If you go out into the furthest reaches of Star Trek’s filmography you’ll be in for an unsettling discovery – the final frontier looks oddly familiar. It’s brightly coloured eye-bait, Jim, exactly as we know it – outpacing your visual field in an attempt to convince you that something exciting is going on. A clever ploy, but try looking past the strobing beams and you’ll find a ready-made plot that only comes alive in its closing stages.
Somehow, Star Trek Beyond’s future looks old. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a bit fed up. He flies his ship over to the planet of ugly space lizard and leading Federexit campaigner Krall (Idris Elba). They don’t get on very well. It turns out Krall’s vibe is all about progress through self-realising individualism in a perpetually combative universe. If you’re wondering why Sofia Boutella’s sexy alien Jaylah has three-inch heels on her combat boots, it’s because she likes being a bit taller OK? Now McCoy will hit you with a moderately charming zinger before flirting with Spock again – their frisson of homosocial man-love the film’s main selling point (fitting for a film that elected to reboot a franchise character as gay, but not too gay.)
One of the few good gags in the film is actually lifted from an episode of Futurama (cf. ‘classical music’ in the episode A Fishful of Dollars) – a television series which first made glorious hay from the dry husk of 1960s futurology over seventeen years ago. You’d think pastiche of that quality would make it difficult to do something so old-fashioned, but with Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond we’re being offered something utterly antique. The recent Star Wars reboot arguably did something similar, but not without a concerted effort to defy expectations of gender. Here, the heroes are still swashbuckling men, enjoying laconic conversation in some endless airport lounge in the sky. The uninitiated out there will likely find it flat with zero gravity.