Monday, August 15, 2016

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

As part of a build-up to an exceedingly geeky weekend at Nine Worlds Geekfest, Z and I snuck out to the cinema to see Star Trek Beyond, a movie whose initial trailer made me gnash my teeth and fanboy anger, despite all my attempts to prevent such ardent knee-jerking. It's safe to say that I've enjoyed both rebooted Trek films - I was pretty kind to Star Trek Into Darkness, looking back - but they're relentless in their attempt to push the films into slick, shallow, modern formulas, further away from the more thougthful source material. I'm not wholly against that either, as franchise need to move forward to live, to keep reengaging audiences, and become new things. I did see in that early trailer the step too far though, a line fatally crossed. Thankfully, it seems like that trailer is almost the exact opposite of the finished movie.

It seemed for a time that the production on Star Trek Beyond was going to be troubled. J J Abrahms was pinched by Disney to make The Force Awakens, it churned through writers before getting script co-written by uber-geek Simon Pegg, and it looked liked being one of those films that had a title and a release date long before anyone knew what it was actually going to be about. None of that really shows on screen; this is a film that knows what it wants to be, and what it wants to be in a really, really, Trekkie Trek Film. It's not a surprise then, that we both loved it. 

I think part of this is going to come from having so many of my fears laid to rest about the re-booted universe. Into Darkness, I mentioned in my review at the time, was a like a Shark - really impressive but if it ever stopped for breath, it would die. Beyond stops for breath a lot, bringing back some of the loving tracking shots of the Enterprise that date back to the Slow Motion Picture, giving the film a slower, grander sense of pace even as it's telling a smaller, more intimate story. A story - without spoilers - that is really about what the Federation is, and what it stands for, and what it means to the people that live in it. And it's not like these long shots don't serve a wider purpose, as for instance the indulgent-seeming tour of Yorktown Base at the start establishes it's geography clearly, so that the much faster paced finale can use it without losing any clarity as to what it going on.

There is also a loving return to the core dynamics of the Original Series crew that have been missing from the previous films. This is the crew of the Enterprise as the family they always were; 3 years into their 5-Year-Mission, bickering and comfortable with each other. The core trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy finally get a outing in way they hadn't previously, and it's wonderful to watch. The rest  of the cast, old and new, all gets moment to shine. This intimacy helps keeps the story focused on what matters, with less convoluted plotting and more straight-forward through lines. A director experienced in pulling together ensemble pieces turns out to be a surprisingly great choice, for all the switch-up from cars 'n'guns to starships'n'phasers. 

I've said I think I loved Star Trek Beyond and thats an emotional reaction to a film that turned out to be what I wanted from the rebooted Trek series. It's a film that calls back spiritually to the Original Series rather than simply in extended shout-outs, a film with references where it counted to a wider universe. Bits don't work - for all it's extended number of female cast members I don't think they ever manage to speak to each other and some of the fight scenes are really messily edited - but for each down there are several ups. I mean, they blew up the Enterprise (it's in the trailer!) but we get a cool sequence on the wreck itself, and the (inevitable) new Enterprise looks more...well, traditional...than the last in it's fleeting appearance. 

So yeah, the old Trekkie in me was pretty happy. It's not a seemless movie, not the perfect Star Trek film, but it's definately one that blends the old and new series together in a way that the earlier entries don't seem to have quite manged. It's the first one I've left the cinema from without niggling reservations. When we used to say "that felt a long episode" when talking about Insurrection, or Generations, it was an insult. Here, to say "that felt like an long episode" is meant as a great compliment.