Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Star Trek Beyond



Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a blog with a mission to explore strange new sentence structures. I'm Dave-El and I don't think Scotty's going to beam my ass out of here. 

This past weekend, the El family ventured forth from the Fortress of Ineptitude to go see Star Trek Beyond. I had wanted to see it the weekend before but apparently our very summertime sort of day took way too much out of us to have the energy to go see a movie the next day. So we had to wait a week to build up our strength. 

While I post a lot on this blog about Doctor Who, my first big sci-fi love was Star Trek. I watched the classic reruns when I was a kid and later in the 1980's and 1990's, I followed religiously The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and (alas!) Voyager. (Forgive me, I knew not what I was doing.)  

I greeted the 2009 reboot with no small degree of trepidation, fearful that it would invalidate what I had seen before. Still, 2009's Star Trek was a nimble and cleverly done movie. It took too long to get the 2nd movie and when Into Darkness did arrive, it seemed too riddled with missed opportunities.

A lot was riding on Star Trek Beyond. The reboot had taken familiar characters but put them in unfamiliar terrain. I wanted this reboot to work but I needed to care about this version of Capt. Kirk and his team of officers. Star Trek Beyond not only needed to entertain me, I needed to care.

So what are my thoughts on this latest cinematic Star Trek entry? First of all and the thing that struck me the most was this is a team movie. Yes, Capt. Kirk gets some significant solo heroic moments in the film, true. But it's amazing to see that everyone in the cast gets some badass things to do. Sulu gets to be a badass. Uhura gets to be a badass. Chekov, Bones, Spock, Scotty all get to be a badass. This is perhaps the most even distribution of character development in a Star Trek movie in, like, ever.

There's a lot of humor but that's OK. First of all, when you have a screenplay co-written by Simon Pegg, you've gotta expect the funny. But most of it flows naturally out of the respective characters. Yes, the opening bit where Kirk is overrun by vicious but really tiny aliens borders a bit on slapstick. And I'm sure some Star Trek purists may object to the re-appearance of "Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys. (I was cool with it.) Otherwise, the humor is character driven, making an effective counterpoint to the drama.

And yes, there is drama. At a personal level, we see Capt. Kirk not exactly dealing well with the demands of long term deep space travel, particularly as he is now older than his father when he died. Spock is also facing a dilemma about his destiny, to stay with Starfleet and on the Enterprise or return to New Vulcan. It's a quandary that takes on added weight when he learns that the other Spock, the one from the alternate timeline, is dead. 

And then there is the larger drama, of the Enterprise outgunned and shattered, the crew seriously outmatched and defeated. This is as desperate a situation as we've ever seen any Star Trek crew face and against an implacable and powerful foe who knows way too much about them.  

I've seen some criticism that Star Trek Beyond is a TV show episode with a bigger budget. I will agree with that statement but I disagree that it's a criticism. I saw it as a strength. What we got here was an exciting adventure with key character moments that help us get to know better these new versions of beloved characters. Sometimes we just need to see people we care about doing awesome stuff. And Star Trek Beyond delivers on that mission.  

I will note that once again the Enterprise gets destroyed which is getting a bit old. Yes, it made sense in the context of this plot but I would like to see our favorite Federation starship actually survive a movie for once.  

The performances were solid with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto still threading the needle of channeling their respective inner Shatner and Nimoy while exploring new directions for Kirk and Spock. Everyone in the main cast seems to have found a comfort level with their characters that made them seem more real than just variations on what others had done before. Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhuru, John Cho as Sulu and Simon Pegg as Scotty were all wonderful. 

But I need to take a moment to talk about Anton Yelchin as Chekov. In a previous review of Star Trek Into Darkness, I referred to Chekov as descending into caricature. Maybe it was really a thing or maybe I was just being an ass. But in Star Trek Beyond, I was as engaged with Chekov as was the other characters. Chekov seemed more like a real person. Do I attribute this to a script that gave Chekov more to do or Anton Yelchin's growth as an actor? I could say it was guilt for my earlier harsh assessment in light of Anton Yelchin's tragic and untimely death a couple of months ago. But I truly think Yelchin found his groove with Chekov in this latest adventure. It's a shame we will not get to see where Yelchin and Chekov would've gone next.  

Over on the guest star side, Idris Elba can glower with the best of them, even under prosthetics. Elba's Krall is an imposing threat without indulging in over the top villainous histrionics. Sofia Boutella is Jaylah, an alien scavenger who befriends Scotty and lends fighting skills and her technical expertise to Kirk's efforts to rescue his crew. Jaylah is a very tough character but she's not afraid to show fear and she has sharp sense of humor.  

I got to give a shout out to a couple of really good effects in this movie. One is the incredibly awesome Yorktown base. Anyone who has seen any Star Trek over the last 50 years has an idea of what a starbase should look like. Well, Yorktown upends that in the most astonishing way I could imagine. It's the size of a moon and is a series of connecting cities that loop up and around. It's a wondrously conceived design. 

The other effect is the destruction of the Enterprise. As I've noted, we've seen this bit way too much: Search For Spock, Generations, Nemesis, Into Darkness. But here the Enterprise gets pick apart piece by piece. First the nacelles, then the drive section is cut off from the saucer. Inside, the ship is a madhouse of spinning perspectives as up becomes down which gets turned sideways. The cool thing about this bit is that even when the ship is reduced to a shattered shell of a saucer section plummeting towards a planet, its as if the Enterprise itself is willing itself to keep up the fight until the last moment. 

Star Trek Beyond is not a ground breaking masterpiece but it doesn't have to be. I didn't need it to be anything that what it was, a clever and exciting adventure of Capt. James T. Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise against a threat from the unknown depths of space. It was fun and scary at the same time as a good adventure should be and we get to have that adventure with characters who have come into their own. Star Trek Beyond, simply put, was good. 

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And that's a wrap for today's post. Tomorrow, Howard the Duck but mostly Lea Thompson. 

And more movie stuff on Thursday as the Pixar re-watch project continues with Cars.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.  

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