Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

This is Where the Frontier Pushes Back
or
"Let's Hope This Doesn't Get Messy"

Simon Pegg's character Tim Bisely in "Spaced" once stated: "... as sure as day follows night, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd-numbered Star Trek is shit."

Irony time. Star Trek Beyond is an odd-numbered "Star Trek" film...and he wrote it (along with Doug Jung).

Of course, J.J. Abrams busted that track record with the odd-(un-)numbered Star Trek reboot (2009), recast the entire original crew and managed to survive the potential solar shit-storm from some of the most vocal of pop-culture's fan-maniacs. The reason was that movie did everything differently while still reminding you of what was so damn good about the original series. There was a bit of a let-down with the second (at least for me) because the first one warped Star Trek-space so ingeniously that one was expecting something more than mere future history-re-writing, by cribbing the plots of two of the original cast's movies so soon into this new, re-booted series.
Which is why it's so damn funny when Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), 966 days into the Enterprise's five year mission, and after a diplomatic first contact that does not go very well, saws into his Captain's Log that things are beginning "to feel...episodic." Even exploring new worlds gets to be a drag (ask Lewis and Clark) and the crew is definitely feeling the lethargy. A stop back to Earth's new orbiting city in space, Yorktown (nobody's thought of this before? Just the field-offices in space?) and the crew can't wait to get away from each other—even the Enterprise's "power-coupling" is fraying: Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is wanting to break up with Spock (Zachary Quinto). Kirk is being pulled other directions, so is his Science Officer. 
It's almost Kirk's birthday and over a drink he and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) hash out Kirk's issues—he's lived longer than his Dad (who died on his birthday) and Kirk's motivations were not the same as his. Now, the job just isn't fun anymore. It's routine and Kirk is thinking of applying for a Vice-Admiralty position with Starfleet (Lord knows he has enough vices to qualify for the job).
But, a distress signal from an uncharted nebula pulls him back into the chair—he and the crew warp out together, maybe for the last time for a rescue mission. They're given coordinates by a returning Starfleet officer Kalara (Lydia Wilson) and find the nebula is not that tough a commute—sure, it's blocking signals from Starfleet, but...hey, what's that on the view-screen? And before Star Wars' Admiral Ackbar can make a cameo saying "it's a trap!" they're being bombarded by so many projectiles, they don't have the weaponry capable of taking out everything and they get boarded, the warp-nacelles of the Enterprise cut off from the ship (no one has thought of this before?) and the ship goes powerless. Time for Scotty (Pegg) to do a little re-routing to the impulse engines and the ship is underway, albeit slowly, with the crew together, but being picked off one by one.

Then, things really go down. In the same type of swarm attack that took out the nacelles, the ship starts to get eviscerated to knock out all power to the ship. Kirk orders the crew to evacuate and their capsules start jettisoning into space. But, they're soon hi-jacked and taken to a planet in the nearby system. With the Enterprise crippled and heading to the planet's surface, Kirk has no choice but to abandon ship and take his chances on the planet.
With no ship, the crew scattered, the mission becomes one of survival and making do the best they can. It's a great way to find out out just what your crew-mates mean to you and cure that contempt that too much familiarity breeds.
The film-makers do shake things up a bit and despite throwing in as much action as they can possibly muster, they manage to give to this Star Trek what has been skimped on a bit in the past films—interaction. What works in the Star Trek movies is what worked on the television show, which is the characters and Pegg, Jung and director Justin Lin take pains to pair off the crew-members unusually—Kirk with Chekhov, Spock with McCoy (well, naturally), Uhura with Sulu and Scott with a denizen of the planet named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, who played the lethal kick-master Gazelle in Kingsmen) that manages to play to everybody's strengths.
One is drawn in because it's a situation that one has seen before on the original series, but never like this, and one's attention is focused because you're not exactly sure what will happen next—something Into Darkness, retreading tried and true territory, never accomplished. The story seems fresh and full of surprises, except that sometimes things are a bit too convenient in resolution, but that may be that things are withheld in back-story that might be telling.
One gets the feeling that quite a bit has been chopped out of Star Trek Beyond, as some transitions are rough, at times confusing, and for a scrupulous refusal to not go into too much detail about the film's chief villain Krall (Idris Elba). It's a bit refreshing, that, actually, because ultimately who cares what the guy's backstory is—his motivations are a bit confused and his actions way too extreme to make any sense whatsoever. Basically, who cares? He's a bad guy. Stop him. The same goes for the McGuffin in the movie. Everybody says it's dangerous, but not too willing to explain how. Without that, you're not sure what the rules are or what the stakes might be, and that undercuts the suspense factor somewhat. But suspense is not what the director is after. What he wants is visceral.
Director Lin is an action-movie guy and he does a lot of story-length swoops and camera tilts to keep you disoriented through those sequences...too much so, actually. He's less concerned with the build-up to something as long as he gets the "money-shot" in. That grows tiresome after awhile, and the final action furor seems like one too many (and relies on what you think the gravity issues on a globe-shaped city in space would be like). A space-battle would be just as familiar, I guess, and maybe Pine thought he was robbed of a big climax last movie (Spock had to do all the running and punching), but with all the hand-to-hand combat, one wonders what they have phasers for.

Still, bumps in the warp-drive not withstanding, Star Trek Beyond is a good use of material and a reminder of why the thing has lasted 50 years...almost. It premiered in September, 1966. 

And they keep making ships.

Bob Peak's poster for the original Star Trek: the Motion Picture
next to "The Director's Edition" which featured the original key photographs.

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