Cut and Print: “Star Trek Beyond”
Love movies? Love to hate movies? Well, comicbooked‘s oddball movie column Cut & Print is back with a vengeance. Here we talk about Star Trek, so, aside form a very mild spoiler, let’s keep this clean.
Star Trek Beyond comes to us as the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary, and, against all appearances, it is as good a reflection of what Trek actually is than one might expect. Even going into December of last year, despite rumors of a movie and a show, that the anniversary year of 2016 might pass by without any fanfare for the franchise, as Star Wars and the various comic book franchises had stepped into the forefront of of popular culture. Around that time, a short teaser for Star Trek Beyond had come out, which was essentially a short music video for Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and the fans were not pleased. Then, a new television series was announced for it’s January 2017 debut, and that raised the eyebrows (yes, just the way Spock might raise his eyebrow) as it has a fantastic creative team behind it (Bryan Fuller and Trek savior Nicholas Meyer). That show, by the way, we just learned at comic-con is called Star Trek: Discovery, and it’s titular ship is based on the Planet of the Titans’ Enterprise design by Ralph McQuarrie.
Now, if I haven’t lost anyone, what about the fiftieth anniversary, and what about Star Trek Beyond? Well, when the second trailer hit a couple of months ago, it generated some positive buzz, but maybe not enough for the film to generate levels of anticipation a’la Captain America Civil War. But it was a good Star Trek trailer, exciting and thoughtful. What’s more is that both trailers seemed to be advertising a movie that was free of the things that bogged down the other two films in the reboot. The first film, 2009’s aptly titled Star Trek, had crazy and questionable time travel logic, good enough for the powers that be to declare that this franchise was now showing us an alternate reality, but not good enough to hold up the scrutiny of any fan that actually cares. Star Trek Into Darkness, brought back Khan, but his backstory was more convoluted than needed and plot of Into Darkness admirable went after themes of the cost of safety and security and the risk of preemptive war but made little sense as an actual story. What the Beyond trailers advertised was a straightforward A to B story: no time travel, no convoluted backstories, but a simple, even threadbare plot: the crew is stranded on a planet and they are going to use their phasers and a bit of teamwork to get out of it. On the surface, it doesn’t sound all that spectacular.
But when has spectacle ever been the best thing about Star Trek? The show was always about ideas, even as you can see the paper-mache rocks and the very walls of cave sets on indoor sound stages. Star Trek was more defined by its characters and ideas, so perhaps the most appropriate way for the powers that be to celebrate the 50th anniversary is to give us an old, well-treaded adventure like one you might see on TV. While it feels rather familiar in some respects, it’s also lean and punchy, and by the far the most fun you’ll have at the theater this summer. The reason: it embraces the cheese of the 60’s show, cherishes the humor and thoughtfulness of it’s characters, and knows that, a simple adventure is the best way to bring out the best in the franchise.
Let’s keep it simple: The Enterprise is on it’s five year mission, and the first ten minutes of the film really feels like watching the best midseason episodes of the various seasons: everyone is doing there thing on the ship, as they while away the time. Kirk and Bones share a drink and have a talk, and you sit back watching and you realize that it’s just fun watching these adventurers trying to conquer what to them amounts to boredom in between adventures. Kirk is thinking of stopping short of completing his five year mission and moving onto better things, and when the ship arrives at a frontier starbase, he puts his name in for promotion, while Spock hears some news from home that has him questioning whether he wants to head out into space again. The rest is cut short by a distress call, and the Enterprise sets out to a nearby nebula to rescue a ship, and are caught off-guard by an alien swarm that , after a fantastic fight, sends the ship crashing to the surface of a planet. The crew is separated and finds that their adversary is not as “alien” as he might seem. He’s also got a destructive MacGuffin (which is decidedly similar to esther thingy in Thor: The Dark World) but by the time we even learn about it, the movie has already got its hooks into the audience as a light, fast-paced adventure that we are just pleased to keep watching. It’s pretty cool for the fans of the franchise that the villain’s backstory is connected to that Enterprise TV show from the early 2000’s, and why not? with some shoddy time travel logic of its own aside, that show wasn’t as bad as it’s reputation dictates.
Featuring action planetside, in space, and at a wild, gravity bending star-base, Beyond moves confidently and imaginatively through the big set-pieces, and you’ll find yourself grinning more than questioning their logic. But it’s the characters – their humor, their insight, and their chemistry with one another that define this movie. What could be a better 50th anniversary present for the longtime fans that new scenes and punchy dialogue between Bones and Spock that rank among the best in the franchise?
Well there is something better, a tastefully placed tribute to one of the pillars of the franchise, Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last year. He helped make Star Trek what it is, and this film gives him – and his – shipmates, a nice little nod. If that isn’t the best way to commemorate the franchise after fifty years of great stories, than it might be hard to come up with something better. And there is clearly something bittersweet about watching Anton Yelchin’s spirited performance as Chekov only a month after his untimely death: he really is a big part of the crew!
Some might feel that the best Trek Stories were told on Deep Space Nine, where there was an all-out war, and the cost of forming a “perfect” Federation was really explored in great depth. Whiles Into Darknes strived for that kind of relevance, it missed the mark thanks to a script that roughly jolted from one set-piece to another and that ultimately collapsed under it’s own weight – or, more accurately, the weight of the the better film (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan) that it was trying to mimic. Beyond is a film that celebrates the less weighty issues of the franchise and more of the spirited adventures of old, but the new cast, as it turns out is up to the task. It’s not a profound entry, but it’s just a damn good time. And, yes it is Star Trek, not just an action blockbuster with a Star Trek skin.