Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

After loving the first two films in this rebooted Star Trek universe (or the Kelvin-verse, as I hear it's called), I was surprisingly not that excited about this movie. A lot of that has to do with the really abysmal trailer that was released earlier this year featuring the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" and making it seem like another installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise with the cast of Star Trek in the lead roles. As we'll get into, there's a reason why that song was played over that first trailer, though I'm not sure that justifies its inclusion... Once the positive reviews started rolling in, however, I had a renewed optimism that Beyond could live up the first two films, despite the departure of J.J. Abrams from his directorial duties.

James T. Kirk is facing a bit of a mid-life crisis on his birthday, which he avoids celebrating on the actual day due to his father's heroic death at the exact time of his birth. He's also growing weary of the 5 year mission they're engaged in, exploring the outer reaches of space and failing to gain much fulfillment from their efforts. While rendezvousing on a space port known as Yorktown, Kirk considers taking the position of Vice Admiral, which would ground him from space travel and place the command of the Enterprise in the hands of his first officer, Spock. However, before any of this can take place, a distress call is received at Yorktown of an alien race that is under attack. Having the only viable defenses to handle the situation, Kirk and crew once again board the Enterprise and respond to the call. However, it turns out to be an ambush, as a swarm of kamikaze ships barrage the Enterprise, forcing it to crash land on a nearby planet and marooning the crew in the process.

That's a pretty standard set up for a Star Trek story, which is both a strength and a weakness of this movie. The lack of ambition for this story is a bit disappointing, particularly given the solid foundation that was built by the previous two films. On the whole, there's nothing offensive or egregious about this plot (though one moment near the end comes dangerously close, in retrospect), but there was also nothing particularly great about this episode either. The villain is pretty generic, and the situation isn't anything we haven't seen a thousand times before in any of the television series. Some of the character development was interesting to see, but overall I can't think of much that we learned about anyone beyond (no pun intended) what we already knew. Honestly, I have a feeling that a viewer could skip this entry to the series without missing anything between Into Darkness and the upcoming 4th film currently being teased by J.J. Abrams.

On the positive side, there are plenty of interesting visuals, excellent makeup and prosthetics, and solid performances from the entire cast. Keeping the story as simple as possible does have some advantages as well, as we get to see characters interact in ways we haven't seen before. The problem is that these interactions are pretty disposable in the grand scheme of things. Clearly this movie was meant to be a tribute to the original series (being the 50th anniversary and all), but making it a cinematic event usually requires a story that justifies the format on which it's presented. I was hoping for a story with higher stakes and more spectacle than what we got, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the film was a total disappointment.

All in all, this was a pretty entertaining film, that doesn't emotionally rouse you, but won't leave you bored either. It has all of the expected tropes of a Trek film, and does what it can to keep them as fresh as possible. While it wasn't one of the most memorable entries in the series, it left me cautiously optimistic about the future of the franchise. Rumor has it that Chris Hemsworth's George Kirk will be playing a pivotal role, which is the type of story that befits a theatrical release. Director Justin Lin did a decent job of stepping into J.J.'s shoes without losing too much momentum, but I can't say that I was all that excited about what I was seeing. With that, I'm going to give Star Trek Beyond three stars.

STAR TREK BEYOND is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence