Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Series Report Card: Star Trek (2016)

13. Star Trek Beyond

“Star Trek Beyond” is one of the most scrutinized film in a franchise infamous for its scrutinizing fan base. The film had to follow up “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which was one of those movies you initially like before realizing it's mostly terrible. The filmmaker behind the rebooted “Trek” had left the prom with the prettier girl. The behind-the-scene rush for a new director was hurried, before eventually landing upon Justin Lin. By all accounts, the screenwriters – which included co-star Simon Pegg – were flying by the seat of their pants to create a workable script. Despite these multiple set-backs, “Star Trek Beyond” somehow beat the odds and has produced a film that has been well-liked by the people who have seen it.

Captain James T. Kirk is having a mid-life crisis. He feels isolated from his crew and is wondering if his star trekking career is helping anyone. He seriously considers taking a office job at Yorktown, a new Federation star base. Spock, meanwhile, has reached a turning point in his relationship with Uhara when a personal tragedy causes him to reconsider his life. At this time, the Enterprise is sent on a simple rescue mission into a near-by nebula. Above a wild planet, the proud star ship is attacked and destroyed by a violent alien force. Stranded and separated on the strange world, the Enterprise crew most come back together and defeat this new enemy.

“Star Trek: The Film Franchise,” being based on an episodic television series, has always had an advantage over many other franchises. It’s okay if the individual movies have wildly different tones. 2009’s “Star Trek” was devoted totally to reinventing the well-worn series for a new audience. “Star Trek Into Darkness” was a conspiracy thriller. Bouncing back from that film’s downbeat tone, “Star Trek Beyond” is a pulpy adventure. For all its claims to social progress and thoughtful ideas, “Star Trek” has its roots in the science fiction serials of an older time. The series was, after all, conceived as “Wagon Train” to the stars. The newest sequel focuses excitement and action, with a tone towards guaranteeing the audience has a good time.

I’ve never actually seen any of Justin Lin’s “Fast and the Furious” films, the series largely responsible for bringing the director to fame. From my understanding, his car movies concern themselves with the theme of “family.” “Star Trek Beyond” concerns itself with a similar concept. As the story starts, Kirk considers how valuable his crew is to him. He seems to believe that they can probably get on without him. By the story’s end, he has re-comitted himself to his friends, to the people he’s on this crazy adventure with. This theme extends to the villain, as well, building through the entire movie. Considering the bond between the crew has always been an important competent to the “Trek” universe, this is a solid foundation to build upon.

With its wide ensemble cast, “Star Trek Beyond” makes the smart decision to pair off most of the pivotal cast members. For its first half, the crew of the Enterprise are scattered across the planet’s surface.  Captain Kirk and Chekov initially work together, eventually working their way through the scattered remains of the Enterprise. Contrasting Kirk, who is awfully pissed off following the destruction of his ship, with the more intellectual Chekov makes for a solid dynamic. Chris Pine has been playing James Kirk for long enough now that his take on the character feels lived-in, an appropriate choice for a captain questioning his responsibility. The tragically late Anton Yelchin gets a bigger role here then his previous two times as the character, showing how charming and funny he could be.

“Beyond” smartly pairs off Spock and McCoy. Since the two characters have always had a friendly but antagonistic relationship, seeing them play off each other makes for some compelling watching. Spock is injured, meaning he relies on McCoy’s help. Despite that, the two continue to trade barbs, McCoy’s being more pointed while the Vulcan’s are typically dry. It produces some of the biggest, warmest laughs in the film. Considering Karl Urban’s pitch perfect take on Bones has usually been sidelined in previous films, it’s great to see him with a bigger role here. Zachary Quinto’s take on Spock also remain self-assured and compelling.

Considering Simon Pegg wrote the script for “Star Trek Beyond,” it’s not exactly surprising that Scotty also has a bigger part. The sequel smartly pairs Pegg’s Scott with a new character. Sofia Boutella plays Jaylah, a stranded alien who has been living on the planet for a long time. Pegg and Boutella have a solid chemistry, as they work around the derelict ship she calls home. Boutella makes the alien’s various quirks, such as a fondness for 20th century rap music and a tendency to frame things in odd phrases, believable and likable. Pegg’s take on Scotty, meanwhile, remains as funny and eccentric as last time. 

Of the main Enterprise crew, it’s usual for one or two of the characters to get put on the story’s sidelines. For the first half of “Beyond,” John Cho’s Sulu and Zoe Saldana’s Uhara are in a prison camp, held captive by the bad guys. The script does find things for them to do. There’s an aborted escape attempt, which has the two sneaking around and Uhara attempting to hack the enemies’ computer. After the rescue attempt, the two have a bigger role. Cho’s take on Sulu continues to have a cocksure sense of adventure. Saldana’s Uhara is more cornered, the character taking a smaller role following her bigger story beats in the last two films.

If there’s a major problem with “Star Trek Beyond,” it’s the villain. Idris Elba, initially assumed to be playing a Klingon commander, plays an evil alien named Krall. The motivation of Krall and his forces are underdeveloped for most of the film, the villainous leader seemingly believing in a state of constant war. The story’s MacGuffin, a super weapon the bad guys are after, is uninspired. For most of the film, Elba is under heavy make-up, affecting a thick and difficult to understand alien accent. Eventually, the movie makes an unexpected reveal concerning Krall’s true identity. This story turn comes out of nowhere, a late in the film attempt to justify the character’s motivation. Ultimately, Elba mostly seems to be going through the motions and the script gives him little else to prove.

“Star Trek Beyond” received a lot of press, not all of it good, for the decision to turn Cho’s Sulu into one half of a happily married gay couple. It’s an interesting choice, especially considering the lack of gay representation in “Trek.” However, Sulu’s husband and daughter have a small role in the final film. Instead, the relationship between Spock and Uhura – an equally controversial choice, despite the series’ attempt to make it work – gets more attention. The two break up at the story’s beginning, Spock’s commitment to his species outweighing his romantic obligations. It’s a small story element in the film, and one that ties into a very cute narrative choice, but ultimately helps add some emotion to the story.

For a director most known for his work on action films, “Star Trek Beyond” is disappointingly shaky at times. The first major action beat in the film, when Krall’s forces invade the Enterprise, can be difficult to follow. People are getting blasted but, beyond that, the direction can be incoherent. This approach sometimes get in the way of the script’s clever ideas. Such as a sequence where Kirk and Chekov run through the Enterprise’s saucer while it spins through the air. Eventually, the action in “Star Trek Beyond” finds its footing. A rescue attempt involving a motorcycle and a fight atop a platform is one of my favorites in the film.

The same uneven approach can also be seen in the film’s spaceship combat. The sequence where the Enterprise is destroyed is also not handled in the most smooth fashion. Krall’s forces attack via a swarm of smaller ships, a method that is out-right compared to bees. This means a lot of things are moving around all at once, many objects drawing the audience’s attention. However, the climax – which has the Enterprise crew in a new ship facing down the swarm head-on – is more satisfying, more clearly directed. It also leads to a fairly inspired musical cue that leads to a giant explosion.

Before “Star Trek Beyond” hit theaters, Paramount announced some ambitious plans for a sequel. Apparently, Chris Hemsworth as Captain Kirk’s dad would return somehow. Would the series be returning to the time travel well or would the Mirror Universe be involved, excited fans wondered? This was before the movie’s box office performance, especially overseas, proved to be below expectations. I have no idea if the studio is still moving ahead with another sequel. Considering a new “Star Trek” television series is coming in 2017, maybe that’s where the franchise’s future lies for the time being? Putting aside what happens next, “Star Trek Beyond” is a very entertaining blockbuster flick and a fun entry in the long running sci-fi series. [Grade: B]

No comments: