Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Beyond Expectations

When I heard Simon Pegg would be writing the third of the reboot Star Trek films, I was cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because, well, Simon Pegg. Cautiously because ... um ... Paramount. I got a really strong impression that Into Darkness was initially written with the villain not being Khan, and that the studio had him shoe-horned in for completely cynical reasons. So even considering Simon Pegg to be a genius, I wasn't sure he'd be allowed by the suits to work real magic.

When I heard Justin Lin would be directing ST: Beyond, I remained cautiously optimistic despite the caterwauling of many Trek fans that the movie would be turned into The Fast and the Federation. I've never seen any of the F&F movies, but I'm of the impression they're good popcorn flicks, and the trailers for that franchise alone make it clear Lin can bring the spectacle. After the dreary cynicism of ST: ID, I would have been happy with a good popcorn flick version of Trek.

By the time I saw the final ST: B trailer, though, I'd become tepid in my hopes. Each of the trailers seemed determined to make the movie look more action-packed, and none gave an impression of strong story or dialogue.

My son kept asking me when we were going to go see it, though, so last weekend we packed the family in the van and went to the theater. Everyone enjoyed themselves, but as it happened, Joey, the one kid most interested in seeing it, was working that day and didn't get to go.

So last night, I took him and saw it a second time.

What a terrific film.

The first time round, my nitpick circuitry hadn't been turned off, and I found aspects of the movie silly, parts of the plot predictable, and some of the pacing haphazard. Somewhere around the 45-minute mark, I thought to myself, "This is a perfectly enjoyable Star Trek film, but I'm not going to want to see it over and over again."

The thing is, though, the movie kept getting better and better as it went on. The energy ramped progressively upward, but at no point did the characterization slack -- in fact, almost every aspect of the spectacle served as an opportunity to let the beloved Trek ensemble shine. And despite these characters now being 50 years old, the culmination of the story delivers real meaning for them -- and does so with a grace and elegance largely absent from the previous two films.

On a second viewing, all my nits had been picked, and the movie captivated me.

Do you want to see Captain Kirk outwit and outfight bad guys while delivering both gravitas and wry humor? Do you want to see classic McCoy/Spock duels of sarcasm done with genuine invention and an undercurrent of heart? Do you want to see Uhura do more than sit at her console or get choked by a Klingon? Scotty, Chekov and Sulu each getting their moments to shine? Then this ought to be the movie for you.

Star Trek: Beyond overflows with the sensibilities of the original series. Yes, the action gets hyperkinetic at times -- but even that is really in keeping with TOS, if you think back to those space battle scenes where a jerky rotation of the camera would fling the whole bridge crew about with choreographed inertia.

There's more great Trek dialogue in this film than in the previous two put together, more of a sense that these characters fit together as a unit, more pure adventure and entertainment, and a greater celebration of what the Federation is and what it represents.

So much for even-numbered Star Trek films being the good ones!

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