Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Before getting into this review, and as a preface to everything regarding the Star Trek cinematic series, I have to say that I’m not really a “Trekkie” or “Trekker” or that big a fan of the whole television and film franchise prior to J.J. Abrams's involvement.  I can honestly say that I’ll be—and have been—looking at this new rebooted series as a neutral movie-goer and won’t be biased in any way, shape, or form.  I am, however, a sci-fi movie enthusiast and consider the genre a close second, right next to horror.  But give me a science fiction film, set in space, with aliens and space ships, with laser blasts and action, all mixed together with tons of visual effects, and I’m all in for the 90-minute ride.

I’ve said it before, J.J. Abrams is close to taking over the mantle where Steven Spielberg is residing.  With his production company, Bad Robot, inheriting the Star Trek franchise as well as Star Wars, there’s no further elevation he can reach.  Yes, he’s got a lot of television under his belt, took over the Mission: Impossible series of films, and has so many film projects lined up for quite some time, so we’re in for years and years of cinematic adventures.

As for the Star Trek film franchise, not to mention the multiple television series throughout the years, I’ve enjoyed some of the earlier films and television episodes here and there.  The first four films I’d enjoyed quite a bit and actually own them on Blu-Ray, watching them occasionally when the feeling arises.  Part five and beyond had really lost me and I’d never decided to venture forth with those sequels, forgetting about them and seeing part four as the final film in that series.  I’ve seen some of the earlier television series of the 60s in syndication when I was a kid, but never felt I was a big fan.  All newer shows were never within my radar and I’d just stayed away, thinking you had to be a diehard enthusiast to watch and understand.

It wasn’t until my first theatrical viewing of Cloverfield that a spark of interest lit up inside me, seeing the teaser for the 2009 film where we see workers welding and laboring on a huge craft, hearing famous recordings of John F. Kennedy and American astronauts, seeing that it was the USS Enterprise as the shot widened out, all of it ending with Leonard Nimoy’s voiceover: “Space…the final frontier…”  I had been sold, right there, developing the desire to see the movie when it was to be released. 

So here we are now, seven years later, with the second sequel to the series…2016’s Star Trek Beyond.  I really like that J.J. Abrams, et al, are going away from the number tagged on each sequel, choosing to add a title after the words, Star Trek.  With the first sequel, the title convention was Star Trek Into Darkness.  No number…not even a colon to separate the title.  With Beyond, it describes what the main characters actually do in this story…they go beyond the reaches of space and that’s how the main crux of the story begins.

The USS Enterprise crew, led by Captain James. T. Kirk (Chris Pine), explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy, Krall (Idris Elba), who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

The story here is well told and entertaining, never letting up once it gets going.  I’d been a little concerned near the start of this film where we get some exposition from Captain Kirk as he enjoys a drink with Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban).  The scene was a bit boring, but I had understood it needed to be included to help out the story as a whole.  The men have a drink to quietly celebrate the captain’s birthday, but Kirk only thinks about how he’s turning a year older than his father’s age when he was killed during his Federation service.  At the same time, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is going through a life-changing event as he receives news that Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy, appearing only in a digital photo) has passed away.  Both men contemplate leaving their positions to pursue other roles and these subplots are things to think about for both characters as their story plays out in this movie.

Near the beginning of the film, the USS Enterprise docks at a space station in the vast reaches of the cosmos called Yorktown.  It’s a wonderful creation where one of the characters actually describes it perfectly, like a glass snow globe in space.  But you haven’t really seen anything like this in film, as the visual effects are staggering and incredible.  It’s difficult to explain, but the world within the interior of this space globe defy gravity, having parts of the city appearing upside-down and other right-side-up…all of this with the film giving us the point-of-view of the USS Enterprise flying through this wondrous inner scape.  I have to admit…I felt a little nauseous, getting a bit of motion sickness as I’d witnessed this.  At the same time, however, I had found it fascinating.  Many other scenes feature such minimal attention to detail, with planetary geography and plant life…it’s really so much to take in, but it really gives the film the sense that the characters are on alien worlds and not just filming on some dressed up movie set.

Although Idris Elba does a magnificent job as Krall, I felt it was a waste to have him spend the majority of the movie underneath all that makeup.  I’d known that he was in the film, but kind of forgot about it, not knowing who was the actor playing this villain when I’d first laid eyes upon him.  You’d think that they could’ve gotten a stuntman or lesser-known actor to play the part in this movie, like someone who’s used to wearing a bunch of latex and makeup…someone like…Doug Jones…?

A few things that can’t be overlooked, one of which I’d already discussed a little, is the passing of two actors in this franchise.  Leonard Nimoy, although only in the previous two films for cameo-like roles, is a staple of the Star Trek mythos and will always be remembered as Mr. Spock.  Though he’d been in a lot of other roles (I had particularly liked him in 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it’s hard to envision him as anybody but Spock.  The other loss the Star Trek world had faced was the passing of Anton Yelchin earlier this year.  You’ll see in a later review my admiration of this young actor, but he really took the reins of the Chekov role and went with it full force.  It’s a shame, really, that this had to happen to one of the main characters.  I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of the person—or people—that will have to make a choice on whether to replace him or write the character out of the subsequent sequels.  It’s a lose-lose situation, regardless.  But Yelchin’s death is a big loss to the world of film because that kid really had a great career ahead of him.

As I’d said, being that I’m not a big Star Trek fan, I really hadn’t caught a lot of the callbacks that I’ve heard some people talk about.  What I had caught, however, was a few here and there, reminding me of some of the previous Star Trek films that had featured the original cast.  For instance, near the beginning of the film, when Kirk and McCoy share a drink, it reminded me of a similar scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  A deliberate one, but more of an accolade to the original actor—George Takei—who had played Sulu in the television series as well as the original films, was to write in a character development to have Sulu (John Cho) be represented as gay.  Unfortunately, that added  characteristic was not condoned by Takei, citing that it wouldn’t have been Gene Roddenberry’s intention to have the character represented that way.  Another little touch that I’d noticed and have heard other people mention was towards the end of the movie, when Kirk toasts his crew, making mention to the ones that are absent.  At that moment, the camera lingers on Yelchin, giving a nice nod to the late actor as sort of a chapter closing on his character.

The rest of the cast are all pretty much here, but one takes a backseat and doesn’t do much except earn a paycheck—Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  She has a minor role in this sequel, which is too bad, but she does help move the plot along when it comes to an important point in the story.  Interjected in the film is a new character, and one that we’ll probably see again—Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).  Her performance added a bit of levity and played well alongside Simon Pegg’s Scotty.  Just like the television series, the rest of the crew on the USS Enterprise are a series of faces that we’ll never see again, but that’s not necessarily bad.

Star Trek Beyond has quite a few action scenes, though not as many as the previous two films, but enough to keep your blood flowing at times.  Combined with the visual effects, this film will keep even the younger, smartphone-obsessed, crowd into the film during the second and third acts.  Mixed with the effects, there is some incredible work with prosthetics and makeup, giving us some freaky-looking aliens, one of them really using her head for one of the scenes.

Of course, when you have Simon Pegg in the cast—and one of the writers, I might add—you’re going to be treated to some humorous moments.  Pegg’s scenes, as Scotty, keep those moments lighthearted and fun, and that’s where the actor really excels.  Scotty’s little friend, Keenser (Deep Roy), is back as well and had me laughing when a skill is brought to life on screen as he sneezes on a cell lock to disintegrate it, being that his snot is acidic.  I’m not sure if that was a writing contribution from Pegg, but I’m willing to bet it was.

Finally, with J.J. Abrams helming the first two films of this rebooted franchise, he decided to give the reins to Justin Lin (of the latest Fast & Furious films) for this outing.  While watching this, and knowing full well he was the one who was behind the camera, I felt he gave a bit more excitement when it was called for and apathy during the times of the story when things seemed bleak.  Though I think Abrams is a very talented writer and director when it comes to character arcs, Lin does just as well with taking the audience to an extravagant world, and makes going to the movie fun again.

So…my final “bit” on Star Trek Beyond?

Once again, J.J. Abrams, along with Justin Lin, bring us a pleasurable family-friendly sci-fi adventure, with out-of-this-world visuals and action.  The film features a perfect blend of action, science, some scares, and humor, with the Star Trek mythos perfectly in place.  I loved every minute of it, even the little bit of exposition between McCoy and Kirk, and look forward to more of this reimagined film series.  Though it may be tough to go forward without the character of Chekov—though a minor character, but memorable nonetheless—I’m still going to be rooted in the theater’s seat, waiting to see what’s in store for the crew of the Enterprise on their next adventure.

Thanks for reading!

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