Star Trek Beyond (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Captain Kirk is starting to feel as empty as the void that separates one planet from the next.  As he ponders a life beyond the final frontier, the Enterprise and its crew are called to assist in a rescue operation that goes awry.  Left without his signature vessel, Kirk must rally his crew to find new purpose in life just as an unseen villain must do the same.  Justin Lin directs Star Trek Beyond, with the screenplay written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, and stars Chris Pine, Karl Urban, and Zachary Quinto.

What the hell do we need to do to enshrine Justin Lin as one of the great directors of our generation?  Well into his 40s, Lin threw the book of style into an incinerator for Better Luck Tomorrow, took The Fast and the Furious franchise into levels of emotional weight no one could have anticipated, and now - with Star Trek Beyond (Beyond moving forward) has once again so thoroughly infused a franchise with his energy that I can't imagine another director at the helm.  Maybe if the other directors of True Detective season 2 had adhered to the style bible he established in the first few episodes he could have had some of that Cary Fukunaga cred rub off.

It may be my distance from both modern Star Trek fandom and old-school purists that keep me from finding much fault in Beyond but when the results are this good I don't care.  Lin's a wizard of style, placing subtle hints to future action in his moments of quiet while working from scripts where a sense of community is enhanced by his direction.  I stand by my love of Into Darkness while acknowledging Lin has rewritten the modern Star Trek playbook, and Beyond is the good time audiences were likely expecting from Into Darkness.

Touching tributes incorporate great respect for Star Trek's past while honoring those who helped make it a success once again.

Lin's sense of perspective and how to manipulate our own serves him well from the first scene on.  Forced perspective photography plays strongly in the opening scenes of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) negotiating with a warrior race.  Stakes, small and large, all have their weight determined by the observer and - as Kirk humorously learns - just because the stakes are small from one perspective doesn't mean they can't become of great concern to another.  While funny, the opening scene sets a humanist tone for Beyond that is well realized beyond the laughs generated by Kirk having a sense of perspective beaten into him.

That humanism is touchingly realized in two small moments where Lin and crew pay tribute to the loss of Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy.  A single bottle of alcohol, two friends, and three poured drinks clink together in solidarity as Kirk and Dr. McCoy (the still perfect Karl Urban) sit in a calming blue bar reminiscent of Ten Forward from The Next Generation.  It's already a great moment of respect for Star Trek's past, and the third drink left unconsumed is a small tribute to Yelchin.  The "less is more" approach to dealing with grief is also felt in Spock's (Zachary Quinto) reception of the news that his elder namesake is dead in a respectful silent long-shot, and one closeup of a memorial confirming what we already knew.

Nimoy's deeply felt humanity is what helped some of the more absurd parts of the 2009 Star Trek, with all its time travel parallel universe shenanigans, come together so beautifully.  Respecting but learning to let go of the past Nimoy represented, all part of changing perspective, is crucial to the screenplay penned by Simon Pegg - also reprising his role as Scotty - and Doug Jung.  Pegg cowriting means we get a lot more Scotty than in the previous movies, which is fine as he was little more than amusing background noise in each, and a way of blending pathos into the plot with Lin's style that hopefully impressed Pegg's usual partner Edgar Wright.

Beyond is an apt title when we consider the question, "What lies after the beyond?" Kirk is consumed with existential doubt when faced with the infinite possibility of space.  Those are questions I come across frequently here on Earth, giving Beyond a more grounded conflict for the Enterprise crew.  Also refreshing is a villain who is more of a tragic monster than the convoluted Nero or Khan.  It's not complicated screenwriting to present a villain that is wrestling with the same issues as Kirk but it's nonetheless effective, especially when I consider how many United States veterans are left without purpose or support once their time in war has come and gone.

After all the technobabble, conspiracies, and timeline confusion of the previous two Star Trek entries, Sofia Boutella's Jaylah - an alien scavenger - cuts straight to the chase and fights hard.

Lin plays the little moments beautifully and each sets up a spectacular action beat.  The aimlessness of Kirk is thoughtfully realized in an opening shot of the Enterprise as the camera whirls around the ship with no sense of direction.  This sets up one of Kirk's final battles that one-ups the Inception twisting hallway fight scene by having the combatants duke it out in a zone of artificial gravity where everything can become a surface for the fight.  It would be my favorite action beat in Beyond if it didn't follow a scene that is destined to be a handshake for Beyond fans as That Scene.

I don't dare spell out the details here, only to say that the fusion of soundtrack and onscreen action results in perfection.  It's bolstered by the knowledge that these comrades facing down death will do so grooving in the respect of those sitting beside them and if they go out it'll be on their own terms.  No matter how absurd the scenario, Lin finds a way to accentuate and empower our differences only to bring it all back around to the love that binds us.

This is the beauty of Justin Lin.  May he continue to reign supreme.

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Directed by Justin Lin.
Screenplay written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung.
Starring an ensemble cast led by Chris Pine, Karl Urban, and Zachary Quinto.

Posted by Andrew

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