Star Trek Beyond Expectations

I went into Star Trek: Beyond unsure if I was even going to see the movie. The Star Trek reboot has been wholly underwhelming so far, Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) did not instill confidence in me as a serious director, trailers looked atrocious.

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Star Trek (2009) created a new Trek universe, one with more action and less science that resembles more of a Star Wars type of set up. JJ Abrams who helmed the writing and production admitted he was a fan of the latter series and not so much the adventures of Captain Kirk that many of us fans had grown to love. On first watch, I thought the film was fun and enjoyed it, but as I delved into it, it missed the spirit of Star Trek, made blatant characterization errors (especially with Old Spock) and felt like a nostalgic caricature more than a film in its own rite. Abrams has a habit of doing this, and I have similar feelings with The Force Awakens. There is one thing he is a master at, however, which few could deny – casting. The cast did such an excellent job, we had hopes for a launching point for at least a watchable series.

Then came Into Darkness. And as the title aptly put, that is what the writing delved into, unable to find its way back out. The movie was a convoluted mess, trying to get to 10-15 minute action scenes and slogging through having to have a plot as if it were a nuisance. Add to it strange role reversed Wrath of Khan rehashes, Spock fist fighting on top of a space ship and a bizarre 9-11 truther plot… it was a pure disaster. I’d all but written off the franchise.

So my expectations were very low coming into this movie, and I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed it and thought this picked up how Trek 2009 promised the franchise would blossom, and positively. What’s important is this franchise actually feels like Star Trek again. There were some nice homages to the original trek through it as well. Spoilers begin here.  

The story begins mid action, just like Into Darkness – on a strange alien planet that’s disorienting, a true strange new world. That was the one scene I loved about the last movie, the only part that felt like it was Star Trek. They chose a diplomatic mission gone awry this time, and it captured the feel perfectly. From there, we saw more strange new worlds. Though maybe not heavy on the science, the station-world Yorktown had a cool feel that I bought into as something new to explore and futuristic. That’s where the plot began as an alien woman shows up in distress, saying she needs help going into a nebula (darn those nebulas!) where communication was lost with her crew.

Kirk and Co. oblige and we’re off to adventure. I skipped over some very cool character moments that both call into self-doubt and progress the characters by the end of the movie, scenes which begin here as well. Enjoyed these scenes tremendously.

Immediately upon entering the nebula the Enterprise gets swarmed by bee things, strange stuff happens, lots of action and fighting – a little too much. My main criticism of the film occurs at this point. These endless action scenes are DRAINING. They are not fun, they don’t create suspense. I care far more about what’s going to happen to Spock and Uhura’s relationship at this point than I do the exploding explosions that have side explosions that are even bigger. They look and feel so fake with the CGI it rips a viewer out of the film. Honestly, the visuals of Star Trek III with the Enterprise’s destruction and Klingon ship fighting it was more exciting and gripping than this version of it.

So where were we? Oh yes, the Enterprise gets all destroyed, saucer separates (this confused me) from a partially broken ship, lands on planet a la Generations. Looks fake. Crew ejects and we’re into the real plot in earnest.

What’s great about the writing at this point is the characters goes their separate way in pairs or so, and we get a nice relationship dynamic in each subplot that eventually converges on the same point and builds the characters at the same time. It was masterfully done and very much appreciated, especially after Into Trope-ness that felt so fake. We meet the villain here, build up suspense about what happened, crew finds an old starship and meets a badass alien chick, get ready to take this baddie on.

The movie leaps into action from here, and I have very few complaints about how it was done. There was cool technology used that had a point, plot threads all tied up even from the beginning scene. Everything that happens is important to the story and most importantly, I come away feeling like Kirk and Spock and company are solving problems the way Kirk and Spock and company solve problems in Star Trek. This film recaptured Star Trek’s soul.

The main baddy Krall comes away with a biological weapon and is going to go target Yorktown and kill everyone. He is a little bit mustache twirly evil in his motivations but they do at least try to explain it so it doesn’t come across totally stupid (I keep wanting to come back to Into Darkness as points of what totally stupid looks like… and I need to stop because I know you get the point).

We go into a Justin Lin fast and furious motorcycle chase/fight scene…. which honestly doesn’t bother me, believe it or not. They conveniently find an old hidden NX starship to leave the planet on, referencing Enterprise but happily. Then we go to Fast and Furious: In Space, culminating with the Beastie Boys saving the day as we listen all y’all it’s Sabotage. As much as I expected this to completely ruin the movie for me as 2009’s Beastie Boys bit made me roll my eyes… it was kinda clever. I wonder if they did this to poke fun of that. You’ll have to see it for why. Props.

I would have been satisfied for it to end here but we have more chasings. Starships through the city streets! Cuz that’s necessary, I guess. And we couldn’t just have it end there (though I was more than ready now!). Like almost every film in this generation, the action sequence just went on far too long. We have a twist about evil Krall’s identity that he’s really an old human dude at this point, even though he’s been a weird lizard man the whole movie. This is very slightly explained with some weird vampire technology that keeps him young but sorta transforms him, but they really glossed over it, slightly insulting to the viewers’ intelligence. This film would have been just as good or perhaps better if they would have just left him a human to begin with. My 2nd main criticism of the movie right here. It all ends, we find out all the twistiness and back into character moments as the characters resolve the internal tensions and the tensions between them with a Kirk birthday celebration – more homage to the original Star Trek III and likely the 50th anniversary of Trek.

And they live happily ever after on a new Enterprise-A. Yay.

At this point, I actually want another film, which I couldn’t say after the last installment. This movie was well done and I’m finally starting to accept this cast as actually Kirk, Spock, McCoy and company. It’s not going to make my Top 5 favorite trek list because it’s just too heavy on senseless action that should have been cut down, but it may be in there at #6 or 7 of the franchise’s 13 movies. Writing is excellent, especially on the characterizations and intra-character relationships. It’s tight, everything ties into everything and resolves.

There are plenty of comedy moments, lightening up the film just enough but not killing the tension, a stellar job there as well. Actors do a phenomenal job as always. It looks good other than the over the top CGI sequences for action’s sake (too much!) and random aliens they throw in to make them “more alien” that look like cartoons.

I’d rate this a solid 7.5/10 and would watch it again.

JDA 7-26-16

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