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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

DAMN Good Movies -- STAR TREK BEYOND


Yes, it's time once again for another of my movie takes, as I run down the film Star Trek Beyond, the third in the rebooted/alternate timeline Star Trek universe (a.k.a. The Kelvin Timeline).  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...ahead warp factor one...

With previous Star Trek director J.J. Abrams off to helm Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the third Trek movie (and more importantly, the 50th Anniversary movie) was left in the hands of screenwriter Roberto "Bob" Orci, a controversial choice for a number of reasons.  The suits at Paramount somehow came to their senses and relegated Orci to a producer role, opening the director's chair up to a number of candidates that included Edgar Wright, Rupert Wyatt, Duncan Jones, and even Jonathan "Will Riker" Frakes.  However, Justin Lin of the Fast and the Furious flicks ended up with the gig, leaving quite a number of fans feeling uneasy at the thought of what the end result might be.

As it turned out, they didn't need to worry.  With Simon "Scotty" Pegg and Doug Jung rewriting Orci's screenplay to make the film more inclusive to non-Trekkies, Lin crafted an adventurous action movie that brought back some of what it used to feel like to explore strange new worlds and new civilizations.  Sure, Lin's fondness for rotating the camera sometimes became a bit disorienting (especially to those of us who suffer from motion sickness), but it also brought a stylish change of pace after Abrams' bizarre fetish for lens flares.

After Captain James Kirk has another comical first contact with a new group of aliens, the film opens nine hundred and sixty-six days into the USS Enterprise's five-year voyage, with the ship arriving at Starbase Yorktown, a massive "snowglobe"-like station with its own internal atmosphere and cityscape straight out of Inception.  Mopey about his upcoming birthday and feeling burned out after over two and a half years in deep space, Kirk has applied for a promotion to Vice Admiral of Yorktown, and plans to name Spock as his replacement aboard the Enterprise. The rest of the crew enjoys the opportunity for shore leave, with Lt. Sulu reuniting with his husband and daughter, while Spock and Lt. Uhura come to terms with ending their relationship.  And in a development many of us hoped would never come, Spock also receives word from New Vulcan that Ambassador Spock, his elder counterpart from the original timeline, has passed away.

Things quickly get going when an escape pod emerges from a nearby nebula and the sole occupant, Kalara, claims her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet within the nebula.  The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission, and as anyone who's watched a bunch of Star Trek over the years could tell you, the rescue goes inevitably, horribly wrong.  The Enterprise is quickly overwhelmed by a massive swarm of one-person ships that batter the hull while the swarm's alien commander, Krall, boards the ship searching for an alien artifact that Kirk brought back from a recent mission.  The sequence is pure, unbridled carnage, as the swarm rips the Enterprise into sectional pieces, with the saucer section crashing to the planet as the crew is forced to abandon ship in escape pods.  Yeah, that could've gone better.

So with the modern Enterprise totaled in just the third movie, the separated bridge crew struggle to survive and find their way back together in time for the film's third act.  Kirk ends up paired with Ensign Chekov along with the increasingly shady Kalara, Spock is wounded and thankfully teamed with Dr. McCoy (as it should be), Scotty encounters a talented scavenger with a fondness for classical rap music named Jaylah, while Sulu, Uhura and the rest of the surviving Enterprise crew are captured by Krall and his goon squad so there's people to rescue.  As a result, we get a number of great character moments and some of the supporting cast members get some time in the spotlight for a while.

As you might expect, the separated crew ends up rescued and reunited, and with the help of Jaylah, events soon take us back to Yorktown, because you can't have a setting that interesting and not do anything with it.  Krall's big Bad Guy Plan turns out to be using a ventilation system to distribute a bioweapon all over Yorktown, so that means it's time for Captain Kirk to save the day, which (Surprise!) he naturally does.

With Krall defeated and Yorktown saved, all that's needed is to tie up the film's loose ends. Kirk decides to pass on the Vice Admiral promotion and remains a captain, Spock decides to remain in Starfleet and hook back up with Uhura, and Jaylah is accepted to Starfleet Academy on Scotty's recommendation so she can potentially return for the next movie.  Ah, but what about the Enterprise, you say?  Well, Lin quickly rushes us through a time-lapse construction of (You guessed it!) the USS Enterprise-A.

And the adventure continues...

So what about the performances from the cast and the characters they portrayed?  Well, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts...

CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK -- Chris Pine's Kirk seems to have finally settled down in this outing.  He's stopped going around slapping his senior officers hard on the shoulder, and you can feel his burden of command more than ever before.  I would, however, like to see Captain Kirk actually outmaneuver an enemy for once, instead of getting his ass handed to him in each movie, which forces him to claw his way back into a position where he ultimately triumphs thanks to a team effort.

COMMANDER SPOCK -- In his third movie as Spock, Zachary Quinto continues to distinguish himself from the late Leonard Nimoy while remaining faithful to his important legacy.  He's given the opportunity to say goodbye to the original Spock (representing all of us, really), before moving forward as Nimoy's approved successor.  This time, instead of having another movie of Spock and Kirk trying to figure each other out, we finally get to see Spock sharing some long-overdue time with Bones.

DR. LEONARD "BONES" MCCOY -- And speaking of Bones, Karl Urban gets a little action in the field this time as Spock's new bromance.  One of the best things from the original Star Trek was the dynamic between McCoy and Spock as two polar opposites that bicker with one another like an old married couple, and it's so great to see that continued here.  Once again, Bones gets all the best lines and his cynical snark is great comic relief for a franchise that occasionally takes itself way too seriously.

LT. COMMANDER MONTGOMERY "SCOTTY" SCOTT -- Simon Pegg co-wrote the revised screenplay, so I guess it's not surprising that Scotty has a more significant role in this outing. After being forced to watch the Enterprise being taken apart by Krall, Scotty rebounds surprisingly well when he's partnered with Jaylah.  And mercifully, their new partnership isn't ruined with some form of forced romance, but enhanced with Scotty's respect for her technical skills.

LIEUTENANT HIKARU SULU -- The major news for Sulu in Beyond is obviously the subtle revelation that the character has a husband and a daughter, who is hopefully named Demora.  And no, the film doesn't try to beat you over the head with some "gay agenda," it just finally brings a franchise set in the 23rd century more in line with the 21st.  Sulu has always been a great helmsman and third officer, but now he gets to be something more.

LIEUTENANT NYOTA UHURA -- After getting some decent action scenes in Star Trek Into Darkness, Zoe Saldana is pretty much sidelined as Uhura here.  Her main purposes as a character in Beyond seem to be breaking up with Spock and being Krall's hostage, neither of which flatters Uhura as the crew highest-ranking female member.  And for some inexplicable reason, when a communication signal is key to disrupting Krall's swarm of ships, the one who takes care of this is Jaylah, as opposed to oh, I don't know -- the actual Communications Officer.

ENSIGN PAVEL CHEKOV -- Yeah, this is heartbreaking.  As many of you know, Anton Yelchin tragically died after making this movie, and with the announcement that the role won't be recast, this is obviously the last time we'll see Chekov.  Fortunately, Chekov gets paired with Kirk for the film's second act, so there are a number of fun moments, such as when Chekov and Kirk are snared in Jaylah's booby-trap.  Rest In Peace, Anton.  We'll miss you.

KRALL/BALTHAZAR EDISON -- As the movie's Big Bad, Idris Elba is practically unrecognizable under prosthetic makeup with suspiciously resembles Ambassador G'Kar from Babylon 5.  Following the what-a-twist revelation that Krall is actually Balthazar Edison, captain of the USS Hamilton, we get to see glimpses of Elba trying to breathe life into his character.  Unfortunately, Krall is a rather forgettable villain with an overly simplistic motivation (Revenge against the Federation!), so a talented actor like Elba is pretty much wasted here.

JAYLAH -- Sofia Boutella, who seriously impressed in Kingsman: The Secret Service, is the film's lead female character, a scavenger with attitude, intelligence, and serious fighting skills.  (No, not Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)  As Jaylah, Boutella pretty much steals every scene she's in, whether she's draped across the Hamilton captain's chair that Kirk naturally covets, or when she's blasting "Fight the Power" from Public Enemy as the 23rd century version of "classical music."  The movie ends with Jaylah headed for Starfleet Academy, so maybe we'll see Ensign Jaylah replace Chekov in Star Trek 4?

KEENSER -- Scotty's three-foot engineering assistant makes his return, played once again by Deep Roy.  However, with Jaylah around, Keenser gets even less screen time than he normally does.  He appear at Kirk's birthday party at the end of the film though, accompanied by a miniature version of himself.  (Keenser's child, presumably?)

SPOCK PRIME CAMEO -- Leonard Nimoy was essential in Star Trek (2009), to pass the torch from the original Enterprise cast to the latest version, then he surprised us with a follow-up appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness, his final film.  As a result, Nimoy's death needed to be addressed in Beyond, so we learn here that the original Spock also passed away off-camera.  In an affecting tribute, Quinto's Spock opens a box of personal effects left behind by Nimoy's Spock, which contains a photograph of the Enterprise crew from the original timeline, taken from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.  

All in all, Star Trek Beyond is worthy of Star Trek's 50th Anniversary celebration.  The movie recaptures the adventurous spirit of the original TV series, with director Justin Lin providing a fresh and action-filled take on the current series of films.  With the passing of Nimoy and Yelchin, the Star Trek film series now feels like it's in a period of transition, and it'll be fascinating to see where Star Trek 4 takes us next.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my favorite Star Trek movies:

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
2. Star Trek (2009)
3. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
4. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
5. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
7. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
9. Star Trek: Generations (1994)
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
11. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
12. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
13. Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

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