Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond poster

With “Star Trek Beyond,” the rebooted franchise now follows the Enterprise crew on its five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no one has gone before. What results is a mixed bag of a movie that gets a little too bombastic for its own good at times, but which still entertains better than many of the other summer blockbusters released in 2016. More importantly, this movie remembers what makes “Star Trek” so memorable: the relationships these characters have with one another.

We meet up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the third of their five-year mission. Kirk finds his duties as captain growing monotonous and becomes increasingly interested in accepting a promotion to Vice Admiral. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reeling from his breakup with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the death of Spock Prime (the late Leonard Nimoy) to where he is considering leaving Starfleet to help New Vulcan. Scotty (Simon Pegg) still loves his warp engines, Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) are still at the helm, and McCoy (Karl Urban) is still eager to remind everyone that he is a doctor and nothing other than that.

The Enterprise’s latest assignment has them traveling through an unstable nebula on a rescue mission, but it turns out to be a trap that destroys the Enterprise and leaves its crew stranded on an alien planet whose inhabitants are quick to enslave them. An alien commander named Krall (Idris Elba) seeks to destroy the Federation of Planets for reasons which eventually become clear as the movie goes on.

As the trailers for “Star Trek Beyond” have long since revealed, the Enterprise is destroyed early on. This isn’t the first time we have seen this famous starship destroyed. We watched helplessly as it self-destructed in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” and we its lower half explode and its saucer section make a spectacular crash landing in “Star Trek: Generations.” But what’s significant about this movie’s Enterprise is that it is destroyed very early on as opposed to the halfway point. This is a bold move as these films thrive on the presence of the Enterprise for the most part, but here we see it destroyed from the get go to where you wonder how the crew can do their jobs without it. As a result, things in “Star Trek Beyond” feel more unpredictable than usual as everyone is separated from one another and trying to figure out what to do without easy access to the Federation of Planets.

J.J. Abrams stepped away from the director’s chair as he was busy directing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” In his place is Justin Lin who is best known for his numerous contributions to “The Fast & The Furious” franchise, but I also like to remind people of his 2002 film “Better Luck Tomorrow” which I felt made him a good choice to helm this “Star Trek” movie. Thanks to a script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, he takes the time to focus on the characters and their evolving relationships with one another. I especially loved the scenes between Spock and McCoy as these two can’t stand one another but still need to rely on each other when danger looms over them. Spock may find the fear of death of illogical, but McCoy rightly points out that it is what keeps us alive. This is reminds me of a pivotal moment from the original “Star Trek” television series when McCoy said, “Do you know why you’re not afraid to die Spock? You’re more afraid of living.”

Having said that, Lin does make the action scenes in “Star Trek Beyond” feel, and I have to say it, a little too fast and furious. It gets to where we threaten to lose sight of the movie’s plot and what its main antagonist is aiming for. I imagine that when I see this “Star Trek” movie again, and seeing any “Star Trek” movie just once is not enough, I will better understand all that is going on, but the fact that I wasn’t able to follow every little detail here did take away from my enjoyment. I liked “Star Trek Beyond,” but I came out of it feeling like I could have liked it a lot more.

Speaking of the main antagonist, he is Krall and is portrayed by Idris Elba, an excellent choice as he is the kind of actor who can elicit fear with just a look of his eyes. Like Oscar Isaac in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” he is covered up with way too much makeup which threatens to take away from his natural charisma, but he still gives us a villain that is in no way, shape or form a one-dimensional character. As “Star Trek Beyond” goes on, we learn that he is a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but while that doesn’t justify his actions, it certainly explains why he does what he does. Elba is one of the best actors out there today, and his performance here is further proof of that.

It’s great to see how these actors have grown into the roles they were first cast in seven years ago. Pine shows how the years of space travel have worn down Kirk’s soul but not his spirit. Quinto continues to do excellent work as Spock, having made this character his own a long time ago. Urban remains a pitch perfect McCoy, and his delivery of that character’s classic catchphrases is worth the price of admission. Saldana continues to give us a kick-ass Uhura who isn’t about to take shit from anyone, and I mean anyone. With this “Star Trek” movie, Pegg gets to make Scott more than a comic foil as he works to get the support of a particular alien who can help him and the crew defeat Krall. And there’s Yelchin who finally gets to do much more as Chekov here than in the previous films. He’s terrific here, and it makes his recent death all the more tragic as he was a major talent whose life was cut much too short.

Special mention also goes to Sofia Boutella who gives a genuinely strong alien warrior character in Jaylah. This is the same actress who made an undeniably memorable impression as the henchwomen whose prosthetic legs were designed to leave some serious damage. Boutella steals every scene she has here as Jaylah looks to defend herself against those who destroyed her family, and I can’t wait to see what role she will take on next.

While part of me wishes “Star Trek Beyond” was a better movie than it is, it still proves to be better than many of the other summer blockbusters released so far in 2016. Many believe that this franchise is still be converted into one resembling “Star Wars,” but I don’t believe that as the filmmakers involved are fully aware that the characters are far more important in this one than the special effects. It also makes me smile that this franchise continues to live on to further generations no matter what. While some look at Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a hopeful future as nothing but hooey, others see it as one that nobody should stop believing in, and I am one of those people. Here’s to this franchise continuing to live long and prosper no matter what.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

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Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek 2009 movie poster

I have been into “Star Trek” since I started watching the original series when I was five years old. I reveled in Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew hurtling through space and exploring new worlds. I still remember watching the episode “The Return of the Archons” where the Enterprise crew was being held prisoner, and there was this overwhelmingly loud noise which rendered them unconscious. As they fell to the floor, I mimicked what I saw on that ancient Zenith television my parents bought, pretending I was part of this great crew. Back then, I envisioned myself as a character on that show and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as its adventures made up for the dullness of reality.

As “Star Trek” expanded from its original incarnation later became a never ending movie franchise, I stayed with it as much as I could. My dad had to carry me out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” after I burst into tears at the end. The fact that I kept saying he would come back to life was truly an utter coincidence when “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” came out, and I was in tears after that one as well. I later became determined to be the first person in Thousand Oaks, California to own a copy of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” on VHS. When my family moved from Thousand Oaks to the Bay Area, I found myself wanting those transporters to be real so that I could beam down south to hang out with the friends I was forced to leave behind.

But somewhere along the line, I found myself losing interest in all things Trek as I started to miss out on the last couple of seasons of “Star Trek: TNG.” Then there were other spinoffs like “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” among others, and I became increasingly less excited about the franchise as it came to resemble “Law & Order” and its various other incarnations. You knew what you were going to get, so the level of excitement I had for the franchise kept fading away year after year. Still, I believed that the franchise could be resurrected because, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities.

That resurrection has now arrived, seven years after “Star Trek: Nemesis,” thanks to J.J. Abrams. His “Star Trek” movie is the most exciting film this series has seen since “First Contact,” and I fucking loved it! This origin story of the Starship Enterprise and its cast gives the franchise a much needed kick in the ass. By taking the series in new directions, Abrams has succeeded in opening up the world of Trek to an audience that never fully embraced it before.

We get to see a young James Tiberius Kirk driving a hot rod while blasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on the car’s stereo, and this is the first sign that this “Star Trek” is not going to be the same old shit. We see a young Spock getting taunted by his classmates which makes him use methods other than that famous Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue his enemies. Seeing Spock beat the crap out of others might have been hilarious in any other movie, but Abrams takes the character in fresh new directions we have not seen him go to before. This plays much more intensely on the fact that Spock has always been half-human and half-Vulcan.

The plot of “Star Trek” revolves around the device of time travel which has played a part in the most entertaining and successful films in the series (“The Voyage Home” and “First Contact”). It involves a large mining ship of Romulans commanded by Nero (Eric Bana) who is as thirsty for revenge as Khan was in “Star Trek II.” It doesn’t matter how much you know about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe because anything and everything you remembered about it previously will seem very different, and that makes this movie all the more entertaining and unpredictable.

One of the key successes Abrams has with “Star Trek” is the actors he has chosen as none of them try to do imitate what the actors who originated these roles did before them. Among the most impressive is Chris Pine who plays Kirk as a hotshot who gets himself in trouble constantly and lacks a father figure in his life. Pine really succeeds in capturing the same cockiness and over confidence that William Shatner brought to the role before him.

But even better is Zachary Quinto who plays Spock at his most emotionally unhinged. Of all the actors here, he has the biggest obstacle to overcome since the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is in this film as well. I admired how Quinto strongly displayed Spock’s inner turmoil and of the fact that he is a child of two worlds. One of his best moments comes when he essentially flips off the Vulcan High Command after he is accepted into their prestigious science academy. By describing Spock as having done well despite the “disadvantage” of having a human mother (played by Winona Ryder of all people), we get a huge thrill out Quinto making “live long and prosper” sound like he’s saying fuck you to the.

Another inspired casting choice in “Star Trek” is Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery Scott. As the movie heads to its exciting climax, it is frightening to see just how much Pegg resembles Scotty from the original series, and that’s even more so when we hear him say, “I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!” Pegg gives us a Scotty that is a perfect comic foil, and it will be great fun to see where he will take Scotty in future installments.

As Nero, Eric Bana gives us the strongest and most lethal villain this series has had since Khan. Whereas the previous antagonists seemed more refined in how they acted among their prey, Nero’s fury is so personal and uncontainable, and the fact that he is named after the Roman Emperor whose rule was marked by tyranny, and that he ordered the execution of his mother and adopted brother, should give you an idea of how screwed up he is.

The rest of the cast includes Bruce Greenwood who is perfectly cast as Christopher Pike, and it reminded me a lot of his underrated portrayal of John F. Kennedy in “Thirteen Days.” John Cho of “Harold & Kumar” fame plays Sulu, and he has a great moment where he gets to put his fencing skills to the test. Zoe Saldana plays Uhura with a calm sexiness and an intelligence that is foolishly underestimated by others until she makes you see the big picture. Karl Urban gives us a pitch perfect Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy and captures the character’s infinite crankiness we all know him to have. Anton Yelchin plays Pavel Chekov, and while the character feels underused here, he is still well cast and has a flawless Russian accent. And of course, we have Winona Ryder playing Spock’s mother, and her performance is all the more impressive when you take into account that she is only two years older than Quinto.

What impressed me even more about this particular “Star Trek” is that it was given a budget of over $100 million. There is no doubt that the money is there on the screen, and the effects are remarkable. This is an especially good point to make as special effects have never really been the strong point of the “Star Trek” series, but here they are the best they have ever been. The Enterprise bridge looks so much different than it ever before, and it has a sleek style to it that makes being there all the more inviting.

I’ll be very interested to hear what die hard Trekkers think of this latest adventure of the Enterprise crew. This one does not dwell on big ideas the way “Star Trek” has done for the most part throughout its various incarnations. The main power of Roddenberry’s series was how it dealt with social issues of the day in the realm of science fiction. This one is meant to be more like “Star Wars,” and it allows Abrams to give this aging franchise an invigorated feeling that it desperately needed. While it may not be a “Trek” rooted in philosophy, I think this one leaves the door open for writers to explore present day themes in a future installment.

But I cannot go on without mentioning the welcome return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock (. This could have been a gimmicky cameo that lasted just a few seconds, but Nimoy’s Spock does play a very pivotal role in this movie. Furthermore, he also helps give it a sense of legitimacy that it would not have had without his appearance. Keep in mind, his character was the only one who survived the rejected first pilot of the original series.

Seeing this “Star Trek” brought a lot of happiness to me. My mood seems to get inadvertently sidetracked depending on the health of the franchise. I can honestly say that I am not all surprised at its longevity or constant rebirth. Roddenberry’s message of hope always finds a way to win out, and it is fitting that the movie is getting released around the beginning of the President Barrack Obama’s first term. Granted, this is really a coincidence since the movie was being developed before he made his decision to run for President, but it’s a wonderful coincidence all the same.

All those kids who gave me crap about liking this great series can suck it now, because “Star Trek” is here to stay. Even those who picked on me for being a Trekker, and ironically did much better in science classes than me, won’t be able to pass this one up. “Star Trek” can be seen as the first truly great odd-numbered movie in the long running series, and it is proof that this series will never die.

Live long and prosper? OH HELL YES!!!

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2009.