Friday, January 6, 2012

Movie 13 Star Trek Beyond

A Review, by James Heaney:

Beyond is the best Star Trek movie since Insurrection.
Insurrection was often called "a regular episode of the series thrown up on the big screen". For some reason, people who loved the series decided that was a problem.
So it is no surprise that the next three movies bore no resemblance to Star Trek episodes. Nemesis was a battle scene with an hour-long, often soulless prologue about how a Romulan superweapon was going to destroy Earth for no good reason. Nobody did any exploring.
Star Trek 2009 was a setup for the reboot franchise, heavy on character "moments" and continuity contortions (and a great success as such, on its own terms) and light on plot, theme, or any interesting *ideas*. The A-plot followed... a Romulan superweapon that was going to destroy Earth for no good reason. That was fine; the A-plot wasn't the point and it had far more soul than Nemesis. But is it a Star Trek episode? No; The Voyage Home bears a closer resemblance to the source material. Nobody did any exploring.
Star Trek Into Darkness briefly flirts with an idea. It was a boring and hackneyed one, about the true enemy being within, which is the plot of practically every movie sequel and every AAA video game since the Berlin Wall fell and we couldn't blame everything on the Soviets anymore... but it was an idea. Then White Khan showed up and STID completely forgot it in favor of soulless action sequences about... some kind of superweapon (indirectly) threatening Earth. It was closer to the Jack Ryan reboot than an episode of the Star Trek franchise. Nobody does any exploring.
Which brings us to Beyond. Beyond is basically a Star Trek episode. That's why we like it so much more than its recent predecessors. It's about exploration! Wonder! Awe! We see incredible sights that take your breath away -- and not a single shot is of friggin' San Francisco Bay getting shot, crashed into, or even peacefully sitting there! We are finally back on the final frontier, seeking the unknown and learning about ourselves along the way! Q's final speech in "All Good Things..." -- which is such an important gloss on the "Space the final frontier" speech you could almost replace the latter with the former -- is back in play! After 11 years dormant, STAR TREK is back with its first real brand new episode since ENTERPRISE ended! Of course we love it! (It doesn't hurt that it's pretty.)
However: what I suspected on first viewing and have confirmed on a second viewing is that Beyond is not actually a *good* episode of Star Trek. It is, in fact, a bad one. It is packed full of ideas, but it never figures out how to focus on any of them. When it tries to connect them together, the result is a mess. Example: Kirk's emotional arc, which starts out making little sense and concludes with a resolution that makes even less, with the thinnest gossamer thread of dialogue tying it (badly) into Krall's arc ("That's what I was born into!"). Alternatively: the movie plays with the idea of unity, but essentially loses track of it after the superweapon (sigh) is tested -- and leaves me thinking that, yes, actually, unity IS a weakness rather than a strength (heck, it is the villain's very unity that allows the crew to triumph at the climax with their Sabotage!). I'm sure that wasn't what the writers were going for.
The plot is incoherent, with a twist at the end that raises far more questions than it answers: I have carefully watched it twice, and I -- I who knows everything there is to know about Balthazar Edison's time, his M.A.C.O.s, his beef with the Xindi, and even the Gagarin Radiation Belt in which the Franklin was lost -- have no idea why he did anything he did in the movie. (The explanations offered by the movie are wildly implausible on their own terms. He was tied into Yorktown's computers long enough to know that he'd never been "abandoned," just lost, and a loyal soldier for Earth simply isn't going to kill millions of humans on such a thin pretext.) I also don't understand why his face makeup changed near the end, nor why he apparently forgot his own ship. Nor what the evil alien lady's deal was (since there were only three survivors of the original Franklin crew, and they could speak English, she seems not to have been one).
The number of minor but plot-crippling inconsistencies, meanwhile, is as long as my arm. For example: Krall's whole plan depends on Sulu and Uhura breaking out of his prison, sneaking around camp, finding a particular button and then... pressing it? A button he could have just as easily pressed himself? That is a truly terrible plan.
So Beyond is not a true return to form for Star Trek. It is more like one of your more mediocre Voyager episodes -- say, "Vis a Vis" -- brimming with untapped potential and fresh ideas, beautiful to look at, sprinkled with nice character bits (Quinto and Urban completely stole the movie -- and my heart! -- as Spock and McCoy), perfectly enjoyable all the way through... but pretty quickly forgettable because it does not, at heart, add up to anything.
This hasn't stopped me from seeing "Vis a Vis" twice (with a third planned) and the same is true of Beyond. Don't get me wrong here : it is good stuff and you should see it. For the first time in ages, it's Star Trek. Even *bad* Star Trek is better than just about anything modern cinema -- and especially modern action-adventure cinema -- can throw at us.
But, at the same time, we can do better.
I rate Beyond the best of the Abrams reboot movies and the 7th best of the 13 films in the franchise to date.

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