Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba. Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Directed by Justin Lin.

beyond1James Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise travel into an unstable nebula to help the captain of a disabled starship recover her crew. Things go horribly wrong, the crew is forced to abandon ship, the officers are separated by circumstances into pairs, a new ally is encountered, new enemies announce themselves, and everyone including thousands of people living on a brand-new space station is threatened by a horrible bio-weapon.

beyond3The Star Trek people are just crushing it with this reboot film series. These new stories, this new cast, and the new look and feel of the Enterprise combine to make some of the best escapist sci-fi I’ve ever seen. The films build upon the good feelings people already have for Captain Kirk and his crew, so that even while we’re watching new actors in old roles, everything feels fresh and familiar, rather than recycled or tired. The characters’ new facets feel exactly right, either because of underexplored elements from earlier work—such as Uhura’s relationship with Spock, slightly teased in the first few episodes of the classic television series—or because of new knowledge about the overall Star Trek universe, as when Sulu’s homosexual relationship pays tribute to original Sulu actor George Takei.

beyond2I’m not even a real Trekker, but my affection for the characters is so strong (and honestly, I don’t know where this came from) that when Kirk addresses his crew at the outset of a journey into uncharted space, he says, “The Enterprise has something no other ship in the fleet has: you,” and it’s a touching and inspiring moment. This dependence on his crew, and its members’ dependence upon one another, is a recurring theme. As the movie progresses, different combinations of crew members drive home the message that they respect, admire, love, and count on each other, and that this is why Enterprise has endured for these many decades. Add the real-life death of actors Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, whose Checkov will not be recast in future films, and a lovely voiceover on the “Space: the final frontier” intro, and it’s nearly impossible not to feel a warm nostalgia or an almost urgent desire to see more films with this cast.

beyond4The Chris-Pine-Zachary-Quinto partnership is again excellent here, but there are also great scenes with Quinto and Karl Urban, Pine and Yelchin, and Simon Pegg with Sofia Boutella, who plays a crash survivor joining the Enterprise crew against its current enemy. But props to the whole cast, every one of whom (except maybe Idris Elba) does a terrific job. Star Trek movies never get their due during awards season, but I will be royally peeved if there isn’t an ensemble nomination somewhere this time around.


Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro. Directed by James Gunn.

guardians1Peter Quill is an Earthling space pirate. He’s kind of a daring, smart-alecky, play-by-his-own-rules kind of guy, like a poor man’s Han Solo, and when he double-crosses the pirate he works with, a bunch of people with a severe interest in the orb he’s recovered come at him from multiple directions. He finds himself in a space prison, where he joins up with a sexy green assassin, a giant muscular thug, a raccoon-looking bounty hunter, and a tree-like thing named Groot. Although each has a selfish interest at heart, the group cautiously agrees to cooperate for the safety of the galaxy when they realize what the orb can do if it falls into the wrong hands.

guardians2It’s a fun, funny movie with creative action sequences, great dialogue, interesting characters, and a cool soundtrack. I enjoyed most of the film and laughed aloud multiple times, appreciating the funny details and silly verbal back-and-forth. There’s even some pretty nice emotional heft in a few places.

Strangely, there’s just not much more to say beyond that. Nothing in the film really asks to be thought much about, and all of the tension exists within the context of the immediate danger characters find themselves in. Unlike the Thor-Loki and Magneto-Xavier relationships, which deal with strained loyalties, or the darkly introspective Wolverine and Hulk characters whose difficult battles are with themselves, the characters here—as likeable as they are—don’t give us a lot to chew on. Guardians of the Galaxy is a really entertaining film that doesn’t stick around much the morning after you’ve seen it.

(small spoiler in this paragraph only)
I have to say that as much as I appreciate the concept of the infinity stones existing across storylines and bringing the separate series together for group films like The Avengers and Civil War, the stones themselves are becoming extremely tired as a device.

I look forward to the sequel, but I really kind of wish the plan was to keep this as a separate series without crossing into other Marvel series.