Thursday, September 29, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

   My disdain for Star Trek Into Darkness is legendary. I almost hate that movie. It's a bastardization of everything Star Trek is about, and its insulting to the fanbase. Mild hyperbole aside, it didn't instill much confidence in me when Justin Lin was announced as the director of this third entry. The rebooted franchise was fast and furious enough, we didn't need more of that flavor. It was even more disheartening when news broke that Paramount insisted the script be made "Less Star Trek-y", because that's really going to help, isn't it? Imagine my surprise then, that this movie is the most "Star Trek-y" out of this whole trilogy.

   It helps that they aren't aping characters and plot lines from the old movies, because the whole idea of Star Trek is to show you new stuff. New places, new faces, new ideas. In fact, the very concept of a reboot is anti-Star Trek, but after the initial 2009 movie, the good will garnered by the then-new cast and the fantastic score from Michael Giacchino, promised a new and exciting universe to explore rather than a retread of stuff we've already seen. Then Star Trek Into Darkness came out a couple years later, and crapped all over that promise. It was a loose remake of The Wrath of Khan, despite the 09' Trek being a loose retelling of The Wrath of Khan. Can we leave Khan alone already?

   So now, here we are, same cast, same ship, same mission... new story, new villain, new world. This is the sequel we should've had after 09's Trek. It's colorful, energetic, yet it has heart. It builds on the themes introduced in the first movie and creates new inner-conflict for Kirk that we've never seen before. The movie opens on a disillusioned Kirk, who's losing sight of why he's doing what he does. Bones points out that he's spent so long trying to be his father, George Kirk, that he's having to rediscover what it means to just be Jim. The movie makes self-identity the underlying theme of the whole movie, and it works surprisingly well.

   Kirk, Spock and Bones are finally portrayed as the proper trio they always should've been. People often single out Kirk and Spock as making a great duo, and they are, but they wouldn't be complete without Bones. I'm not just speaking about comedic timing or witty three-way banter. I mean they're each a part of a single whole. Kirk is all heart, Spock is logic and rationality, Bones is the cynic and the skeptic. Kirk is balanced by Spock and Bones, they are the reason and the caution to his drive and eagerness. The other two movies didn't portray that as adequately. Maybe because... oh, I don't know, J.J. Abrams doesn't even like Star Trek?

   So with that dynamic locked in tight, how does the rest of the cast- and by extension, the rest of the movie fare? For starters, the movie has exploration and the discovery of the unknown near it's heart. The plot is kicked off by a rescue mission, but it's a mission into unexplored territory. That was already a big plus in my book. I was genuinely excited. Secondly, the awkward relationship between Spock and Uhura is aborted, but in a way that's not abrupt and is probably more respectful than the pairing ever deserved. The rescue mission goes south once the Enterprise and crew encounter a strange swarm-like fleet of ships that strand them on the alien planet, and put them onto a much bigger mystery.

   A few new faces are introduced into the mix, but none more original than Jaylah, a stranded alien on this planet who ends up helping the Enterprise crew against their common enemy. Jaylah is a delightful character who's a lot of fun to watch. She's tough and stubborn but crafty and extremely creative. She ends up becoming a rather essential part of the mix, and I'd be aghast if this was the only movie we ever got to see her in. Someone give this chick a field commission, stat! As for new characters, Idris Elba plays Krall, a villain that at first seems rather two-dimensional and bafflingly simplistic in his motivation but ends up being rather interesting... if only they didn't wait til the last act to reveal how his story ties into the main theme of the movie.

   The movie is fun, and lively, but it's also not without it's human moments and it's humor. I seriously enjoyed this one, more than the last two. If Star Trek 09' was one small step in the right direction, then Star Trek Beyond is one giant leap in the right direction. There's a ways to go though. I dare the powers that be to make a Star Trek movie without a villain trying to kill everyone. There are ways to develop tension and a forward moving plot that don't require a hulking and brooding bad guy to sneer at Kirk and grab him by his throat. Some of the best and most underrated Trek movies don't have or at the very least, don't place undue emphasis on having a nemesis for Kirk to judo-chop in the climax.

   Of course, these reboots are trying less to be like the original movies and more to be like the original series. In that vein, Beyond hits all the right notes. It's still a bit too action-oriented for my tastes, but I can't deny that it was a blast. It feels the most genuine out of the three, and the most concerned with carving out new dilemmas and ideas for the crew to tackle. A lot of moments I was worried were going to come off as absurd or groan-worthy, ended up being rather great. As well as a much discussed use of the song Sabotage by the Beastie Boys that surprisingly worked better than it had any goddamn right to. I loved that moment so much.

   I still think Star Trek has a longer road in front of it than it does behind it, but while Star Wars has made a successful comeback by retreading old ground, it's only fitting that Star Trek succeeds again by pushing forward, finally cutting a new path for itself.  That new car smell combined with the lack of glaring plot holes, and a general respect towards the material that was shockingly absent in Into Darkness, make Beyond a good flick. It's energy, verve, and personality make it a really good flick, and the well crafted action scenes and special effects are the icing on the cake, making Star Trek Beyond some of the best space faring entertainment you're likely to have in a while.

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