If you plan on catching up with Kirk and crew you’d be wise to bring a sick bag. Justin Lin takes over directing duties from the departing JJ Abrams (what’s he been doing lately?) and the man’s a tad overenthusiastic when it comes to editing. Lightening quick cuts mean vast swathes of the first major action sequence scream past in a disorientating and – at times – nauseating blur.
Granted what’s happening on screen is chaotic. The Enterprise is dropping out of the sky after being torn apart by a swarm of enemy ships, but major characters could have bit the big one and you’d be none the wiser. Trying to keep up is an unpleasant experience intensified by Lin’s decision to go from zero to sixty in a matter of moments. Clearly you can take the director out of the Fast and the Furious franchise, but…
To begin with the pace is pedestrian. James T (Chris Pine) and the gang are three years into a five-year exploration mission and life on the road is starting to wear people down. Hurtling through the cosmos and discovering new worlds with a team of ludicrously good-looking people can apparently become as monotonous as your average desk job. In a nice little nod to the TV series Kirk describes existence on the Enterprise as “episodic.”
Both he and Zachary Quinto‘s Spock are thinking about making a change when a devastating ambush leaves the crew ship-less and scattered across an alien planet. It’s at this point the film finds its feet, Lin cooling it with the camera tricks and letting the characters come to the fore. The regulars – including the late Anton Yelchin – all play their part, but it’s the bromantic bickering between Spock and Karl Urban‘s Bones that steals the show.
As an odd-couple double act they’re nigh-on perfect – one delightfully deadpan, the other increasingly exasperated. Forget the splashy special effects and world-saving shenanigans, it’s all about Bones growling “God damn it man” as a silent, stone-faced Spock slowly raises an eyebrow. A spin-off sit-com casting the pair as chalk-and-cheese flatmates would be gold.
Series newcomer Sofia Boutella also makes an impact as an albino warrior woman with a pleasing taste for “classical” music – think Public Enemy rather than Puccini. Sadly the same can’t be said for Idris Elba‘s brutish villain Krall. So nullified is his natural charisma that it could be anyone behind the prosthetics and make-up. A lack of screen time and an underdeveloped back story don’t help things either.
Still, at least his murderous schemes give Lin the chance to make up for previous set-piece sins. Taking the fight to Krall requires the reassembled crew to jumpstart a Starfleet relic by pushing it off the edge of a cliff. It’s brilliantly staged, as is the subsequent airborne assault accompanied by a blast of the Beastie Boys.