JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film was my first introduction to the franchise, and, looking back, I’m still quite fond of that movie. While I initially quite enjoyed his 2013 followup, Star Trek Into Darkness (my review), here we are three years later and I’ve still only seen it the one time I saw it in the theater despite owning it on Blu-Ray…it just isn’t a movie that really stuck with me or demanded rewatches. That being said, I was wary of director Justin Lin – most known for his ventures in the Fast and Furious franchise – taking over for the third installment, but…wow. What a great movie!
Taking place three years after the events of Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond places the beloved crew of the USS Enterprise in deep space, exploring new worlds and seeking allies for the Federation. Shortly after arriving at Starbase Yorktown, the crew, still led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), is sent out on a rescue mission into an uncharted nebula, where they are attacked by a creature named Krall and his massive crew. With the Enterprise destroyed, the crew separated, and hope diminishing, Kirk must find a way to rescue his crew and to save the universe at the same time.
It should be noted that all three of the new-Trek films so far noticeably borrow from what is widely regarded as the best Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan (my review): Star Trek utilizes the Kobayashi Maru test that was first introduced in TWOK, Star Trek Into Darkness uses its main villain and directly imitates entire scenes, and Star Trek Beyond explores the same themes of mortality and sacrifice. I would argue that Beyond does this with the most success because it takes familiar themes and applies them to the different situations that the characters find themselves in rather than lifting direct story or scene elements, making the comparisons more subtle and therefore more effective. I can also give this movie the same compliment that I gave TWOK: it feels like an extended episode of the TV series in all the best ways. It really is masterfully done.
The characters this time around are established and don’t require the “set up” that they received in the first two films; they’re now largely the characters we know and love from the original television show and movie series. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a leader who is confident in his abilities and his responsibilities as a captain, but he’s also at a point in his life where he doesn’t know what’s next for him. It’s not that he has insecurities but rather that he is struggling to find the meaning of their continued exploration in uncharted space. We’re able to see his growth over the course of the film as he realizes that his crew is his family and that he would be out of place if he was placed anywhere aside from the bridge of a starship (the same conclusion William Shatner’s Kirk reaches in The Wrath of Khan through different circumstances). The introduction of his famous “captain’s log” in the new-Trek franchise is also an excellent touch.
As captain, Kirk continues to be the main character, but the supporting characters are definitely not tossed to the side here; in fact, we get many great moments with each of the classic members of the crew. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), two characters with a history of a somewhat antagonistic relationship, are paired together for much of the film, resulting in some hilarious banter but also some tender moments of expressed friendship and overcoming obstacles. Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), and Uhura (Zoë Saldana) all get their moments in the limelight as well. Thankfully, Anton Yelchin as Chekov is given much screentime as he’s paired with Kirk; his work here only continues to show how truly devastating it is that he has left us so soon. Lastly, Sofia Boutella as the newcomer Jaylah was fantastic as a strong female character who was able to hold her own, and, in fact, much of the film would not have been possible without her character’s actions.
I think this movie’s biggest issue is its villain. Idris Elba is an incredible actor, and he did an admirable job here as Krall, but an actor can only do so much when hidden behind that much CGI. His character’s motivations are revealed towards the end of the film, and they’re understandable to a certain extent, but I think that as the antagonist his main purpose was definitely to provide a scenario for our heroes to grow and interact with each other in meaningful ways. The visual effects behind Krall and his fleet of bee-like ships was very well done and made for exciting action sequences. While I’m mentioning technical effects in the movie, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up returning composer Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score; his universe building is fantastic and continues to offer some of the best sci-fi music out there. And, of course, I have to say how awesome the pop music used is, in one scene in particular…I won’t spoil it here, and I certainly wouldn’t think that a scene like that would ever appeal to me, but it’s possibly the most fun scene in the whole movie.
I’ve said a few times recently, like in my written review for Blade Runner, that what sci-fi as a genre does best is ask questions and present new ideas, and Star Trek Beyond does that extremely well. It asks us to consider mortality and our friendships with others, and it does so within a fantastical setting that keeps us engrossed without distracting us from the point. When I learned that Justin Lin was directing this movie, I was concerned – Fast and Furious lies far outside my usual range of interest – but I could not have been proven more wrong; he accomplishes so much here with an amazing script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Star Trek Beyond is without a doubt my favorite of the new Star Trek films, and it makes me even more excited for future films in the franchise.
MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Leave a comment | tags: anton yelchin, bones mccoy, captain kirk, chadadada, chadlikesmovies, chris pine, jj abrams, john cho, justin lin, karl urban, khan, Michael Giacchino, scotty, simon pegg, spock, Star Trek, star trek beyond, star trek into darkness, star trek the wrath of khan, the wrath of khan, zachary quinto, zoë saldana | posted in Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Recommended, Recommended, Scores
What do you call a movie starring for elder actors who are not (aside from Bruce Willis) typically known for starring in action films? Lots of fun, that’s what!
RED introduces us to Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA agent who is actually quite lonely. He fixes this by ripping up his pension checks so that he has an excuse to call the pension office and talk to Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), who works in customer service. The two have never met, but a relationship forms between them, leading to Frank deciding to visit her city to meet her in person. However, circumstances change when a hit squad arrives at his house to kill him; he kills them all, finds Sarah, essentially kidnaps her, and goes on the run, along the way asking for help from old friends: Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman), Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), and Victoria Winters (Helen Mirren). Current CIA agent William Cooper (Karl Urban) is assigned the task of tracking Frank down, but he soon discovers that Frank may be old, but he still packs a punch – he’s Retired, Extremely Dangerous (RED).
The best part about this film is seeing the older actors stepping into the types of roles usually reserved for younger actors. When we’re first introduced to Joe (Freeman), he’s sitting in a retirement home, but it’s not too long before he shoots someone in the face. Likewise with Victoria (Mirren), who, when we first meet her, is wearing a plain white dress, looking every bit the part of the elder grandmotherly figure, but we soon learn that she is quite adept with automatic weapons. Both of these actors do well stepping into these atypical roles, with the twist on their typical character choices bringing much humor to the film. Malkovich plays the probably-more-than-slightly insane Marvin with a palpable eccentricity that you can see in the craziness of his eyes. Willis, who is the one actor actually known for his action roles, brings a level of touching emotion to the table that he would later bring to Looper (my review), emotion that seems genuine and surprisingly not out of place among the countless flying bullets…he pulls it off well. Older actors aside, it was nice to see Karl Urban outside of Star Trek; he plays his role with an admirable resolve, adequately expressing his character’s desire to get the job done and alongside the deep love he feels for his family. I also liked Mary-Louise Parker, an actress who I’m not familiar with, as she brought plenty of laughs to the film despite the fact that her character was mostly the damsel in distress.
One thing that I noticed while watching is that the action is actually pretty minimal when you compare it to other films in the same genre, but all of the choreography here is very deliberate and purposed, making it easy to follow without dumbing it down too much. In fact, the minimal action fit in well with the idea that the characters were a bit too old for too much physical strain, making the reliance on strategy and gunfire the obvious alternative. However, the scene transitions when moving great distances were a bit weird, though the obvious intention was to emulate moving panels of a comic book, since this film is based on one. Thankfully, there was not too much done to make the look of the film feel too much like a comic book, even if the camera was occasionally a bit too dynamic for my tastes. Honestly, I liked most of the camera work in this film, with there being no apparent reliance on shaky-cam to “develop” action scenes or anything like that.
While watching the movie, I felt quite a bit like Mary-Louise Parker’s character: reluctant to be dragged in, but eventually awed by how much I liked it. This film plays off like a better version of Stallone’s The Expendables, another action film starring older actors, but the appeal of RED over Stallone’s film is that we are watching older actors step out of their box into something new and fresh, bringing a new spin on things and creating plenty of humorous situations. This wasn’t a film I expected to like, but I did, and, regarding the sequel, I can only echo Mary-Louise Parker’s character’s final line: “Can we go?!”
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
Leave a comment | tags: bruce willis, cia, helen mirren, john malkovich, karl urban, looper, mary-louise parker, morgan freeman, red, shaky cam | posted in 4, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies
I’m not a Trekkie. I’ve only seen maybe three or four episodes of the original series – something I will hopefully amend in the near future – but I enjoyed J.J. Abram’s first venture into the Star Trek universe in the 2009 film quite a bit, so I was anxious to see the sequel, and I liked it. A lot.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a scene in which Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise, played by Chris Pine, breaks several Starfleet rules and then lies about it, leading to a lecture from Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) about how Kirk is careless, selfish, and over-confident. In the wake of his punishment, Starfleet is attacked by a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), leaving Kirk with no choice but to join his crew and track down this criminal. Along the way, Kirk struggles with making the right decisions and with protecting his crew from harm…and he can’t always do both.
The advantage that this film has over its predecessor is that it’s not an origin story, meaning that here we are dealing with the characters, their struggles, and their growth; the filmmakers didn’t have to establish their characters again because we as an audience are already familiar with them. That being said, Chris Pine does a fine job with communicating all of the conflict of his character to us, humanizing Kirk and showing that he is still a young man who can make mistakes – and makes plenty of them. Zachary Quinto as Spock also brings more to the table in this film; since Kirk and Spock are friends now, we see their relationship build and Spock make decisions based on that friendship rather than on logic. All of the familiar faces – Zoë Saldaña as Uhura, Karl Urban as Bones, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and John Cho as Sulu – do great jobs with their characters as well, with everyone building more on what was established in the first film. The newcomer, Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain John Harrison, brings all of the appropriate menace to the role, making him a formidable foe, and his acting chops are much, much better than Eric Bana’s were as Nero in the first film. I had seen Cumberbatch in Spielberg’s War Horse (my review) and in his BBC television series Sherlock (which is fantastic, by the way), but this was my first experience with him in a major film role, and it was definitely a positive one. His villain is very much multi-dimensional, and I even wondered at one point in the film if he was really the “bad guy” because of the incredible conviction that Cumberbatch plays him with.
The visual effects, as expected, are amazing, with the new worlds introduced to us ranging from bright and colorful to bleak and miserable, but all believable. While I’m normally indifferent to 3D, there was one moment while watching when it bothered me, which was in the very first scene when spears are being thrown in our faces…I think I actually tried to dodge one of them in my seat. However, the 3D is worth suffering through if you get the chance to see it in IMAX 3D – IMAX is always worth it, for any film. Seeing movies like this in IMAX, where everything is done on such a grand scale, only makes it even grander, which is wonderful. The music by Michael Giacchino, like his score to the first one (my review), and like any of his scores, is as expected – magnificent, intimate, and just awesome overall. But more on that later!
I must admit that, after walking out of the theater, I tried to figure out what the story was – how the villain became the villain, how this led to that, why this character did that, etc. I couldn’t tie the plot together…but I decided that I didn’t care. I walked out of that theater having had a blast, and that’s all that really matters to me in the long run…as long as there aren’t any huge problems with the movie elsewhere, and there weren’t. This movie, in my opinion at least, certainly improves upon its predecessor by giving us more – more character development, more destinations, more everything, and it’s entirely in a good way. I know there are lots of people out there who have concerns with J.J. Abrams directing the next Star Wars film, but, really, I think that if he can make such a fine science fiction space adventure film as Star Trek Into Darkness, it can’t turn out so bad. And with a cast that wants so badly to be better than they were in their previous film, succeeding in this attempt, I have high hopes for a Star Trek 3 in the future.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
2 Comments | tags: 3D, admiral pike, anton yelchin, bbc, Benedict Cumberbatch, bones mccoy, bruce greenwood, captain kirk, chekov, christopher pike, eric bana, hikaru sulu, IMAX, imax 3d, j. j. abrams, james kirk, james t. kirk, jim kirk, jj abrams, john harrison, karl urban, khan, leonard bones mccoy, leonard mccoy, leonard nimoy, Michael Giacchino, mister spock, montgomery scott, mr. spock, nero, nyota uhura, pavel chekov, sherlock, spock, Star Trek, star trek into darkness, starfleet, Steven Spielberg, trekkie, uhura, uss enterprise, War Horse, zachary quinto, zoë saldana | posted in 4.5, Entertainment, Film, Film Reviews, Movies, Music, Scores