Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

The third time's the charm. After a lackluster first film and a clusterfuck of a sequel, the rebooted franchise finally gets it right with Star Trek Beyond. No longer awkwardly straddling the original and new continuities, the latest Star Trek film offers a wholly original story and the first really good movie in the Star Trek franchise in 20 years.

Opening with a humorous scene of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) struggling with a delicate diplomatic mission which plants the first seed of the story, Star Trek Beyond really gets going when Kirk and the Enterprise are tricked into a rescue mission that leaves the Enterprise in pieces and most of its crew prisoners of a warmonger known as Krall (Idris Elba) who is after an ancient weapon which could change the balance of power in the galaxy.

While not offering much of the bigger themes of the original series' best episodes, director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) does deliver one hell of an action film (which looks even more impressive in IMAX 3D) that is still driven by the core relationships of its characters. For those of us dissatisfied with the recent additions to the franchise, this is the movie we've been waiting for.

The full crew from the first two films (minus Alice Eve) returns here. It's sad that this is Anton Yelchin's (for whom the movie is dedicated in the credits) final film as he provides several stand-out moments as Pavel Checkov. Along with Elba, in full scene-chomping villain mode, the sequel also introduces Sofia Boutella as a local named Jaylah who impressively steals more than a few of her scenes from both Pine and Simon Pegg (no small feat). I'm hoping we haven't seen last of Jaylah. (Maybe she could take over Chekov's chair in the next sequel?)

Three years into the Enterprise's five-year mission has begun to take a toll on both Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) who are both considering opportunities elsewhere as the movie opens. While the real-life death of Leonard Nimoy is handled a little more clunky than I'd like, the plot thread does offer an undercurrent to Spock's relationships with Kirk, Bones (Karl Urban), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Despite the story issues I had with each of the first two films, there is an earned payoff for each of those relationships in Star Trek Beyond.

The film isn't without its faults. First, the score from Michael Giacchino never quite clicked with the story for me while being alternately distracting or forgettable. The doomsday weapon isn't well-explained and the design of both it's controls and it's Thor: The Dark World-style effects leave something to be desired. (Krall's swarming fleet of suicidal drones is far more visually impressive.) Also, an unnecessary twist (hamfistedly foreshadowed an hour earlier) over-complicates the movie's final act where no added backstory or motivation for events is needed. And, even without J.J. Abrams in the director chair, the galaxy is still plagued with an abundance of lens flares.

However, none of these detract from what is an immensely enjoyable film and an immeasurable improvement over the last movie. Star Trek Beyond isn't a perfect film, but other than Galaxy Quest (the film I still argue is the best Star Trek movie ever made), there's not much to celebrate since 1996's Star Trek: First Contact. Star Trek Beyond halts that trend of diminishing returns by delivering a summer film all Star Trek fans should be able to enjoy.

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