Sunday, July 31, 2016

'Star Trek Beyond' Ensures Franchise will Live Long, Prosper

Star Trek Beyond isn't the return to form purists might have hoped for from sci-fi's landmark, half-century old property, but it also isn't the dull, loud, explosion-laden popcorn flick the trailers might have had you believe. Yes, there are explosions ... and yes, this is absolutely a turn-of-your-brain popcorn flick. And boy, is it ever loud. But dull? Hardly. In fact, after 2013's dreary Star Trek Into Darkness, I daresay that this film, helmed by Fast and the Furious veteran director Justin Lin, captures the sense of adventure established by J.J. Abrams' 2009 Trek reboot that was strangely missing last time around.

In Beyond, James T. Kirk is approaching his thirtieth birthday and a potential promotion to vice admiral, a job move that would remove him from the captain's chair of the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise. Before he can break the news to Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), the crew is presented with a dangerous rescue mission that will hurl them into uncharted space and put them face-to-face with the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), who has a longstanding vendetta against the United Federation of Planets and seeks to use a superweapon against it. Scattered, wounded and stranded on a mysterious alien world, Kirk, Spock, Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) team up with mysterious asskicker Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to take down Krall and get home.

Although I have a fondness for the original 1960s Star Trek series, I could never get into The Next Generation growing up, largely because I felt like its tendency to favor extended, jargon-laced sequences aboard the Enterprise was keeping us from all of the more exciting things happening outside of the ship. Granted, the reuse of the same sets probably served a budgetary purpose at the time, but for a child looking for Star Wars-style shootouts and cool alien species, I was never quite satisfied. Perhaps the reason why I dig these new Trek films so much is that they're essentially Star Wars flicks in Star Trek Halloween costumes (funny how that all worked out for Abrams). Still, fun is fun, and with its mix of snappy dialog, exotic aliens and intense action set pieces, Beyond might be one of this summer's sleeper hits.

Below are some of my scattered Star Trek Beyond thoughts and observations. If you don't want spoilers, here's where you should stop reading.

  • I'm obsessed with the tiny CGI aliens introduced during the opening sequence. They roll around like Sonic the Hedgehog, they fight dirty and, at one point, one of them is wearing a little shirt with no pants. I want plushies of these guys produced immediately.
  • Idris Elba doesn't need makeup to be intimidating, but it definitely helps. He definitely makes a fairly stock Trek villain more memorable than it probably was on paper.
  • As much as the bromance between Kirk and Spock is at the core of Star Trek, this film spends a lot of time developing Spock's relationship with Bones. This might actually be the series' most interesting post-reboot friendship.
  • It's pretty juvenile for Scotty's alien sidekick Keenser to save the day at one point by way of acidic snot, but I was very OK with it. Trekkies probably disagree.
  • There will be people that accuse Jaylah of being a "Mary Sue," and those people can get stuffed. She's great. I hope she's in the sequel.
  • The Enterprise has been destroyed onscreen so much that I don't think its destruction in Beyond has the emotional impact filmmakers intended. 
  • I love that one crewmember had appendages on her head that open up like she's wearing a hat made of Alien facehuggers. I spent several minutes thinking of different things she could hide in the back of her head, so I'm sure I missed large chunks of the movie after her big "reveal." Oh, well.
  • Spock giving Uhura GPS-infused jewelry is kinda creepy. 
  • Using "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys to destroy Krall's swarm of attack ships during the climax is cute and a nice nod to the first movie, but it's also the most groan-inducing moment in Beyond. The song's inclusion also brings up an issue I had back in 2009. If the Beastie Boys exist in the Trek universe, then the song "Intergalactic" likely also exists. That song features a direct reference to "Mr. Spock," but there's no way the Beasties could have interacted with Spock during their lifetimes, and in this universe, Star Trek definitely isn't a TV show from the 1960s. What did Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA know?!
  • The film deals with the death of Spock Prime tactfully and tastefully, honoring the late Leonard Nimoy in the proper way. The film's subtle tribute to Anton Yelchin, who died weeks before release, also felt appropriate. It will be interesting to see how Chekov is handled in the next film. Will he be recast?
My verdict? Look, as far as franchises that begin with the word "Star" go, you already know where my loyalties ultimately lie. That being said, this rebooted timeline has gotten me more interested in Trek than I've ever been before, and Beyond is a much better sequel than Into Darkness. If you're considering checking it out in theaters, you should definitely go ... boldly. 

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