Monday, August 08, 2016

Star Trek Beyond (XIII): Review

See all of my movie reviews.

Star Trek Beyond is the third in the Star Trek alternate universe reboot, and the thirteenth overall. (6.5 of The Original Series, 3.5 of The Next Generation, and these 3 which are not based on a television show at all.)

Previous Star Trek reviews: 1-3, 4-6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

Plot: in the opening scene, Kirk offers a piece of a dead weapon as a peace gesture on behalf of some race of beings to some other race of beings (in a familiar looking "arena" like hall). The offer is not accepted and he is chased back to his ship. The Enterprise heads for some R&R after three years into their mission: Kirk is tired and ready to give up his command in exchange for a promotion if he can leave Spock in charge, while Spock (unbeknownst to Kirk) is ready to go back to Vulcan and do Vulcan things. Sulu has a man friend and a daughter at the R&R spot, Uhuru is ready to give up on her quest to bed Spock, and so on.

An alien shows up at the R&R spot, requiring assistance to get her stranded crew off of some planet inside some nebula (and so out of contact with the Federation). Kirk and co go to rescue them. But they also get attacked, abandon ship, and are stranded, and most are captured (losing the Enterprise, yet again). Meanwhile, by strange coincidence, the enemy that attacked them is after and eventually finds that piece of a dead weapon; he has the other half and intends to use it to kill many people, for reasons.

Will Kirk and Spock rescue all of both of the stranded crews that are still alive? Will they find a way off of the planet? Will they stop Mr Bad Guy from killing anyone, after he has killed his fair share of red shirted characters? What do you think?

Reactions: This was a fun movie, one of the best of the Star Trek movies, which proves that there is still life in the franchise, and also proves that it will never be as good as Star Wars.

This movie is far more like Star Trek than either the first in the reboot (11), which was a fun but generic sci-fi movie, or the second (12) which was a boring, generic, and needlessly kinetic and violent sci-fi movie. This movie doesn't mention the prime directive, but it returns us to the sense that the Enterprise and crew are on a mission on behalf of a larger organization. This movie is also more like Star Wars than any of the previous ST movies. The crew crash on the planet and get separated, meeting up with various aliens - good and bad - and then reuniting with the purpose of rescue and sabotage - a lot like Return of the Jedi. The various life forms and interesting worlds are Star Warsian. Even a few of the lines are lifted from Star Wars; a male character says to a female one "I'm here to rescue you", only to get a look of bemusement and a soft rebuke. Where have I seen that before ... twice?

The plot is solid and moves well, leaving time for character development and reflection, but never dragging. The much ballyhooed scene of Sulu's partner is short and insignificant, but feels nice and natural. There is plenty of action, but not unending or insensible. Funny lines are naturally funny in the right places, and not thrown in just so that they will appear in the trailer. Acting, directing, and cinematography are universally polished. The tech is cool without being overwhelming. You care for the characters by now - they all have strong scenes in the plot (unlike 11) - so the tense scenes are gripping and only occasionally over-the-top.

That doesn't mean that the movie is without flaws. The bad guy is only so so, and his motivation is weak. The relationship between Spock and Uhura continues to be ridiculous. The ability for centuries-old technology to continue to function and work impeccably (without a full repair shop and crew) is beyond belief. It's still rather convenient when the bad guys choose to kill, or when they just choose to take prisoner. And just as stupidly, when a good guy allows a bad guy to talk long enough to let himself get distracted; the movie could have ended neatly if the good guy had simply shot the bad guy at the first opportunity (on stun), locked him up, and listened to his life story at a later time.

So why can't this franchise compete with Star Wars. Many reasons. One, it doesn't have ligthsabers. Sabers are not only far more cool to watch in battle than firing spaceships (which everyone has) or fist fights, but they also represent a level of class and nobility that this and other sci-fi franchises can't match. Two, although it has some funny lines, the entire universe of Star Wars is just more fun: more furry creatures and ridiculous droids. Three, the characters in Star Wars are also more fun, more roguish, more independent. Four, the whole Star Wars story has an endless stream of locations and personalities, but they are all fighting and facing the Big Bad empire and much cooler bad guys. Five, The Force. The fantasy of the Force gives us more personal involvement and nifty make believe than an entire crew of boring humans (or the equivalent) having to work together. Six, the most you're even going to get from Star Trek are lessons about bravery and the strength of friendship and working together. Star Wars brings in so much more, with mystical elements and classic storytelling techniques mixed with the new ones [1]. Seven, every Star Wars movie is part of a continuing story, while every Star Trek movie is essentially an independent adventure (ST's 2, 3, and 4 are all slightly better because they formed a continuing story).

But anyway. If you were waiting for ST to be good again, this is probably as good as it's going to get.

My ranking: 4, 13, 11, 9, 8, 2, 3, 12, 10, 7, 6, (5 and 1 which are both the same and horrid).

[1] Update: This is true ever since we lost the Vulcan mythology, which was a part of ST universe until the 4th ST movie. If they bring it back, it would re-add a key missing element of the ST universe.
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