing in its brutality that I think many viewers will find it difficult to detach themselves. With that said though, I certainly cannot say that it wasn’t thrilling or enthralling. It is a harrowing film but it was still fun to watch in a twisted and macabre way. Those who believe they might be able to endure such a film should go and see it and I wish them the best of luck.

★★★★