Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Director: Justin Lin
Notable Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson

When Star Trek Beyond was initially announced, I’ll admit that I was hesitant. I didn’t love Into Darkness like I thought I would, behind the scenes turmoil left this third film in the reboot series with writing issues, and JJ Abrams vacated the director’s seat to transfer franchises and make a Star Wars movie. Needless to say, it seemed like Star Trek Beyond was going to be lost in space. Fortunately, Paramount and company seemed to understand that this film needed an injection of new life and that they needed to go back to basics. Star Trek Beyond does just that – Doug Jung and Simon Pegg aptly embrace the episodic adventure formula of the original series and director Justin Lin pulls away from the overly complex attempts selling the science fiction and guns for a much more straight forward approach – and it works impressively at what it wants to execute. Color me captivated.

Kirk (Pine) and his crew are towards the end of their elongated stay at the edge of space on the Enterprise and their pit stop for supplies at a massive space station puts them on a new mission: investigate a fringe planet and rescue a standed vessel. However, when they get there they find that an evil villain (Elba) has other plans for the Enterprise and its crew.

Here comes the Kirk.
This year marks the 50th anniversary for the Star Trek series and that means that Star Trek Beyond had a tough role to play. Could it continue to be the modern series and retain those qualities while still honoring the series legacy? Considering how difficult of a task that was, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Star Trek Beyond gives us as a new entry that gives plenty of nods to the original without trying to shoehorn in moments that pale in comparison to its foundations (cough, Into Darkness, cough). A big key to the film’s success is its simplified focus. Early on in the film, Kirk makes a comment in his log about his journey into space feeling episodic and how it weighs on him heavily. Truthfully, feeling more episodic is just what this franchise needed after gorging on too much in the previous entry and that’s what Beyond does. There are certainly building blocks used from previous entries, including references to Ambassador Spock (rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy) and the character arcs are continued, but this film sits nicely on its own focusing on telling one solid story versus over layering to expand the universe. Writers Jung and Pegg obviously know their Trek and they keep a lot of the elements that made the original series what it was including just enough entertaining humor, tons of adventure, and just enough social commentary to make it thoughtful underneath the fun and camp. In fact, some of the commentary about unifying against the pressure of a terrorist group that seems to be everywhere is wholly needed right now in cinema and remains true to the Star Trek way of looking at humanity’s progress which gives the film a lot more relevancy than expected. This also gives Beyond a lot of heart and thoughtfulness to match its relentless pacing and spectacle driven fun. Truly, the balance is right on with this film.

Execution wise, Star Trek Beyond really has fun with the script and characters that it has on hand. Director Justin Lin might not be the artistic champion of cinema that so many people seem to hate him for not being, but he might be the perfect candidate for what this film had in mind. Even then, the film tends to want to remain in sync with the previous films so it retains a bit too much of Abrams style of kinetic camera work that seems to undercut Lin’s talents as an action director. There are moments where Lin’s style comes out to play, including a well shot and choreographed hand to hand combat scene between series newbie Jaylah with one of the main villains and a gravity shifting final race against time between Kirk and Krall at the very end, but too often the film pulls away from his use of space and timing for the sake of keeping the style in line with the rest of the series. It does occasionally come off as disappointing that he's not allowed to run with his own style.

Her house, her chair.
Lin’s knack for balancing action with heart and the fun script due make for a lot of great character moments in the film that might be the true reason Star Trek Beyond is as successful at what it does. Sure, throwing Kirk on a motorcycle seems silly, but it’s fitting for the character and makes for an exciting sequence and each of the main crew members seem to get a bit more time to have sparked chemistry with one another this time around. The casting is as good as it always was and Beyond lets the audience see why it’s so good by letting the characters BE the characters we know and love. Having the crew separated into groups at the start of the second act allows a lot of this to happen – giving us that great Spock and Bones banter that made the original series so much fun – and the writing and direction run with that momentum nicely. Even the newcomers like Boutella and the shifting agony of Elba as the villain really fit in with the rest perfectly. There is still a nice range of emotion to be had, but there is also a sense that nothing here is as nearly melodramatic as this reboot series has attempted before which is a welcome change of pace for the audience.

In the end, Star Trek Beyond doesn’t quite match the blend of science fiction smarts and fun adventure that the 2009 reboot nailed coming out of the gate, but it’s a certainly an improvement from the scattered and overstuffed writing that plagued Star Trek Into Darkness. Fans will appreciate the little acknowledgements to Trek past that are slyly slid into the script (for the record, I love how the film opens up with Kirk replicating the feelings and tones that were present in the original Star Trek series’ pilot) and it remains a fast paced and charming action adventure for those that may not be fully familiar with the series either.

"Hold on, I'm writing this sucker now."
For the 50th anniversary of one of the longest running and biggest fandoms on the planet, Star Trek Beyond is just what this franchise needed to reground itself even if it is not a perfect film. Now that the foundations have been reset and the homages have been paid, let’s hope that Star Trek 4 goes boldly beyond the mold and delivers something fresh for the series.
Rest in peace to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Your work on this series will forever be remembered and appreciated. Never before has a quote from this series ever seemed so fitting for both of these talented men:

“We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human.”

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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