Movie reviews: Star Trek Beyond is an action spectacle in search of franchise's character-driven roots

New film Star Trek Beyond is almost all about action and the Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru documentary is pure edutainment

The old Star Trek movies blended adventure and mystery with lots of talky bits about the Prime Directive and aspirations to explore strange new worlds.

J.J. Abrams and his 2009 retooling gave a boot to all that and the series was reborn as a big- budget non-stop action spectacular. It was a direction that Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) took even further.

Star Trek Beyond(123 minutes, opens tomorrow, 3/5 stars) is indeed all about battles, on land and in space. Under the hand of new director Justin Lin, veteran of the Fast & Furious franchise, it even squeezes in a James Kirk (Chris Pine) motorcycle stunt, thanks to a plot convolution that ushers in a 20th-century antique. Now, imagine Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard taking ramp jumps with a two-wheeler, guns blazing - perhaps on the holodeck, but unlikely anywhere else.

Not that the action is done poorly - this third film of the rebooted series is all slick spectacle, created for 3D cinema. The enemy Bees - single-occupant attack ships that swirl and swarm like insects - are a fresh touch.

 I Am Not Your Guru.
Star Trek Beyond stars (from far left) Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine; and Tony Robbins in the documentary, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. PHOTO: NETFLIX

A series of events leads to the crew of the Enterprise being stranded on the unexplored planet Altamid, where they encounter the evil Krall (Idris Elba). An accident splits the crew into pairs - Kirk (Pine) is paired with Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is partnered with Bones (Karl Urban). The odd couples bicker and plot and fight their way to safety.

This is where this third movie makes an attempt to go back to its character-driven roots. It's not entirely successful, but the bits that work will bring a pang of nostalgia for the days when crew members lived not just in Captain Kirk's world, but also had lives independent of the leading male hero.

The script is penned by the team of Doug Jung (mainly a television writer, also playing Sulu's husband Ben) and Simon Pegg (also known as engineer Scotty). They create a few memorable moments of interplay between the crew members of the Enterprise, but even they struggle with giving supporting characters any agency.  

John Cho's Sulu and Zoe Saldana's Uhura are still criminally underused, for example. Sulu is the all-rounded helpful guy and Uhura is the same, but with love interest Spock in her portfolio.

Star Trek Beyond stars Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine; and Tony Robbins (above) in the documentary, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru. PHOTO: NETFLIX

Away from the cinema, an excellent new documentary has appeared on Netflix. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (R21, 116 minutes, 4/5 stars) follows one of the world's most famous motivational speakers and success coaches on stage and behind the scenes as he conducts his six-day, US$5,000-a-ticket (S$6,756) Date With Destiny seminar for 2,500 attendees in Boca Raton, Florida.

This is the first time Robbins has allowed this sort of access. The film falls far short of a deep dive - we see him working the crowd, the team huddles and his pre-show workout, but almost nothing of his personal time.

But that absence of total coverage is a minor flaw because director Joe Berlinger clears the bigger and more important hurdle - he nails the reason behind why the lantern-jawed, gravel-voiced speaker has a global empire and a half-billion-dollar net worth, built on words and personality.

Berlinger, maker of Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster (2004) and the Oscar-nominated miscarriage- of-justice investigation Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011), shows crowds coming for Robbins' uncanny ability to pinpoint hidden trauma and, more interestingly, for the sheer theatricality of it all - the room vibrates with emotion when, after a Robbins interrogation, a suicidal man's defences crumble and the floodgates open. The moments are raw and almost too painful to watch.

Even for sceptics who think "scam" when the word "self-help" appears and "cult" when they see advertisements for "life transformation" (like this reviewer does), this documentary, if nothing else, reveals the extremely thorough, military-style planning that goes into creating what Robbins followers call a "breakthrough".

The film offers an approach that is less than warts-and-all - there are no opposing points of view from trained counsellors, for example - but as far as investigations into the inner workings of the modern psychotherapy-industrial complex go, this is edutainment of the highest order.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'A trek into the spectacular'. Print Edition | Subscribe