Friday, July 29, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

**1/2 out of ****

Star Trek has now been around for fifty years! When I was first becoming a fan of the franchise, it had a hit television show through The Next Generation and a profitable movie series featuring the original cast. Today, there hasn’t been a Star Trek show on the air in over a decade (though a new series is in development) and a reboot-style movie series featuring new actors playing the original crew living in an altered timeline has Trekkies on the fence regarding whether it’s smart enough to be worthy of the title.
There is a trade-off to the third entry known as Star Trek Beyond. Finally we have a movie with a plot that is not dependent on derivations of famous Star Trek lore. It is its own reframing of the ‘60s TV show. For me, the absence of director J.J. Abrams, who has a talent for making anything seem rich and engaging (regardless of how stupid), left a few desired qualities missing from this movie.

Don’t get me wrong. Justin Lin’s Fast and Furious-style approach captures some sights I hadn’t seen in a Trek film before. There is a wonderful collection of shots in Beyond that frame the Starship Enterprise from angles from which only a vehicle-fetish artist could conceive. There is also a Federation outpost in the form of a space city that is a gorgeous design to behold.

Still, I didn’t feel quite as transported (pun intended) by this Trek movie’s atmosphere. The improvement in the screenwriting can be credited to Doug Jung and Simon Pegg whose contributions to this film help to sell its jargon through some clever explanations and hilarious quips but to describe the plot only reminds me of how many unwelcome movie clich├ęs they indulge.

After the crew of the Enterprise finds itself split up and fending for itself on an alien world they find an ally in a rogue warrior woman (Sofia Boutella) who may be their only chance against a mysterious warlord (Idris Elba) who is trying to attack the Federation by obtaining a secret weapon in the possession of the crew.

Having yet another vengeful antagonist after a McGuffin is nothing new. Star Trek has had its share of bad guys but not all of them have been angry people with personal vendettas. Quite often, they’ve been something very alien with no concept of the threat they pose.

The movie moves a little too fast to clarify this villain's motives or find an emotional sense of pacing. With it also being the first Star Trek movie ever to be shot digitally, the overall gray look doesn't make a good case for the medium-change when compared to the bright colors in the last two movies, which also incorporated their special effects more seamlessly. I know that digital doesn't need to be low-color, but it seems to be a common trend that's infecting a lot of genres that should be utilizing elements like color to generate a fun feeling.

This has been a rocky series so far. I love the 2009 movie, even if it missed the point of the spirit of Star Trek, but it was when Into Darkness came out that I was troubled by such gorgeous production being applied to a dog-shit screenplay. It made me wonder why there was such a lack of inspiration taken from the previous film's resetting of the universe. Then I realized that everyone involved may have liked Star Trek, but maybe not enough.

Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and the usual players continue to have fun with their characters in the new movie, which rightfully pays its respects to the absent Leonard Nimoy - who passed before having the opportunity to show up as Spock Prime one more time - and Anton Yelchin, who finished his work playing Chekov for the third time, shortly before a tragic, fatal accident.

While I’m not particularly amazed by Star Trek Beyond, it is taking the right steps to bringing back that old Star Trek feeling. It just has so many more steps to take.

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