Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Spoiler-free.

When the trailer released, I was one of few people who thought it promised good -- a promise that needed to be made for the fans nervous about J. J. Abrams handing over directing reins to Justin Lin. Through that admittedly iffy trailer I saw where I thought this film was headed, and I liked it. Still after a while my excitement took a beating, and I was hesitant to see the film as soon as I did. Not because I thought it wouldn't be good anymore, but because I thought I wouldn't be able to enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed. But I was right where it mattered and wrong where it mattered; Beyond does everything that I expected it'd do, and was able to put a smile on my face.

The third installment of the rebooted franchise dials back on the scale, and narrows its focuses to character and action for a pleasant episodic feel. Jim Kirk and his crew are cut off from the federation, stranded on a strange planet in the far reaches of the galaxy, and face a mysterious and intimidating threat which they face with bold determination.

This movie isn't perfect, but it's going in the right direction. So boldly go!

Firstly, more than just the directing reins changed hands. This time round, and Doug Jung did the writing, rather than J. J.'s regulars. The reason I had so much confidence in this movie from the start was because of Simon Pegg. Certainly less known as a writer, but anyone who knows his writing work knows that it's the type to inspire confidence. And he didn't fall short; to the uninitiated this film is indistinguishable from the last two. There's the same sharp action, the same comic relief that is actually funny and elicits a real laugh, the same serious tone used carefully to add depth and urgency, and those same "Star Trek" moments that cause cheesy grins.

But to those like me who are compelled to look under the surface, there are some differences. And differences I was all for, but these were not purposeful deviations from the formula, but rather elements that were attempts at copying previous successes that just don't land quite as confidently. Paying attention to the plot progression, a more than typical number of plot holes are distinguishable, and too much of the dialogue is used in exposition, trying to explain holes away. And there are a few contrivances that were necessary for the plot to work. There did seem to be a handful of moments of genuine inspiration -- and they were all kinds of fantastic -- but for the most part the plot exists to serve the action.

The best the plot does is create situations for the characters to shine.

There was no shortage of memorable action set pieces though they were sometimes worked into the story less than gracefully. There were two shots where the CGI was noticeable and almost humorously bad, otherwise the special effects are fine, though not exactly evoking of awe either. It also loses a sense of sophistication that the previous films had, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. This film has a ragtag aura that is interestingly appealing. The only thing the more blunt action caused that I didn't like was that the fighting and action was filmed too close, and often with too low lighting for us to get the full effect. But not quite too much that you can't tell what's going on. The grandeur and beauty of the setting seems to be only shown off because it's obligatory; it's still got some great artistic imagery, but it doesn't linger like I found myself wishing it would.

The themes are simplistic and not particularly thought-provoking, but there is a charm to experiencing an action flick that doesn't try to shoehorn its themes. There's friendship and camaraderie going on that feels like it wasn't even done on purpose it's so natural. Give Justin Lin a large cast of oddball characters, and he can make them mesh; and these characters take to his treatment like they were made for it. Captain Kirk battling the odds with his two opposite sidekicks is sometimes the only thing we need. And when Bones and Spock have scenes together, which they do often, they lightly bounce their opposing worldviews back and forth with a casual depth that is subtly epic. Their scenes are also the most consistently funny, in a true, organic way.

Two sides of the same coin if ever two people fit the bill.

has found that perfect balance of determined logic and suppressed but genuine emotion with his Spock. I doubt he'll ever be my favorite character, but the respect keeps going up. Bones is already one of my favorites though, and won't be losing his place any time soon. always has been, and continues to be a fantastic Bones. The rough, sarcastic edge, the way he embraces his humanity (the good with the bad), and his innate lovable charm is all effortless from Urban. He gets even more to do this time around, and proves he deserves it and more. This time it's Uhura () and Sulu () who fall slightly to the wayside -- comparatively. They still have whatever they had from the last movies, but don't really add anything new or fresh.

I'm sure they'll come back around soon.

Ever underused is Chekov. Especially now, considering this is the last film in which the adorably quirky character will make an appearance. He was my favorite ever since he had all that trouble pronouncing his V's in movie one, and the Star Trek franchise won't be half as good in my eyes without him. Here he gets more to do than ever, but still isn't there nearly enough. The way the camera glances past him is maddeningly reminiscent of real life, but made the best of the part as he always did, and made the character unforgettable with his cute and awkward mannerisms, accent, and unconcealable charm. It's never pointed out to the audience even slightly, but I don't think I was seeing things when I noticed Chekov crushing on Jaylah, and it nearly broke me with adorableness. Chekov is an irreplaceable character -- there will be a gaping hole in every single installment to come.

I never knew you, but I'll miss you, and the characters you brought to life onscreen.

Now Jaylah () is the obligatory new allied character, and is the best yet. That chic totally rocked. I loved her attitude and her unique, yet familiar persona. She's like a sullen, hardened teenager, yet is an alien with some naive and disarming fish-out-of-water qualities. She was cool, and funny, and had a great arc with a good amount of depth. I'd love to see her again. She hangs out a lot with Scotty, and they make for some sharp scenes together. Who knows if it was a temptation, but Simon Pegg didn't abuse his writing powers and give himself anything more to do as Scotty as he did before; but Scotty has always been a character worth devoting a good amount of time to, and he did match that. He's capable of holding down scenes by himself, and does it with that patented Scottish attitude and wit to spare.

Her makeup is epic. And I love that Scotty calls her Lassie. And she calls him Montgomery Scotty!

Am I missing someone? Ha -- just kidding. In movies like this, the lead is rarely the character I love most, but 's Captain James T. Kirk will always be a character worth admiring, rooting for, and revolving an entire movie around. Here his arc was fairly predictable, but an avenue worth exploring and was handled well script-wise and performance-wise. There are no huge emotional scenes, but that doesn't matter with Pine. He mixes the subtle depths of Kirk evenly into every moment and brings an important weight to the story and his loyal, smirking, and heroic Captain. The villain he faces was a surprising downside. brings the intimidation and the turmoil, but unfortunately was landed with the side of the script that was dotted with holes. In the end Krall was too flimsy to be convincing or memorable. He got the job done, but only just.

He belongs in that captain's chair.

In fact, that's a pretty accurate description of the film as a whole: it gets the job done. Not glamorously or impressively or mind-bendingly, but with a solid amount of fun and excitement, and a decent amount of throwing back and respect for what it is continuing. And the job really is to showcase the characters. What surrounds them may not be as spectacular as it has been before, but the characters themselves are every bit as worth spending time with as they ever were. The plot may not be terribly smart, but the smartest thing the film does was a great choice; to pair off the characters into groups were they brought out the best, and the most interesting sides in each other.

Beyond is an enjoyable caper into the unexplored reaches of space; comparatively inferior in quality to the installments actually helmed by Abrams, but for fans of the new franchise, no less worthwhile by its own right. In a few ways it is flawed superficially, but at its heart holds onto what makes these adventures worth the trip -- the iconic and lovable captain and crew of the USS Enterprise.

2 comments:

  1. Nice review! I've liked the rebooted Star Trek movies so far, even if Star Trek: Into Darkness pulled a little too many elements from Wrath of Khan. Pegg seems to have a good grasp on the series and writing, so it sounds like he does a decent job. It's a shame though that with th arrival of a new female character, Uhura takes a backseat. There's room for more than one woman in a big blockbuster. I'll have to catch this at the theaters sometime soon!

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    1. Thank you Katy! Yes, Pegg did do a good job with the writing. The plot was eh, but he hit the characters spot-on! And the humor is excellent. No misses at all.

      Well, Uhura doesn't take a backseat because of Jaylah. Jaylah's role is important and couldn't have been filled by Uhura. And Uhura doesn't add a lot to her character from previous movies, but that more due to how well her character has already been established. She's still just as present as everyone else. :) Hope you enjoy it! :D

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