Saturday, December 10, 2016

Weekend Movie Night: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek: Beyond poster. Paramount.

It's been awhile since I put up a movie review on this blog, but I think it's time again. I just watched Star Trek: Beyond last night so I figured I could write something up. I've been a fan of Star Trek pretty much my whole life so it's kinda surprising that I didn't see the movie earlier then I did. I did see the last two Star Trek's in theaters but for whatever reason I never went to see Beyond. 

Probably because the marketing campaign was pretty terrible. The trailers and ads I saw gave the movie little context at all. I don't remember seeing anything in those trailers that told me what the story was going to be or anything else. It was just a bunch of out of context actions scenes that didn't really give me a reason to see the film in theaters. 

Part of that is because the story is incredibly easy to spoil. You can't talk about the story in Beyond without spoiling it entirely. The story is highly reliant on the ending twist and if they had talked about it in the trailers it would have spoiled the movie. Needless to say, if you haven't read the movie, you might not want to read past my spoiler warning below.

I do have to say that the setting for this movie was a step up compared to anything we have seen in Star Trek before. The massive Starbase, Yorktown, was one of the more visually striking things I have seen in Star Trek. It was a huge space station that was as impressive as it was visually confusing. I have to say that it was pretty awesome and the special effects were pretty universally great. 

The film also is a tribute to both Leonard Nimoy (who played Spock in the original series, obviously) and Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the reboots. Both of them died and it was nice that both of them were mentioned in the credits. Nimoy got more of a story focus because his character, Ambassador Spock, was a huge impact on the reboot universe and though he died off screen, his death had a major impact on the film. When Zachary Quinto's Spock speaks about how he's thinking about mortality, it's pretty clear that the film is talking about more then just the character. Indeed, there is a moment near the end of the film where the entire cast from the original series is put up on the screen, as a reminder of the figures from Star Trek that we have lost. 

The rest of the story takes place on a planet called Altamid and I have to say that everything that happened there was less impressive then the opening. Though the movie was good, it didn't hold my attention the way the last two Star Trek Reboots did. 

I have more then a few problems with the story in Star Trek Beyond. Though the movie was pretty good in terms of action and visuals, I have more then a few nitpicks. The most cringe worthy thing in the movie for me was how the hero's destroyed the drone swarm of starships near the end of the movie. After some technobable about radio waves interfering with the drone swarm, the enemy fleet is blown up by blasting the Beastie Boys at them. Ugh, cringeworthy, and even worse when the characters call it "classical music". It wouldn't be so bad but they have used the joke before in the Star Trek reboots, even using the same song.

I also have to say that the massive space battle in the beginning of the movie was pretty disappointing. That isn't to say that it wasn't impressive, it was, but the problem was is that we have seen it before. I think the filmmakers expected the destruction of the USS Enterprise to be more impressive then it was. We have seen this before in multiple Star Trek movies, including Star Trek III and Star Trek Generations. Plus the Enterprise got wrecked in the last reboot movie as well, so the moment wasn't nearly as effective as it could have been if I wasn't expecting it. Indeed, even though the end of the movie showed the new Enterprise being built, I doubt it will survive for more then a movie or two the way they have been going. The way that the Enterprise was destroyed was new but the actual destruction itself wasn't anything new. 

There wasn't a lot of continuity in this film to the rest of the series and what little there was, was from a strange source. For whatever reason, neither the Yorktown station or Altamid had any of the iconic Star Trek races that I saw. There were no cameos from Andorians or Tallarites that I saw and the villains weren't from an established "villain race". Which was disappointing because the last movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness, set up a major conflict with the Klingons that was left rotting on the vine. Indeed, it almost seemed like Into Darkness was completely ignored in this film, which doesn't make much sense to me since I though it was a decent movie. 

Though I really did enjoy the twist that the villains of the movie were Humans from an earlier mission I have to say that the background of the villains will probably be lost on  lot of people. It was immediately obvious to me that a decent chunk of this movie was a tribute to the Star Trek Enterprise TV show. Given how controversial that series was, the references to it might have been lost on a larger audience. I am guessing the references to MACO's and the Xindi war will probably fly past a lot of the viewers in the movie. 

And I have to say that Enterprise references were pretty cool, even if I wasn't a huge fan of the series. Since the reboot, everything has been tossed out of canon except Enterprise. Though that series was pretty horrible the things that were referenced, the Xindi War arc and the MACO's were some of the better things on the show and it was nice to see it. I also like the USS Franklin, which was obviously a copy of the Enterprise on that show. It was a good throwback to a show that quite honestly could have been tossed out with everything else. Though I doubt all that many people got the references, those of us that did were impressed. 

I also like the idea that the villains were members of the Federation that went rouge after getting lost. Idris Elba makes a great villain and I liked him in this role. And I liked the idea of an old soldier essentially losing his role and having a grudge because of it. Though I have more sympathy for Elba's argument in the movie, it was still an interesting way for the movie to go. I liked it. 

As an aside, for people thinking about watching Enterprise itself, I have to say that I can't recommend it. I personally put as the weakest of all the Star Trek's and even Voyager had more going for it than Enterprise (Jeri Ryan did well once she joined the show and not just because she's amazingly attractive and the Doctor was always entertaining). The way I see it, there is about a season and a half worth of watchable TV from Enterprise and the rest is just filler, some of which is utter trash. Season 3 was pretty good, but the last five minutes of it pissed me off that I almost dropped the show entirely and the rest of the seasons were very hit or miss. 

Back to Beyond though, these criticisms are pretty minor. Despite my complaints, Star Trek Beyond is a perfectly serviceable movie. I'd put it into the mid tier of Star Trek movies, along with Star Trek III, VI and Generations. There have definitely been worse Star Trek films and despite a few problems, I enjoyed watching Beyond. If nothing else, it was the most visually impressive Star Trek and the action scenes were great. 

I do have to say I have some minor criticism with the culture war that erupted over this movie. If you didn't know they made Sulu gay in this movie as a tribute to George Takei, who is gay himself. Takei didn't like this move and I have to agree with him. Sulu was canonically straight in the original series and it has some unfortunate implications to make him gay in the reboot universe. Plus it seems like pandering. I don't have a problem with having a gay character in Star Trek, but it probably shouldn't have been someone that had been previously established as straight. Either way though, the reference was so brief, that the controversy greatly overshadowed the actual scenes itself, which were pretty easy to miss or ignore in the first place. 

Still, though Beyond was a good movie, it could have been great. I do kind of think that the reboots are getting a bit predictable. Unless something changes, I think the next movie will be the same. The Enterprise will be blown up, the Beastie Boys Sabotage song is going to be played and there won't be any iconic villain races from the past. Though Beyond was still good despite this, if it continues to happen then the series is going to get stale... 

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