R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema: To Boldy Go - The Joy of Star Trek Beyond
I'm back and got to see a couple of movies over the weekend featuring spaceships and characters on the run from doomsdays scenarios, but I'll skip over my experience with Ice Age: Collision Course and go straight into my thoughts about Star Trek Beyond, one of the best films of Summer 2016.
So without further ado...It's Clobberin' Time!
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, and Joe Taslim
Directed by Justin Lin
To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked into the theater to see Star Trek Beyond this past Friday night. I'm a lifelong Trek fan that's stuck with the series through its highs and lows ever since I was introduced to Wrath of Khan on a Beta-Max tape when I was a child. I've watched a good number of episodes of every Star Trek TV series and watched every one of the feature films more times than I would probably like to admit, even the odd-numbered bad ones. I stuck with the franchise as it seemingly died a pop-culture death with the cancellation of Enterprise and the utter failure of the Star Trek: Nemesis. I then had the pleasure of watching the series rise from the ashes, as the 2009 reboot boldly went where the series had never really gone before; to box office prominence.
While I know there is a large contingent of Trek-fandom that does not care for the '09 film (my wife is one of them), I embraced its energy and saw it as a complete wonder that the movie could even remotely hope to replace what is perhaps the most iconic cast in all of science fiction. The result is a breathless example of blockbuster film making, with director J.J. Abrams merging his kinetic visual style with that of Star Trek's classic look to create a hybrid of Gene Roddenberry's original vision and new Hollywood magic. Star Trek's real miracle though, is in its amazing casting.
The fact that any group of newcomers could possibly play the roles of Captain James T. Kirk and company onscreen would have been completely unthinkable before this film, but Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and the rest of the new crew made me a true believer. More so, not only did these fresh faces mostly look the part, their chemistry simply made these characters work; you can feel the relationships between these people and while they may not be exactly the same as when it was the likes of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley onscreen, you feel like Pine, Quinto, and Urban could absolutely get there.
It's those relationships and this very likable cast that also carried the follow-up to the 2009 film, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, when the movie's screenplay seemed to let them down. While I feel like the picture is a little underrated, and had very topical themes about the role of The Federation becoming a military organization vs having a peaceful mission of exploration as well as veiled references to the Iraq War, the film was filled with too many references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (still the best entry in the series), and was simply too cynical for this franchise that has normally prided itself on a hopeful future. Where Into Darkness should have been a giant leap forward for this future of this series, it was instead a bit of a step backwards, and on top of that, director Abrams had decided to leave the franchise in order fulfill his dream of directing a Star Wars movie (The Force Awakens, you may have heard of it). To put in plainly, things looked bleak. What chances did Trek have of making another comeback after losing its visionary director and coming off a movie that disappointed a ton of the fanbase?
Turns out, pretty good.
While Trek newcomer Justin Lin (responsible for the best entries in the super-cheesy but super-fun Fast and Furious series) would seem an odd choice to replace Abrams behind the camera, what the director (as well as screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung) would do is bring is a love of this franchise and a sense of what it takes to make this cast into a rag tag family. Star Trek Beyond works because it's not necessarily trying to produce the biggest Trek adventure of all time, and instead makes you feel like you've just watched a really terrific episode of the series, focusing on characters and embracing the retro fun of Gene Roddenberry's original creation. This is a hopeful and sometimes silly movie, but with all the doom and gloom of 2016's blockbuster season, Beyond feels like a breath of fresh air.
After a contemplative opening that has Kirk and Spock (the returning and solid as ever Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) feeling adrift in the vastness of space and wondering if they should even continue in Starfleet as the leaders of the Enterprise's five year mission, the crew are marooned on a strange alien planet after being ambushed by an alien race lead by the evil Krall (Idris Elba). Spit up into small groups, the crew must try to find each other, release captives of Krall's army and then return to Federation space before the villain has a chance to destroy the universe.
What I really love here is just how much that plot sounds like any random from the original TV series and just how much time you get with little pockets of the crew. My favorite of the bunch is the odd couple of Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock, as they hijack an alien ship and crashland onto the planet, trying not to murder each other while Krall's forces rain down upon them. I always loved this pairing when it was DeForest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy, and Urban and Quinto do them proud here. Quinto especially has grown into the Spock role over these three movies, bringing real weight to the Vulcan heart of this series, while Urban is once again cranky and hilarious. Personally, I'm up for watching another 10 movies with these two.
Holding up their end, Chris Pine and the late Anton Yelchin are a blast together as well, as Kirk and Chekov try to get to the bottom of why they got attacked. It's awful that this will be the last performance by Yelchin, who is positively bubbling over with whiz-kid energy, and looks like he had a great time sharing the screen with Pine's Kirk. Pine himself is cocksure and terrific as always, somehow stepping out of the shadows of William Shatner to create his own interpretation of Kirk that manages to honor the past and yet make an incredible impression all on his own.
As for the rest of the cast, I loved seeing Simon Pegg get a bigger role this time out as Scotty is paired with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the survivor of another marooned vessel who helps Scotty in exchange for his assistance with getting another downed ship off the ground. The mix of these two personalities on screen, an alien warrior and blue collar Scotsman, is pure Star Trek and makes for some good hijinks as they make the repairs on Jaylah's ship. I hope Boutella sticks around for another movie or two, as she adds even more diversity to the cast and it'd be neat to have another alien species as a regular. Also, just like she was as the sword-legged villain in Kingsman, the actress is terrific in the film's hand to hand scenes, especially when matched up again The Raid's Joe Taslim.
Unfortunately, because so much focus is put on those in the cast already mentioned, John Cho and Zoe Saldana's Sulu and Uhura get sidelined somewhat as they end up the leaders of Enterprise's crew within Krall's internment camp. They do their usual good work here, but aren't given the screen time or material of the others on the crew. What time they do get is shared with Idris Elba's Krall, who is a seriviceable villain but gets hampered by the film's plot somewhat, and the result precludes him from getting to be a truly memorable heavy in the Star Trek canon.
Thankfully though, Justin Lin makes up for these shortcomings by keeping the film light and funny, and filling the screen with a ton of amusing action. I really like the design of Krall's ships, which are like tiny drones that swarm the Enterprise. They have a pointed end that rams into the ship, which can then open up and let troops out for a bording parties, leading to a fierce battle upon the Federation vessel. Lin also makes use of some ingenious camera tricks in a shootout involving Kirk and Chekov on the run from a squad of nasties. Finally, the film's space battle climax is a wonder of visuals and sound that's both clever and silly all at the same time, and had me absolutely grinning from ear to ear.
The best part is, while there's no shortage of galactic mayhem or fisticuffs, this is a movie that mostly relies on its characters outsmarting their adversaries. Stuck on this planet without their technology, they've got to band together and work with what they've got, and I don't want to spoil too much but what happens feels so Star Trek it would make Gene Roddenberry proud. It's the wits of this crew and their trust in each other that matters the most, and what's more Trek than that?
2016 has had it's fair share of dark and moody blockbusters, but Star Trek Beyond breaks free from the pack with optimism and fun. The gloom of Into Darkness is left behind by Justin Lin to merge old and new Trek seemlessly, making Beyond feel modern and retro at the same time, which will hopefully please more of the franchise faithful while still making this movie feel fresh. I know they've already announced a fourth film in this reboot series, and here's hoping Lin comes back for another go round and keeps us boldly going into the future.