Jul 27, 2016

[Movies] Star Trek Beyond (2016)

So I've certainly had my ups and downs with the new Star Trek movies. I was ecstatic after watching the 2009 Star Trek movie but was severely disappointed by the 2013 sequel. So going into this third movie in the series, I didn't know how to feel about things. I wasn't even sure if I was actually excited about it being released.

At the end of the day, I'm still a Trekkie and even basic curiosity is enough to win out thus whether or not I was going to watch the movie was ever a question. I just didn't know how I'd ultimately approach things. I guess you could call my feelings at the time a sort of guarded optimism.

And the end result was, well, rather mixed. For a movie that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the franchise, there were certainly great poignant moments that really dug deep into this jaded Trekkie's heart. And the other times I felt like the proverbial old man trying to get kids off his front yard. And it was interesting how the movie pulled at me in this manner. And I suspect  this may be how I'll feel about any future Star Trek movies to come.

Synopsis: Star Trek Beyond is the third of the reboot Star Trek movies. This installment was directed by Justin Lin with a screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung.

The movie begins almost 3 years into the 3 year mission of exploration and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and he is beginning to feel the burden of years of travel out in deep space. Thus with shore leave coming up for the crew at Starbase Yorktown., it's a good time for him to reconsider things. Around the same time, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) receives word that the older Ambassador Spock (Leonarad Nimoy) from the Prime universe had just died.

Away from the character stories, things shift when an escape pod containing Kalara (Lydia Wilson) emerges from a nearby nebula and makes its way to the Yorktown. She reveals that her ship was shot down and crashed on Altamid, a planet deep within the nebula and her crew is in need of rescue. Starfleet dispatches the Enterprise to attempt to navigate the nebula and locate the crashed starship. But of course, there are other dangers waiting in the nebula and it will take the skills of the entire crew to get out of things alive.

Now one of the best things about this movie is the strength of the character writing, something I'll attribute more to Simon Pegg given his larger body of work. The movie is filled with many key moments involving one or two members of the crew that feel like great set pieces for larger stories. The moment between Lt. Commander McCoy (Karl Urban) and Captain Kirk was a nice moment that felt like something from the original series but also somehow doubled for a nod to the passing of the young actor Anton Yelchin, who played Ensign Pavel Chekov. The scenes between Spock and Bones on the planet also went a long way to paint the picture of the two characters being good friends while Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) had some excellent moments of agency later in the movie. The words each character said fit very well into our concepts of these characters as a whole given their roles in the larger franchise.

The larger plot was a little confusing with some muddy bits, but I suppose that is to be expected given a Star Trek movie. As much as I want to point out problematic moments such as why the villain needed a new superweapon despite his already awesome fleet of ships as seen in the trailer, but then I'd have to go back and explain why the fate of the planet rested on the survival of humpback whales. Star Trek, like many other memorable science fiction franchises, is not exactly known for stories to closely grounded in reality.

The direction of the movie and the sort of action shots and sequences left something to be desired. While we no longer had J.J. Abrams' lense flares to poke fun at, now we had a ridiculous number of shots that involves the camera rotating in a counter-clockwise direction for no apparent reason. It wasn't even an effort to depict the movement of an option in zero gravity or something just a bit of a weird tropey tracking shot that was used way too many times. And when it came to the lager action, there were a lot of moments when you don't quite know what's going anymore,which to be fair is a common problem in modern action movies that rely too much on repeated jump cuts.

And we have weird head-scratching moments like the villain's master plan, Kirk's desire to stop exploring at the beginning of the movie and what a major Mary Sue character Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) really is. Seriously, she has an aptitude for engineering, learned English from the archives of a wrecked starship, and was quite skilled in melee combat? But all this only really came to fore when it mattered to the plot and all it took was facing her father's killer to barely hold her own again. Oh well.

Despite my misgivings about the direction and weird parts of the overall narrative, Star Trek Beyond is still a lot closer to the sort of Star Trek stories that made Trekkies like me fall in love with the series all those many years ago. Because Star Trek isn't about the big battles or the ridiculous technology but has always been more about the individual characters and how they come together to solve problems. Thus the movie gets a good 3.5 holographic illusions out of a possible 5.

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