Minor spoiler alert right at the top, I’ll mention plot points from Star Trek: Beyond that some may consider a “Big Deal” but nothing that isn’t in any of the trailers. You see, this third entry into the modern movie universe of Star Trek takes our bold crew through a rite of passage that all eventually must go through. It’s a time honored tradition that was inevitable.
They destroy the ever living crap out of the Enterprise. Like, it isn’t even a fight. Twenty minutes in and she is dead, dismantled, and crashed on an alien planet, just like that. It’s not the climax, it’s not a sacrifice for a greater good, it just happens.
That’s about my feeling on this movie as a whole. I’m conditioned to think of Star Trek movies as being “big and important.” The television series had hours upon hours of time to tell smaller stories, one offs, and bottle episodes. Once those characters jump to movies where budgets are as big as the screen I look for spectacle and gravitas. The movies have grandiose threats, explore the characters we’ve come to know, and challenge the status quo of the universe. Since this “Kelvinverse” (so named because it was the U.S.S. Kelvin that was destroyed when Nero came back in time creating this alternate timeline) doesn’t have the luxury of being on for an hour every week this movie is the equivalent of “just an episode” and thus feels a little lesser.
The destruction of the Enterprise scatters the crew on the planet. This first half of the movie feels discombobulated to me as we cut from group to group. Sulu and Uhura with the rest of the captured crew are the least served. Random escape attempts are just as arbitrarily thwarted after some perfunctory exposition. Kirk and Chekov investigating the ship’s wreckage is fine as is Scotty meeting the universe’s last remaining Juggalo Jaylah. The stars of this first half are Spock and Bones. Karl Urban in particular is great as the exasperated yet caring doctor trying to care for Spock and his deadpan wit. I would watch a buddy movie with them any day. Luckily the movie starts to come as the crew does and feels like a smoother ride in the latter half.
The most frustrating thing was villain’s lack of motivation. Don’t get me wrong; Krall had a reason for his dastardly deeds, and it was an interesting one, but the movie waits until the final reel to let us in on it. (Movies don’t use reels anymore, do they?) It isn’t until the final battle that we learn how dropped lines are supposed to add up to the answer to a mystery the audience didn’t know was there. For most of the movie I was left with little more than a mustache twirling bad guy who was evil for the sake of being evil and that made things feel a little hollow. Even worse is how Kirk’s character arc parallels Krall’s. Had the truth been revealed or even at least hinted at earlier we could have had some exploration of these two characters trying to find their places on the farthest frontiers of space. As it is there is only some simple lip service given to the topic at the beginning and during the final confrontation.
My overall feeling on the movie is far from negative though. After a second viewing I softened up on it. Yes, it may not feel as big and important as I’m used to thinking the movies should, it may be the big budget equivalent of just another episode, but it’s a good episode. Again, Bones and Spock are a joy to see paired together. The entire crew is likable and fun to watch. Each one gets a moment to shine. Newcomer Jaylah blends in well. Idris Elba is great as Krall once he’s given more to do than just spit threats. The space battles are spectacles to behold and, in context, I was even down for Kirk riding around a firefight on a motorcycle.
There is a defining moment late in the movie. Our heroes use a particularly entertaining piece of classical music in the fight against the enemy fleet. If that part makes you roll your eyes then this may not be the movie for you. If, like me, you laugh and applaud, then you’ll likely be able to go with the fun parts and enjoy this adventure with Kirk and company.
Respect to the movie for having a touching goodbye to Leonard Nimoy and a dedication to Anton Yelchin. In the words of both James T. Kirks, to absent friends.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
Gods of Egypt – Poor Geoffrey Rush. He probably felt like he hit it big joining the CGI blockbuster that was Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe that’s why he agreed to be Ra in this movie, thinking it’d be another big hit. Unfortunately, this poorly written CGI mess is a total flop in all regards. There are some neat ideas as the gods are twice the size of humans, bleed gold, and turn into metal birds, but it all amounts to nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.
Jason Bourne – Star and director return to the franchise that Julia Stiles somehow stumbled her way into being important in. Once again there is a mystery in Matt Damon’s past and he must go head to head against the CIA to uncover the truth. Stakeouts, chases through crowds, and car wrecks ensue. The B plot about digital privacy from the government is relevant to today’s world but is little more than filler to put in between scenes of Bourne being badass. All of the movies are very similar and they’re all pretty good at what they do. I think in the end though I just prefer my spy missions to be a little more impossible and served with a drink that is shaken, not stirred.
Batman: The Killing Joke – Oy vey. Tackling one of the most (in)famous Joker stories in Batman’s history, DC’s animation department has somehow made it more troublesome. Disclosure: I’ve never read the original although I know the basics. This movie starts with an original story that lets us spend more time with Batgirl before she gets shot. Rather than use this time to show us how strong she was a hero and a person the time is spent developing an awkward and inappropriate sexual relationship with Batman and letting a mafia frat boy manipulate her with gendered insults before she quits the crime fighting job. And after all these years of hearing about this story the main event itself falls flat. The Joker shoots Barbara and tortures Jim Gordon in an effort to prove that anyone is “one bad day” away from going mad like he did. Ultimately it’s an exploration of how the Joker sees himself, yet it falls flat since he never comes close to actually succeeding. Even the animation, normally pretty good in these DC animated movies, look subpar. Mark Hamill’s iconic voice work as the Joker is the only highlight here. I enjoy the Joker’s madness, exploring his twisted motivations, and analyzing how he and Batman play off each other. Unfortunately, even if we ignore the problematic treatment of Barbara I just don’t think the story is very good.
Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – An actual anime! From Japan! Black Widow and the Punisher cross paths in their mutual search for Leviathan, the international terrorist organization of the week. While there is some lip service given to the two heroes’ different codes of ethics this a mostly shallow but enjoyable action anime. The animation is bold and fluid, the action is well done and just a tad crazy. The Avengers proper make a guest appearance and by the end it goes full anime with a guy in a power suit yelling about how all the matters in the world is power and punching things with his rocket fist. It’s a hoot!
He Named Me Malala – A portrait of Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by members of the Taliban for speaking up the rights of girls to receive an education. Intercutting between the story of how she was inspired to speak and eventually was shot and her current home life effectively tells the story of an inspiring and brave activist who is still a teenaged girl who likes to make fun of her brothers. For those interested in learning more about what the real person behind the story is like this documentary will serve you well.
Get Shorty – This might be the most Tarantino movie not made by Tarantino I’ve seen. The presence of John Travolta helps. The delightfully named Chili Palmer, a loan shark and lover of cinema, finds himself on the west coast and uses his skills of persuasion and working a situation to get into the movie biz. Crooks, thugs, money, double crosses, and Danny DeVito interweave to form a slick crime story while Travolta charms his way through it all.
(500) Days of Summer – A story about the problems that can arise when romance is a little too romanticized. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young man who has hung his hat on the dream of finding the One™, his Soulmate©, his True Love®. Enter the ever adorable Zooey Deschanel as Summer, a co-worker looking to enjoy her youth free of serious commitments. This indie flick is filled with irreverent touches like dance breaks, abstract French film vignettes, and regularly jumping back and forth through the titular 500 days to show us new love, breakups, fights, and dates out of chronological order. Despite the fun to be had the strong performances also address the difficult problems that can arise when two people enjoy each other yet want different things out of the relationship. It’s realistically messy, heartbreaking, and bittersweet. And let me tell you, bittersweet is kind of my wheelhouse. Half of finding the right person is being the right person.
Blackhat – Chris Hemsworth’s abs aren’t the only hardline he’ll jack into in this thriller. The government enlists an elite super hacker to track down cyber terrorists. Watch as he does all the things hackers typically do! Hackers in a bar fight! Secret NSA government hacking software! Hacking in a radioactive zone wearing a hazmat suit! This soulless movie is Michael Mann crime movie on autopilot. The characters are flat and the plot is rote. Everything looks great; Michael Mann films the neon soaked nightlife of Hong Kong and shootouts in the streets skillfully. I just don’t care about who is shooting or why. Yes, at one point Hemsworth says “I’m in.”
Trainwreck – Amy Schumer is a crass and sometimes offensive woman who enjoys going out on the town and getting her some, yo. (I’m sorry.) Her dysfunctional dad has set her up for dysfunction as well though as she craves a real relationship yet doesn’t know how to handle it. This movie walks, or rather stumbles clumsily over the line between comedy and drama. Both aspects are ok, not great, but they aren’t blended well together. There are some laugh out loud moments in here though. If you’re a fan of Schumer’s comedy already then you’ll find plenty to like here. Shout out to John Cena and Lebron James for being hilarious and holding their own alongside professional funny people.