Friday, July 22, 2016
Star Trek Beyond Review
First I must explain that Star Trek is a franchise that I grew up loving. Do I consider myself a trekkie? I don't know actually. I don't think I'd meet the minimum requirements to officially dawn that title. But I will say I'm a Star Trek fan. I grew up watching The Next Generation with a little bit of Voyager and Deep Space Nine. Have I ever watched all episodes of those three shows in order? No. But I enjoy them nonetheless. Note that I didn't include The Original Series in that. I didn't grow up watching that one. But before you have a heart attack, know that in my adult years I have dove into The Original Series and gained a very high appreciation for it to the point where if you make me pick my personal favorite Star Trek series, I'm going to go with The Original Series. When it comes to the now 13 movies, well, it's been a bit of a rough ride to say the least. In my humble opinion, the only three great movies are The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock, and First Contact. I also enjoyed The Undiscovered Country and The Voyage Home, although I'd classify those two as good, not great. The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, Generations, Insurrection, and Nemesis are all either bad or sub-par in my opinion. So no, not every Star Trek movie is created equally.
Then we have our reboot movies. I'll get to Star Trek Beyond here in a bit, but for now I will continue to build anticipation to that and focus on Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness for a second. I don't like either of them. Star Trek put us in an alternate dimension, but did so in a weird, convoluted way that in my opinion is more of a cop-out than an interesting story choice. I liked our intro with Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk, but Chris Pine's James T. Kirk is an abomination in that movie. I hate how they made him a spoiled, unlikable brat that joins Starfleet on a dare and becomes captain because his dad was a war hero. On top of that lame story, the villain was dumb and the Spock/Uhura love story was awful. Not a good movie. But Star Trek Into Darkness was a whole heck of a lot worse. Why? So many reasons, but if I'm being brief, it's a cheap, second-rate remake of The Wrath of Kahn, which is the best Star Trek movie. A completely copied story with characters I didn't care about and a watered-down version of Kahn that was much worse than the original Kahn. Cumberbatch did the best with what he was given, but that wasn't a whole lot. The death of Kirk was cheap and frustrating because they completely copied it from The Wrath of Kahn and was made worse by the fact that they didn't have the guts to keep Kirk dead for longer than 10 minutes.
The reviews came in strong as it's currently at 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But that didn't convince me. Those same critics also gave 2009's Star Trek a 95 percent and Star Trek Into Darkness an 87 percent and I just told you what I thought about those movies. I couldn't even trust the YouTube critics that I follow because they're in the same exact boat. So despite a whole bunch of reviews in, I essentially went into this movie completely blind and totally expected to hate it. I had my roast-fest all planned out in my head and I was going to unleash this angry demon inside of my soul on this new franchise. But yet I always have the philosophy of going into every movie with an open. So I did. But at the same time, I also had fresh on my mind my reasons for liking Star Trek as a whole and thus there were certain checkpoints that this movie needed to meet in order to get a pass. To my huge surprise, this movie actually met them! I'm totally serious. J.J. Abrams doesn't know how to make a Star Trek movie, but apparently Justin Lin does. No, this movie doesn't have a lot of depth or emotion to it, but it's a fun little Star Trek adventure that felt like a solid filler episode of the TV show. For the first time in this reboot series, it felt like I was actually watching Star Trek. That made me happy.
In thinking about what it is that makes me like Star Trek, I decided that the most important thing is to have a crew that I care about. This is something that The Original Series, The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine all had. Good crews with characters that I care about. Leading these crews has to be a solid captain. William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard are perfect examples. Both of these men are phenomenal actors that make for great captains. William Shatner as Captain Kirk especially has so much charm and charisma that makes him so likable. He has plenty of character flaws, but that allows him to go through so much growth. This is what the reboot series was missing in the first two movies. Chris Pine's Kirk was an abomination. My favorite part of Into Darkness is when Cumberbatch was beating the crap out of him. It made me happy. It wasn't Chris Pine's fault, though. It was how he was written. Concerning the rest of our crew, Zachary Quinto didn't quite sell me as Spock and the romance between him and Uhura totally ruined both of their characters. Karl Urban was a little over the top as Dr. McCoy. All he did was complain and whine. Same thing with Simon Pegg's Scotty. The only two main characters who nailed their roles were John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov.
First order of business for Mr. Lin: fix our crew. Check. Starting with the top, Chris Pine's Kirk is no longer crybaby Kirk or spoiled-brat Kirk. He's Captain Kirk. He acts like a really good, likable captain. Does he have the charm and charisma of William Shatner? Heck no. But in fairness, not many people can match that. But he does take a huge step forward in this movie. Whereas in the first two movies I cheered when he got beat up, in this one I actually cared for his safety. Next up, the Spock and Uhura romance gets axed in the beginning and Zachary Quinto does a much better job of acting like the emotionless, logical Spock that Leonard Nimoy did so well. Him and Kirk make a great team like Kirk and Spock are supposed to. Karl Urban is toned down a bit as Dr. McCoy and Simon Pegg as the writer of this movie was able to write his Scotty much better. Zoe Saldana doesn't have much to do as Uhura, but at least she doesn't negatively impact the movie like she did in the last two. Sulu I was ready to complain about because they announced recently that he was gay and I had George Takei's disapproval to back me up on that, but that reveal doesn't occur. And finally, every scene with Chekov totally broke my heart. Anton Yelchin does such a great job in all three movies. He was taken from this earth way too soon. May God bless him and his family.
The final aspect of Star Trek that I love are the intellectual, thought-provoking messages and themes spread throughout the series. Yes, this movie had a good crew with characters I cared about. It had some great character moments with plenty of good one-liners. And it had a fun space adventure. But did it have this final element that would be the frosting on the cake? No. That's what I would say the biggest flaw of this movie is. Yes, it is fun. But no, it's not a deep movie. There's not a ton of strong themes. It doesn't make me stop and ponder about the messages it's trying to portray. It's simply a shallow, fun adventure. That's why I said it's like a solid villain-of-the-week episode. Idris Elba plays our villain and I actually enjoyed him much more than Benedict Cumberbatch's Kahn and Eric Bana's Nero from the first two movies. It does take us a little too long to learn what's up with Idris Elba's villain, but the final act with him is pretty solid. Throughout the middle of this movie, Justin Lin does a great job with the action, which was too be expected from our Fast and Furious director. But if fun action is all we're getting throughout the second act of a Star Trek movie, it still leaves me a little disappointed. Star Trek isn't supposed to be just fun. It's supposed to be fun AND thought-provoking with great character moments. Thus I say I was pleased with this movie, but not blown away.
In the end, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with Star Trek Beyond. Given my dislike of the first movie and my bitter hatred towards Into Darkness, I was totally expecting to dish out an all-out roast fest with this review, especially since the trailers were pretty bad. But this turned out to be a decent adventure. I have now learned that Justin Lin knows how to make a good Star Trek movie, something that J.J. Abrams failed miserably with in his two attempts. We had an original story that wasn't copied from a previous Star Trek movie. A lot of the character traits with our crew that bothered me in the first two movies were fixed and I actually found myself caring for Kirk, Spock, Bones, and company. I certainly wasn't cheering for the villain here like I was in our last movie. It misses the intellectual, thought-provoking element of Star Trek and goes mainly just for entertainment as it's just a simple, shallow movie that's nothing special. But it's a huge step forward from our previous efforts. If I were to give grades to the other two movies, 2009's Star Trek gets a 5/10 while Star Trek Into Darkness gets a 3/10. So the fact that I'm giving Star Trek Beyond a 7/10 should be seen as a generous compliment. I'd say it's the sixth best Star Trek movie. I'll put those rankings in the comments below.