This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Agony Booth review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

My newest Agony Booth article looks at the latest entry in the Star Trek reboot series.
Star Trek Beyond had its premiere in July and, appropriately, was dedicated to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Like the two previous movies in the Star Trek reboot series, Beyond, which was co-written by Simon Pegg, has its moments, but lacks substance to place it in the same category of great science fiction as the classic series it’s based on.

The movie begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) negotiating with aliens who, for whatever reason, are pissed off, and in an attempt at visual humor, turn out not to be as imposing as the camera initially makes them seem. These small creatures malevolently attack and cover Kirk like they’re gremlins before Scotty (Pegg) beams him back. Kirk also gets a souvenir called an Abronath for his trouble.

Kirk next explains in his captain’s log that the Enterprise is now three years into the five-year mission it began at the conclusion of Into Darkness. He adds that, with his birthday approaching (a subtle nod to Kirk’s birthday in The Wrath of Khan), he’s struggling to find meaning in his life, away from the shadow of his father.

This begs the question of what happened to Carol Marcus, who joined the crew in the previous movie. Longtime fans know that in the original timeline, she and Kirk had a son David, who was tragically taken from Kirk by Klingons (led by Doc Brown, of all people) in The Search for Spock. But the reboot gave an opportunity to show that relationship in a new light. I don’t know if Alice Eve didn’t want to reprise her role here or not, but this was definitely a missed opportunity.

The Enterprise arrives at the awesome-looking new Starbase Yorktown, where Kirk is considering accepting a promotion. While not having Carol in this movie is a shame, we do see another crew member with a family life here, and that’s Sulu (John Cho). Star Trek: Generations revealed that Sulu had a daughter, and upon arriving at Yorktown, we see her as a little girl, with both her fathers, no less.

It’s also revealed that Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have ended their relationship, and if that wasn’t enough, Spock receives word that his older self, Ambassador Spock (Nimoy) has died.

Not long afterward, however, Kirk gets orders to take the Enterprise on a rescue mission to a nearby nebula. An alien named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) informs the crew that her ship is stranded on a planet in the nebula. Upon arriving at the planet, named Altamid, the Enterprise encounters a swarm of small ships that quickly tear the hell out of it. The leader of these aliens, Krall (Idris Elba) boards the ship with his minions looking for the Abronath, but to no avail. As the ship gets torn to pieces for the third time in as many films (again? sheesh…), Kirk orders the crew to evacuate to Altamid.

As the ship’s saucer section crashes on the planet, Krall captures crewmembers including Uhura and Sulu. But Kirk manages to rendezvous with Chekov (Yelchin) and Kalara in the damaged saucer section. She then reveals herself to be one of Krall’s soldiers, and attempts to take the Abronath. But Kirk is one step ahead of her as he and Chekov escape by activating the saucer’s boosters. The fight ends with the saucer flipping over, crushing Kalara.

Elsewhere, Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) are reunited and attempt to locate the others, while McCoy shows his unique bedside manner by tending to Spock’s wounds. The two later have a heart-to-heart where Spock informs him of both Ambassador Spock’s passing and his breakup with Uhura. However, it’s not clear whether they broke up because of Spock’s wish to attempt to keep his Vulcan family line going, or whether he wanted to simply continue the work his older self was doing.

Scotty turns out to be on another section of the planet, and after narrowly avoiding a fall over a cliff, is rescued from Krall’s men by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). She informs Scotty that she escaped Krall’s prison some time ago and has taken refuge in what turns out to be the USS Franklin, a Federation ship reported missing a century earlier. We also learn that she enjoys listening to rock music in her spare time (gee, I wonder if that’ll become important later). Soon, Kirk, Chekov, Spock, and McCoy join Scotty on the ship and plot their rescue of the rest of the crew.

But Krall has managed to find the Abronath, which Kirk instructed Ensign Syl (Melissa Roxburgh) to hide inside her roomy head (that’s original). As Uhura attempts to talk sense into Krall, he uses the Abronath to complete a weapon that was created on the planet centuries ago. Krall then demonstrates it on Syl before announcing his plans to use it to attack Yorktown, and then the Federation.

Kirk and the others then launch an attack on Krall in order to transport the remaining crew onto the Franklin. But this doesn’t stop Krall from launching his fleet toward Yorktown. Spock and McCoy are able to beam onto one of the small ships and learn that VHF transmissions can disrupt the wavelength the ships operate on. As it so happens, Kayla has just the kind of transmissions needed to destroy these ships (what are the odds?). Naturally, this means that rock music is the only thing standing between the Federation and total annihilation. But I suppose this is no less ridiculous than aliens attempting to conquer the Federation with a video game in the Next Generation episode “The Game”.

As the ships are destroyed, Krall crashes into the Yorktown and blends into the evacuating populace. It’s at this point we get the plot twist that had to happen. Uhura looks at the Franklin’s logs and realizes that Krall is actually the Franklin’s captain, Balthazar Edison. She and Kirk also learn that Edison was a soldier who became disillusioned with peacetime after the Federation was formed, and that he blames the Federation for abandoning him and his crew once they were stranded on Altamid.

Apparently, the crew was able to somehow change their appearance by using technology they found on Altamid.

Kirk tracks Krall into Yorktown’s ventilation system as the villain tries to activate his super weapon. But Kirk manages to send both it and Krall into space before Spock and McCoy rescue him.

The film concludes with everyone celebrating Kirk’s birthday while staying on the Yorktown for the entire time that it takes for the Enterprise-A to get built. Not surprisingly, Kirk decides not to take the promotion offered to him, and Jayla is offered a chance to join Starfleet. It’s not clear if Spock and Uhura are a couple again, but there is a nice moment where he goes through Ambassador Spock’s things and comes across a picture of the original crew (which I guess Ambassador Spock just happened to have with him when he traveled back in time in the first reboot film). This is such a nice moment that I’m willing to forgive the fact that the pic itself is a group photo from Star Trek V.

In another nice touch, we hear the famous “Space, the final frontier…” speech with each of our seven characters reciting parts of it.

Like its two predecessors, this movie definitely has some plot holes. For instance, we learn that Jayla was able to keep the Franklin hidden from Krall by somehow cloaking it. I guess nobody managed to accidentally bump into it the whole time Krall was on the planet? Also, why did Krall wait until he just happened to come across Kirk to get the piece he needed to create his super weapon? How did he lose that piece in the first place?

I also think it goes without saying that seeing the Enterprise get ripped apart is getting very old.

In the plus column, Elba does a fine job as Krall, under makeup that makes the actor unrecognizable. The Yorktown itself is as awesome-looking as Spock flying inside V’Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Also, Carol Marcus’s vanishing act, while a missed opportunity, did give Reboot Kirk a chance to go through a film without putting on his ladies’ man act. As I once noted, Kirk was much more than that, which is something Kevin Sorbo learned the hard way when he fucked up Andromeda (assuming Sorbo learned that lesson at all).

But again like its two predecessors, Beyond’s focus on being fun is at the expense of being something meaningful. It’s dumb fun, which more or less sums up the Trek reboot series. In fairness, Star Trek as dumb fun truly began with Voyager, specifically after that show decided to toss its premise out the window in order to put the action center stage. This decline continued with Enterprise when that series elected to do the same thing. But this makes the reboot series all the more disheartening, because the reboot was promoted as giving Trek a new lease on life. But apparently this new lease on life meant turning out movies that, stylistically, aren’t much different from all the other mindless action films that get released each summer. The fact that, unlike the original Trek movies, we don’t have to wait two years to see if Kirk comes back to life or if our crew will get a new ship, illustrates that.

While a movie or TV show being dumb fun isn’t a crime in and of itself, it’s somewhat sad that Star Trek began as smart, ahead-of-its-time science fiction and eventually became mindless (albeit enjoyable) fluff like, say, the Friday the 13th series.

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