Friday, August 5, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

2016, d. Justin Lin

I like Star Trek.  I'm not an uber-nerd for it like I am for superheroes and Star Wars but I've put in more than a few hundred hours of my life watching and reading and playing and discussing things Trekkie.  I'm not precious about it.  Star Trek can be fairly precious on its own.  I get why the Trekkers don't like what JJ Abrams did with the universe (the Franklin Timeline as it's officially called), because he scrubbed out a lot of the science and almost all of the cultural/social metaphor out of Trek, two things which have been the property's lifeblood for fifty years.  Abrams made a pair of entertaining films, and pulled together a great cast that can adeptly stand in for the original Enterprise crew, but at the end of the day they were popcorn movies which more than satiated the casual moviegoer and Star Trek dabbler, and left the core fans at best underwhelmed and at worst angry.

Sitting on the bottom edge of the "core fan" label, just above the dabbler label, the latest cinematic Trek foray, Star Trek Beyond is to me a perfectly acceptable happy medium between the big blockbuster shenanigans of Abrams' previous two pictures, and of the crew-centric, mission-based Trek we grew to love through multiple generations.

There's spectacle aplenty here, but also character focus.  In a way, this one feels episodic, not stand-alone.  This builds upon aspects of the two films prior as a launch point for some of the characters to move forward.  As is expected it's primarily focused on Kirk and Spock, but Bones, Scotty and Checkov get a couple nudges forward as well.  Uhura and Sulu are underserved by the script, though both get a couple of fine moments (John Cho as Sulu looks great in the Captain's chair).  In fact, all the major players get fine moments, just some get fine moments that have some actual meaning to them.

Kick-ass women are now a trendy thing
(hooray!) so Jaylah gets a lot of focus in
the marketing of the film.  She's so neat
As seen in the trailer, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships, and is virtually destroyed, much of the crew along the way is killed.  It's a fairly brutal movie in this regard, and it doesn't confront death too much directly, but doesn't just wash it away sunnily either.  Kirk's general point is "we have a mission and we don't stop until it's done"...they have time for remorse and sorrow later.

The crew is mostly captured by the attacking enemy, save a few members stranded on a mostly lifeless planet.  Scotty (co-writer Simon Pegg naturally bolstered Scotty's role here) meets Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a survivor from a previous attack who is not only a really cool-looking alien, but super competent at everything, and not duplicitous in any way.  She's an utter highlight of a film that actually has a great many.  She gives Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty and Checkov (sour note: all the white men of the bridge escaped the low down on their enemy, the villainous Krall (Idris Elba, yay!), whose motivations are slowly revealed as the film plays out.

There's some convolutedness to Krall's plan, which can be forgiven amidst all the entertainment, and even Krall's motivation is a little light for Star Trek territory (I was hoping for more of a "the Federation taught us to fight, now we fight the Federation" type of US/Afghanistan or US/Iraq kind of parable), he is a good villain, because, well Idris Elba.  For all the nitpicking that could be done (and unfortunately, for as fun as the film is, there's still a lot of nits to pick), the one major standout for me is who is Krall's crew?  Maybe it's actually explained and I missed it, but there's seemingly some inconsistency there.

Kralls swarm is taken out by science, and done so in the way that every swarm is taken out in movies... with ease.  Find the magic thing and the entirety is out of commission.  Sabotage was actually kind of fun (for me, but I can see the die hard Trekkers abhorring it).  In reality their plan to take out the swarm should have left the ships active but far less effective.  Again, so many nits to pick.
Playing this sequence against the Beastie Boys'

I feel like Chris Pine has developed his own Kirk, who bears a resemblance to Shatner but only passingly.  He's on a different path in this Kelvin Timeline so of course he will be different.  Spock on the other hand, feels like a familiar glove, with the scripts giving Zachary Quinto some little twists to sink into.  Karl Urban just nails Doctor McCoy... he's the MVP of each of these movies and is given some real meaty scenes with Spock to flesh out their friendship of respect.  It looks like they were building Checkov into a bit of a silver-tongued ladies man instead of Kirk, which makes Anton Yelchin's passing all the sadder.

We're treated to a star base in this film called Yorktown.  The place is marvelous.  I want to live there. 
What I like about Star Trek Beyond  is that it advances the characters and the Kelvin Timeline mythology.  It moves things forward and really solidifies the crew.  The film's perhaps too rapid-paced/quick-cut for conventional Star Trek and could serve to have more breathing room at times (particularly in the action scenes)  but overall it looks great and is quite an exciting ride.

Of all the Trek films... this ranks probably third.

Love this retro poster recalling the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture design