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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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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 DarknessStar 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 TWOKStar 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.

-Chad

RECOMMEND

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of sci-fi action and violence


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 2 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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My experience with Star Trek is limited, especially in regards to Classic Trek. In fact, JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was my introduction to the franchise in any way, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I saw any Classic Trek at all. So when my friend TJ told me that he wanted to talk about Wrath of Khan when I asked him to be on my podcast, I did a tiny bit of research and preparation, but my goal was to view this as a non-Trekkie to see if it was not only a great Trek film but also, and more importantly, a great film as well, and whaddya know? It certainly is.

Following the events of the 1967 Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Space Seed”, in which Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) maroons Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) and the remainder of his people on a planet as punishment for the attempted takeover of the USS EnterpriseWrath of Khan features an older, dissatisfied Kirk – now Admiral – joining his former crew on the Enterprise once again for a routine training mission. However, things become anything but routine when Khan is revealed to have returned, angrier than ever and prepared to do whatever it takes to seek vengeance against Admiral Kirk. Faced with a new adventure and tasked with protecting the lives of his crew, Kirk and company must find a way to defeat Khan before he unleashes a technology with the capability of destroying all life on any planet he chooses.

*mild spoilers ahead*

Even with my limited experience in the classic Trek universe, what I’ve found that I love about it most is that the sci-fi/adventure aspect is almost an afterthought; yes, there are cool spaceships and futuristic technologies, but the main focus in everything I’ve seen so far has been humans (or aliens) having human moments with each other while going through human experiences. The setting is merely a setting – the situations are universal. This movie deals with themes such as mortality, youth, sacrifice, and love vs. hate, and it deals with these themes better than many non-sci-fi movies.

That being said, the character with whom we identify the most is Admiral Kirk himself. He is profoundly human in that he is flawed. He features strong charisma and leadership capabilities, and his love and duty for his friends and crew are apparent, but he, like all of us, is often emotional and reactionary, which leads to mistakes. Thankfully, he learns from his mistakes throughout the course of the film through self-evaluation and through listening to the advice of his friends, and by the end he is a better man because of it. Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy, is merely the other side of the coin. To contrast with Kirk’s emotions, Spock makes decisions through logic and necessity, but he shows by the end of the film that logic is not always the antithesis of emotion – that sometimes the two go hand in hand because the logical thing to do is to make sacrifices for the ones you love.

Khan, on the other hand, features a personality similar to Kirk’s in that he is driven by emotion, but his emotions blind and deafen him to the warnings of his crew. Montalbán gives a great performance here – you can see the calculating look in his eyes as he decides what his next course of action will be, and his fits of passion are just as powerful as the moments when he menacingly whispers, showing his ability to control a situation when he has the advantage. He’s a fantastic villain in the sense that you know why he is doing what he’s doing, which is what you want when it comes to the antagonist – believable motivation.

Storytelling and characters aside, this is a sci-fi film, and those elements are done extremely well. For a film made in 1982, the graphics hold up surprisingly well, with a particular CGI sequence made by an early iteration of Pixar being a definite highlight. Another element of note is the space combat, with the idea by director Nicholas Meyer to approach it like a submarine battle proving to be an effective action sequence. And I can’t praise the score enough; composed by a young James Horner, the music switches from horror to sci-fi/adventure to drama with apparent ease, and the main theme is such an earworm (pun intended if you’ve seen the film) that I was whistling it for 20 minutes after watching for the first time because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I could go on and on about this movie because it really is so much more than just a sci-fi flick, and the whole crew gives outstanding performances – including a young Kirstie Alley in her first feature film role. There are moments of pure joy as well as scenes that are sure to guarantee tears, and all the while it feels firmly like Star Trek. With strong themes and solid characters, The Wrath of Khan is a prime example of how prioritizing story and characters is the key to success in filmmaking, no matter the subject material at hand.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG – for violence and language