Sunday, July 31, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond (2016) Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella. Directed by Justin Lin. Screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Based on Star Trek TV Series created by Gene Roddenberry. Produced by J. J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber Justin Lin, Color. Runtime 122 minuted. USA. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

If it seems like it was just three years since the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, you'd be right. And if that feels like a little long between sequels, you'd be right there, too. One of the problems with this reboot of the franchise is the pacing of the releases. It's been seven years since the first film and we're only up to number three. In the meantime, we've lost two actors important to the series, the go-to cameo services of Leonard Nimoy and one of the main cast members, Anton Yelchin. That is the problem with dragging these films out, other things happen. Not sure what supposedly happened to Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who was introduced three years ago as a new crew member, but apparently she fell off the ship somewhere in the intervening time and space.

Another thing that happened to the franchise is that J.J. Abrams, who still has his finger on the content, as a producer, has left the director's chair. While the FX guy responsible for lens flare might be upset, the franchise is finally getting somewhere in his absence. For the first time in this franchise, I don't get the feeling that I'm watching a revised original Star Trek (TV and films) storyline. Pardon me, but Star Trek the reboot is finally going where Gene Roddenberry hadn't taken it.

The story seemed fresh, perhaps thanks to having Simon Pegg, the man behind the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World's End, moving from in front of the camera to behind the laptop as one of the writers on the screenplay. The story no longer feels constricted by Roddenberry's vision, with dialogue being more frank and realistic and even funny at times.

The downside of that is that Pegg and Doug Jung, his co-writer, have also chosen to emphasize things that were not in the original story. I don't think I'm telling tales out of school that Pegg was behind making Sulu (John Cho) gay in honor of the original actor, George Takei's sexual preference. Even when Takei asked that they not do this to Roddenberry's story, Pegg felt compelled to keep the reference in. Frankly, it seems to be a lot about nothing as the reference was so subtle that if you didn't know what you were supposed to be looking for, you might miss it. Sulu's sexual relations have nothing to do with the franchise or this story, so one wonders, why make the change in the first place?

While certainly not earth-shattering, I don't like the recent trend in movies and comics to make male characters female or straight characters gay or white characters minority. Diversity is a great idea, but why not create and market new and interesting characters rather than taking the relatively lazy creative step of changing well-established characters to fit the fickle tastes of the moment. I'm guessing we'll once again have this sort of debate when casting takes place for the next James Bond film.

But I digress.

Star Trek Beyond's main cast seem to be immensely comfortable with their roles and relationships, though I suspect there is a bit of riding on the backs of the original series for some of this. As an example, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) have not had enough screen time together for us to see them have an adversarial relationship which was established so solidly in the weekly series back in the 1960s. They talk more about it than show us.

The strength of the film is the cast, Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Mr. Spock
(Zachary Quinto) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) among them.

The film fits into the overall arc so far created. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is still in charge with Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy as his two right-hand men. Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are still an item, though Earth girls are harder to figure out than the Vulcan was prepared for.

The story is a little convoluted, but still very good as the crew of the Enterprise are captured by an evil villain, Krall (Idris Elba), bent on destroying the world (aren't they all). They are assisted in their fight by a new ally, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). The situation is harrowing and somewhat scary, though, in the end, the crew, led by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), triumphs and saves the day.

Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) leads his crew through a harrowing situation.

Pegg has given his Scotty character much more to do here than he had in previous films. A gifted engineer in previous films, his skills are ratcheted up here to perhaps less believable levels as he is an immediate master of any system he sees. While always a second-tier main character, Scotty is bumping here to make the trio into a quartet. Likewise, Uhura has a seemingly expanded role as well, one which Saldana is more than capable of handling.

The new addition of Jaylah is interesting, but I wouldn't count on seeing her again, remember Dr. Marcus. Idris Elba seems to show up more and more in films, especially fantasy films, but that is to be expected. He is a good actor and rarely, if ever, disappoints.

Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) saves Scotty (Simon Pegg), the latter of whom has a larger role in this installment.

The film relies on the usual bit of science mumbo jumbo when they have to explain things, but you sort of have to go with it. I am not a fantasy or sci-fi aficionado, so while I might disagree with some of the choices, I am an outsider to these worlds and will keep my opinions to myself.

Perhaps fitting the choice of directors, this time out there is a lot more action and fight scenes. I have never watched The Fast and the Furious 3 through 6 or other films Justin Lin might have directed, but I would assume that action over story is a hallmark of his films. My only complaint here is that some of the action is sometimes hard to follow, but that is my complaint with many films in this genre.

While I have my complaints, I was for the most part happy with the film and would definitely recommend it, especially to anyone who has invested their time in the first two films or in Star Trek lore in general. Now, I'd like to see Paramount and it's many co-production companies on this film (of which there are many) get their act together and put out another one, sooner rather than later. They're getting better, but three years, while better than four, is still too long between installments for this franchise to live up to its potential. Now that we've gotten Beyond, let's keep it going.

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