Friday, July 22, 2016

STAR TREK Doesn’t Really Go BEYOND, But It Stays On Course

Now playing at every multiplex in Federation space:

STAR TREK BEYOND (Dir. Justin Lin, 2016)

Does anybody really care about new STAR TREK movies now that J.J. Abrams has so successfully resurrected STAR WARS?

Well, of course they do because there have been Trekkies since way before George Lucas even thought of that galaxy far, far away, the characters are so ingrained into pop culture that they feel like a lot of people’s family members, and, most importantly it’s a highly profitable property for Paramount.

So here’s the third film in the rebooted franchise, the 13th in the STAR TREK film series overall, in which FAST AND THE FURIOUS filmmaker Justin Lin takes the helm, but, with Abrams in the producer’s chair, still stays true to the Bad Robot brand.

After a funny opening involving Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) trying to re-gift an artifact (that later turns out to be the movie’s McGuffin) to an intimidating yet tiny alien race right out of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, we learn that we’re now three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission and that Kirk, via a classic Captain’s log voice-over, is feeling that things have become too “episodic.”

Pine’s Kirk, along with series regulars Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg), all seem to be in a recognizable yet entertaining rut as we get to hang with them a little before the inevitable action spectacle begins.

The Enterprise docks at a space station named Yorktown that when McCoy remarks that it looks like a “snowglobe just waiting to break” we know that we will most likely be seeing that happen later on. Before you know it, a spaceship hurls towards the Yorktown and, yep, we again get the premise of a looming alien attack that our trusty crew must try to prevent.

The Enterprise yet again gets destroyed – torn into individual pieces mind you - by a swarm of killer bee-like spaceships, and Kirk and co. get stranded on the treacherous terrain of a planet called Altamid (I think). This is where there’s some nice interactions between the paired up combinations of Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy (who may have the best back and forth as well as the best lines), and Uhuru and Sulu, who's gay now if you haven't heard.

There’s also the intro of Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, a badass white-skinned alien who gets Scotty out of a skirmish and alerts him to the fact that a downed starship hidden via hologram, the U.S.S. Franklin, could help them defeat the baddies.

Idris Elba, as Krall (such an ‘80s sci-fi villain name) is too hidden behind prosthetics to really have the necessary impact, and his back story is a bit too Khan-ish – i.e. fueled with revenge by being wronged by the Federation – but the stakes still feel appropriately high in the second half.

I got a bit lost in the mist of the disorienting CGI-ed chaos of a few sequences but the experience is so much more satisfying than the previous effort, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. With Pegg pulling double duty as Scotty and as screenwriter (with co-writer Doug Jung) you get the sense that this is the first of the recent wave of STAR TREK movies written by people who have more than STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN as their reference point.

The late, great Leonard Nimoy is paid proper tribute to with Quinto’s Spock learning that his older self from the alternate timeline established in the 2008 series restarter, Ambassador Spock, has died, and with a “In Loving Memory of…” credit. It’s also impossible to forget the recent tragic passing of Yelchin, who gets a “For Anton” dedication at the end, especially when Kirk raises a toast to “absent friends” with Chekov standing right behind him.

STAR TREK BEYOND still opts for the amped-up, sexy, and flashy trappings of Abrams’ version of Gene Roddenberry’s creation, though under Lin’s direction there is a lot less lens glare. Pine remarked in an interview earlier this summer that “You can’t make a cerebral ‘Star Trek’ in 2016- it just wouldn’t work in today’s marketplace,” and, sigh, maybe he’s right. Still, I'd like to see them try.

So the latest entry doesn’t go where any sci-fi movie series hasn’t gone before - even the spoof GALAXY QUEST went to some of the same places as this does – but it’s a fun, fit series entry that most fans will dig. Hmm, maybe this time around the odd numbered STAR TREK movies will be the good ones.

More later...

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