Sunday, August 14, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Year 8, Day 227 - 8/14/16 - Movie #2,421

BEFORE: For the first time in a long while, I can watch a film in the theater and review it the same day.  And I've got a (more or less) clear path now to the four films I saw in the past few months, that I haven't posted reviews for - I'll start getting to them later this week.  This is the film that forced me to watch "The Smurfs 2", so that Anton Yelchin could carry over - I'll try not to hold that against it. 

There's no easy way to say this, kids, but I've been around a while, and I'm on my third round of the "Star Trek" movie franchise.  For those of you who only know an Enterprise commanded by Chris Pine as Kirk, you may not realize that when a new "Star Trek" film gets released, it should be welcomed - but at the same time, you never know if you're going to be given the next "Wrath of Khan" (Kirk & company face off against an old enemy) or the next "Final Frontier" (Kirk & company go visit God on the God planet).  The reviews I've read of "Beyond" have been mixed, so let's get to straightening things out. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Star Trek Into Darkness" (Movie #1,438)

THE PLOT: The USS Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

AFTER: OK, so it's no "Wrath of Khan", but it's way better than "The Final Frontier", and let's not forget that Kirk and Spock once went back in time to the 1980's to save some whales.  Yep, that really happened - but in another timeline, right?  I mean, the only remnant left from before the reboot was the old Spock, and since Leonard Nimoy passed away, the Enterprise crew can't keep going back to that well, asking old super-smart Spock to share his knowledge and save the day.  

There's a tribute to Nimoy, and by extension to Anton Yelchin as well, since so much of this plot seems to be about fallen friends, and the holes they leave behind.  Young Spock feels the pressure to live up to the standard of Old Spock (from the other timeline), and is haunted by the memories of the Vulcan homeworld as well.  Kirk is still feeling the loss of his father, especially since he's so far into the five-year mission that he's older now than his father ever got the chance to be.  This theme runs through the whole film, when we meet the alien character Jaylah she's still mourning the loss of her family, and the villain has a secret that ties in as well, but no spoilers here.  

Everyone's simultaneously looking for a way out of their situations, Kirk and Spock are both secretly planning to resign from Starfleet for personal reasons, Jaylah wants to get off the planet she's stuck on, and the villain's looking for an artifact that will get him revenge.  A more cynical viewer might feel that space isn't not all that it's cracked up to be, and wonder that if Kirk and Spock are looking for ways out of Starfleet, does that mean the actors are also looking for a way out of the franchise?  

Kirk arranges for his crew to have some shore leave on the Yorktown, a new base out at the far reaches of known space (well, where would YOU put it?) but they only get about 5 minutes of down-time before there's an alien in distress, her ship crashed on a planet in the middle of a nebula, and of course only the Enterprise can go and rescue it.  You'd think that the Federation policy about helping anyone in need would have been updated after they got suckered by Khan in the last movie, but you'd be wrong.  

What follows is an attack by a swarm of enemy ships, and after a very confusing sequence (I couldn't really follow what was taking place, for about 10 minutes) it leaves the crew of the Enterprise either captured or stranded on a planet, in about 4 or 5 little groups that have to survive long enough to get back in touch with each other, and reunite to defeat the evil power in the most improbable of ways.  I've got a long list of NITPICK POINTS that I don't think I can get into here with giving away plot details.
My main question might be - what happened to Carol Marcus, Kirk's girlfriend?  She joined the 5-year mission at the end of "Star Trek Into Darkness", but I guess she must have transferred out at some point, because she's nowhere to be seen.  

But in addition to minor plotholes, the whole structure of the film seems a bit off.  There's no real set-up for the enemy attack, and what reason there is behind it comes at the end.  It might have been nice to start off the film with a flashback showing the destruction of a certain Federation ship 100 years prior, this would have established the Swarm as a threat and also provided a veiled motive for the villain, while still maintaining an element of more meaningful surprise at the reveal.  (Think of the destruction of the Klingon vessels at the start of the very first "Star Trek" film, something like that would have gone a long way toward creating a proper set-up here.)  

I felt that the enemy here was a thinly-veiled metaphor for Isis or Al-Qaeda, a group of ruthless terrorists that can attack without warning, with either aircraft or bio-weapons, and do extreme amounts of damage to major cities, represented here by the enormous floating Yorktown base.  Plus they've got an ax to grind against the Federation, just like terrorists carry a grudge from the Gulf Wars - and these things have a way of coming back at us, in one way or another.  (And, by extension, the Federation represents the U.S. government - we're told to believe in its principles, and we do, but deep down we wonder if the people in charge are really making the best decisions when it comes to global/intergalactic policies.)

Speaking of things coming back, I'm reading through the list of shout-outs and call-backs to other "Star Trek" films and TV shows, and while I'm all for honoring the franchise's history, it's hard to not feel like someone's just cherry-picking plot elements from what has gone before, and tossing them back to the audience in new combinations.  Part of this is what's problematic about any reboots, it's like a deck of cards just gets re-shuffled and they deal out a new hand.  And just like in a card game, sometimes you get dealt a good hand, and sometimes it's just mediocre. 

An interesting note about the timeline (interesting to Trekkies, at least) is brought up by references in this film to conflicts with the Xindi and Romulans that were depicted in the TV series "Star Trek: Enterprise".  That show is still part of the timeline, since Old Spock's arrival in the 2009 reboot film changed everything that came after the Kirk-captained Enterprise's first mission, but nothing before.  So "Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine", "Voyager" - none of those shows are part of the current Trek timeline, just "Enterprise", which was set further back in the past.  That should make that TV show worth at least a second look. 

Also starring Chris Pine (last seen in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"), Zachary Quinto (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Karl Urban (last seen in "Dredd"), Zoe Saldana (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), John Cho (last seen in "Solaris"), Idris Elba (last seen in "28 Weeks Later"), Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydai Wilson, Deep Roy (also last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Shohreh Aghdashloo (last seen in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"), with cameos from Greg Grunberg (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jeff Bezos.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bottles of Saurian brandy

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