Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

STAR TREK BEYOND            C+              
USA  (120 mi)  2016  ‘Scope  d:  Justin Lin              Official Site

Speaking of 60’s idealism - - let’s see what the Star Trek series is up to these days.  Eschewing the exaggerated expense of the 3D experience, one of the things that’s so surprising about the series ever since its earliest conception is the presence of such a variety of life found in the outer galaxies, where we find green people, blue people, orange people, and species of all shapes and sizes, where a diversity of life is expressed through a preponderance of rubber masks, each one shaped uniquely different to reflect a different planet of origin.  While we’re yet two-hundred years or so away from the period portrayed, there is scant evidence so far that the universe looks anything like this.  Still, part of the look of the future comes from the rapidly changing social dynamic that was taking place when the TV series originated in the 1960’s, where the show was ahead of its time in intentionally reflecting racial diversity, something that has proved overwhelming popular through the course of its evolution into movies.  Even today, Star Trek sets a certain social standard that remains part of its original mission, where they’ll kick ass if they have to when provoked into battle, but otherwise they are a peacekeeping mission, one whose intent is to spread peace and brotherhood throughout the universe.  All noble intentions, where the show is like a United Nations mission into outer space, yet the focus of most films remains the action sequences, in particular the spectacular battle sequences, where computer graphics take center stage, yet this has also been the Achilles heel of the movie series, each one having to outdo the previous episodes, forcing the hand of the studios, apparently, as now they’ve chosen none other than Justin Lin, the director of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS sequels three through six, films that simply provide nonstop action sequences.  While there is an art to bringing this relentless earthbound storm and fury into the cosmos, the stylistic mechanism is the same, where the feature attraction, just like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), is an unending barrage of explosions, where the look of the film has only grown more similar to the ten episode and still counting Star Wars series, both resembling hell and havoc in outer space.  If anything, this only reveals the limits of space saga sequels, as they all look alike after a while, even as they go to such extremes to accentuate diversity in discovered lifeforms.   What J.J. Abrams discovered in his original Star Trek (2009) was tapping into the personalities of the beloved TV series figures, where the next generation of actors playing the same roles duplicated their human characteristics, as that was the most appealing aspect of the original show.  That nearly disappeared in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), ditching Abrams this go round (hired to direct the latest STAR WARS venture), instead concocting a formula for what will likely be a summer blockbuster movie.

While there remain traces of recognizable personality-suited dialogue, none more evident than Scotty (Simon Pegg), who continues to call Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, a surprise breakout star), a newly introduced female alien creature, “lassie” throughout, which couldn’t be more endearing, although one might attribute this to the fact that Pegg is a cowriter of the film, so writing lines for himself, even as others are routinely ignored, comes with the territory, while there are occasional other touches as well, such as Bones (Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy) stealing a bottle of prized alcohol from Chekov’s locker to share with a particularly beleaguered Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), which was also a nice way of paying tribute to the recently deceased Anton Yelchin who played Chekov, as he died in an unfortunate car accident just before the movie was released.  But for the most part, that’s not the draw of this movie, as the familiar characters are overlooked once again, barely used for anything other than window dressing, while continually overshadowed by the larger action sequences, where this may as well be another comic book action figure movie.  The plot is minimal, representing the simplicity of the earlier TV series, whose goal was the cram as much as possible into a shortened 50-minute running time, where mostly they sat around chatting on the deck of the USS Enterprise until they approach an unknown space ship, hailing it for identification before all hell breaks loose if the ship has malicious intent, where the entire budget is spent establishing alien looks and uniforms, perhaps a few scenes on a foreign planet, along with some ship-to-ship battle scenes largely viewed from the hectic panic and anxiety of the bridge, where the familiar characters are thrown about like ragdolls, while Spock (Leonard Nimoy) usually offers a last minute suggestion to the Captain (William Shatner), who initiates last second evasive maneuvers to escape from harm’s way once again.  That’s pretty much the format, as they all have a good laugh about it afterwards, though there are meandering excursions along the way, some constituting an entire episode, but the Enterprise crew from the television show spent much of their time in close quarters on the bridge, where the banter of their dialogue, in good times and bad, filled time and space, where it was their personalities that was the draw.  The pattern from the very beginning was that Kirk hogged most of the action sequences as well as the scenes on the ship, where many in the original cast came to despise William Shatner and his gargantuan ego, though as the series waned there wasn’t much action to speak of, as it was such a low budget operations.  Now we’re talking about a budget of nearly $200 million dollars.  Three years into a five year mission, the Enterprise pulls in for shore leave, where certainly one of the dazzling set pieces is Yorktown, a Starbase re-envisioned into a thriving, modernistic METROPOLIS (1927) in outer space, complete with architectural marvels of intersecting, multi-directional arches, each with its own unique urban skyline, given full futuristic scope, all built inside a protective bubble, like living inside of a snow globe without the snow, retaining its specially designed shape when turned in every which direction, suggesting it provides its own gravity field.   

Little has changed except they’ve all grown a bit older, where a middle-aged existential crisis seems to dominate Kirk’s thoughts, finding it harder to tell “where one day ends and the next begins,” reassessing his career ambitions, thinking he might seek a promotion, where perhaps it’s time to offer the ship to the command of Spock (Zachary Quinto).  Meanwhile, Spock’s undergoing his own inner transformation, having been informed of the death of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), making him especially sensitive to the survival of the Vulcan species, thinking he may need to leave the Enterprise to play a leadership role on the planet of New Vulcan.  Of course, when the two have a momentary pause to discuss their thoughts, neither one utters a word, too embarrassed apparently to bring it up, saving it for later.  Also if you blink you may miss the insinuation that Sulu (John Cho) is gay, seen wordlessly placing his arm around his partner, who is carrying their baby daughter.  That’s a tell-tale sign that something’s about to happen, as a distressed vessel of unknown origin suddenly approaches the Starbase pleading for help, with a single person Kalara (Lydia Wilson) arriving in an escape pod, suggesting her ship is stranded in a region not yet explored by Starfleet, resurrecting the Enterprise to the rescue.  But the move proves disastrous, as an enemy is lurking to ambush the unsuspecting crew, overwhelming their ship with a flock of tiny metallic ships that resemble killer bees, containing huge destructive capabilities, literally sawing the ship in half, with some of the crew escaping in rescue pods while the main section crashes to the planet surface, where now Kirk is in the exact same position as Kalara, a captain separated from his ship and crew.  Krall (Idris Elba) boards the ship taking the entire crew prisoner, including Sulu and Uhura (Zoë Saldana), frantically searching for an artifact seen earlier, though it was viewed with little importance at the time, while this commander considers it the essence of his mission.  Scratched up from the bumpy landings, Scotty lands on the planet surface alone, Kirk arrives with Chekov, while Spock and McCoy are stranded as well, where communication devices are inoperable.  Scotty is impressively rescued by Jaylah, displaying a warrior mentality, a lone survivor of an alien community destroyed by Krall, where she has skillfully survived in the interior of a lost Starship, the USS Franklin, an earlier vessel that went missing over a hundred years ago.  While primitive by state-of-the-art modern standards, it’s a relic from the past, yet has been modified by Jaylah’s ingenuity, including the protection of an invisible shield around it in order to remain undetected.  Scotty gets to work and quickly makes the needed repairs, eventually reunited with the other Enterprise officers, forming a plan to storm the prison and rescue the hostages.  Meanwhile Krall has been torturing the crew in search of the artifact, handed over to him by Kalara, who sabotaged Kirk and the Enterprise, as the device is the missing piece of a deadly weapon that can disintegrate lifeforms in seconds, which is immediately put to a grisly test with Kalara.  With his mission completed, Krall leaves to attack Yorktown, followed by all his killer bees, with plans afterwards to go after the entire Federation. 

But first, Kirk must re-power the Franklin after a century spent in mothballs, where the plan is to energize the rescued crew back to the ship, an extremely handy device that is featured prominently throughout this film, saving some of the heroes at precarious moments, as the rescue mission doesn’t exactly run smoothly.  Nonetheless, it’s a harrowing moment followed by an even more daunting task.  By reviewing the ship’s logs, Kirk and Uhura are able to identify Krall as Balthazar Edison, the former captain of the Franklin, whose life was prolonged, yet warped and physically deformed by his planet’s technology.  But the logs show his growing resentment and disillusionment when he and his crew have been left stranded by Starfleet, where his increasingly paranoid belief is that this was deliberate, that the words of the Federation are a hoax that hold little meaning, turning into an angry and maniacal renegade soldier holding a personal vendetta against the Federation, much like Special Forces Commander Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), who must be wiped out in order to stop the spread of his venomous ideology.  Having fought the early wars that led to the success of the Federation, he has now gone rogue in his obsession to destroy them, where he was searching the universe for the ultimate weapon to accomplish the task, believing he now finally holds it in his hands.  It’s a race back to Yorktown to save that world from the incendiary fury of a seemingly invincible madman with a doomsday weapon, as they race across the galaxies to meet him head-on.  But first they have to solve the little problem of the killer bees, surmising there must be a unifying coordination directing their actions that needs to be altered and disrupted, creating a disconnect within their electrical circuitry.  Something as old-fashioned as radio transmissions seems to do the trick, causing interference within their unifying transmissions.  Jaylah has a thing for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy - Fight the Power - vidéo Dailymotion YouTube (5:16), playing a significant role in her formative years, which would have made an excellent choice, linking the STAR TREK series to the streets of urban America in Do the Right Thing (1989), but the musical selection instead becomes a much safer choice in the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” Sabotage - Beastie Boys - Vevo YouTube (3:02), wreaking havoc within their operating systems, causing them all to self-destruct.  In the high-powered confusion of this neutralized invasion, however, Edison, returning to his original form and shape, has been unleashed into the anonymity of an unsuspecting public carrying his deadly device with him, with plans to flood the ventilation systems.  Like King Kong (1933) climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, Edison has similar aspirations, where Kirk has to head him off, going mano a mano in hand-to-hand combat, becoming a battle of wills, each trying to gain the upper hand.  “You won the war!” Kirk shouts at him, “You gave us peace!”  It was that very peace that left Edison alone in the universe without a purpose, a victim of his own delusional obsessions, though it’s clear both men are cut from the same cloth, Starship captains from different eras, mirror images of one another, both hell-bent on carrying out their mission, where good and evil have a common root, but produce decisively different outcomes.  In keeping with the times, the story turns into a paranoid thriller about stopping a suicide bomber, where all of humanity hinges in the balance.  Although it’s an outer space apocalyptic melodrama, the format is the same as any western, where in this continuing saga, there’s never any doubt about who’s going to win.   

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