Friday, July 22, 2016

"Star Trek Beyond" (2016)

Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban
Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung
Directed by Justin Lin
Rated PG-13 — Violence, language
Running Time: 122 Minutes

As his birthday approaches, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in a funk. The strain of spending years in deep space is taking its toll on him, his ship and his crew. After the failure of a diplomatic mission, Kirk is ready to throw in the towel and trade the captain’s chair for a desk chair. But a distress call sends the Enterprise to a mysterious planet where a trap has been laid for them.

A man named Krall (Idris Elba) awaits the Enterprise. His forces tear the ship to pieces, sending it and its crew crashing to the surface. With most of the Enterprise crew imprisoned, Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) team up with the survivor of another crash, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to free their friends and figure out just who Krall is and why he hates the Federation so very, very much.

For a movie that was kind of famously slapped together (pre-production is said to have lasted a mere six months), “Star Trek Beyond” is a remarkably slick and confident production. Justin Lin steps in to direct for JJ Abrams, while Simon Pegg and Doug Jung replaced Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci as writers, and the difference is palpable.

For one thing, this is literally a much steadier movie. Save from some of the more frenetic action sequences, Lin keeps the camera steady. There are many more long, lingering shots of the starship Enterprise — obviously designed to allow the audience to get a good last look before the film ends its first act by viciously tearing the ship to shreds. The ship’s arrival at starbase Yorktown is practically a concert performance both visually and aurally as Michael Giacchino unleashes some of his best scoring work yet.

In some ways, this is a more “traditional” “Star Trek” picture than the previous two films in this reboot series (now officially dubbed the “Kelvin timeline,” apparently). It’s a bit steadier and slower paced, and for the first time since 1998’s “Star Trek: Insurrection” features no scenes taking place on Earth. On the nerdier side of things, “Beyond” does away with the inconsistent notion that warp-speed is near instantaneous travel from the 2009 film and “Into Darkness.” Here, it obviously takes a while for the ship to get from one place to another, even though the geography of the locations in the film are fairly close. Additionally, the dreaded “technobabble” that bogged down so many later “Trek” adventures rears its ugly head here, sadly at a couple of key junctures. (This had me thinking “GET ON WITH IT” for the first time in any of these new reboot movies.)

The cast seems a bit uneasy with these scenes, and not just because Chris Pine’s Kirk is characterized to be a bit impatient with it — More than once, he tells Scotty to get to the point, in English. But for the vast majority of the movie, it’s the cast that once again proves themselves the masterstroke of this series. Three movies and nearly 10 years deep, no matter what combination of smaller groups you put them in, this ensemble works together in a manner that’s incredibly pleasurable to watch. The movie’s final scene features Kirk wandering through several different conversations going on at once, and it’s an incredibly warm and inviting moment. Over the course of the entire film, it seems like a much more concerted effort to give everyone a bit more to do, and to really drive home how close these characters have become to each other. In particular, Spock and McCoy have a couple of really wonderful scenes where they lay their entire relationship bare.

Idris Elba is a fine actor to play the villain here, but he seems to struggle under all that alien makeup. It’s not until much later in the film that we really understand him, and but for much of his screentime he does little more than menace Uhura (Zoe Saldanha, kicking a bunch of ass in her scenes). When the reveal finally happens, though, Elba does his stuff and it’s impressive.

Much brouhaha was made online about Kirk riding a motorcycle in this movie (to which I say, who cares? We saw him riding a motorcycle in the 2009 movie), but this proves not only to make sense but also leads to a heroic moment that garnered great audience approval in the screening I attended. And if you thought perhaps we might move on from Kirk’s love of the Beastie Boys (“Is that... classical music?”) then you thought wrong, because that’s here, too, and it (hilariously) plays a pivotal role in the film’s climax. Stodgy “Star Trek” fans who think nothing but orchestral scores belong in this franchise should steel themselves.

But despite a middle section that drags a bit after the slam-bang first act closes, and a villain reveal that probably comes a bit too late to have the heft the filmmakers hope it will, “Star Trek Beyond” is a keenly enjoyable experience. It is confident and fun, with great character moments for the cast and a number of rocking action sequences — and one franchise shout-out that had the whole audience cheering.

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