After a summer of mostly dreadful blockbusters, it’s something of a relief to catch up with the Star Trek gang, who as a group are just as fun to hang with as ever, which is far more than you can say for anything in the latest superhero product launched by Marvel Studios or WB’s DC division. JJ Abrams and co. have a much more cohesive handle on the feel of this franchise, and the writers, filmmakers and actors involved have an obvious passion and love for these characters that manages to exceed any weak plot machinations to be had. Who really cares about the latest villain the Enterprise crew has to take on when we’re really just here to see them bonding with each other as pals, right?
That’s something that writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung inherently understand about this series, and they’ve fashioned a script that feels akin to an episode of the old show, and works as a tribute to Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking project that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. This time around, Fast and Furious director Justin Lin takes over the filmmaking reigns from Abrams, and does an admirable job in stewarding seamless action scenes with amusing character moments, as the crew gets separated after a raid on the Enterprise, leaving the group split off into pairs, the best of which are Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), whose bickering leads to some of the most delightful moments in the film. Pegg, who plays engineer Scotty, manages to give himself a slightly bigger role this time around as well, as he ends up stranded on a new planet with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a face-tattooed alien with a feisty attitude and spot-on martial arts skills. She’s a great addition to the crew and I hope she sticks around for the next one, unlike the jettisoned Alice Eve from 2013’s Into Darkness, who’s nowhere to be seen in this entry, which takes place roughly five years after the last one ended.
As the end of the five-year mission draw near, Kirk (Chris Pine) is getting restless after so many years in space, and the same goes for Spock, whose romance with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is on the rocks as he contemplates going to New Vulcan to help repopulate his race (obviously a relationship deal breaker). But trouble strikes when a new villain Krall (played by Idris Elba under about five pounds of makeup) makes it his mission to attack the Enterprise and kidnap most of the crew, for reasons having something to do with his survival being based on absorbing the life forms of others. To be honest, Krall’s motivations are vague at best, and even when the secret of his true identity is revealed, it doesn’t exactly clarify things for the final battle between him and Kirk. The central conflict involves his taking the Enterprise crew hostage, including Uhura and Sulu, while splitting up the others, who have to find their way back to each other and figure out how to rescue their friends. The weakness of the central villain aside however (and yes, both Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan and even Eric Bana’s silly Nero were more compelling adversaries), the pleasure of this film comes purely from the camaraderie and chemistry among the cast, which makes up for a lot in these movies, since the basis for all of them is the crew as a family of sorts. That’s a theme carried along extremely well by this young cast which was passed the torch from a generation of actors who’d been playing these roles for decades. It makes it even more heartbreaking that this was the last appearance of the late Anton Yelchin as Chekhov, who the film is dedicated to along with Leonard Nimoy, who passed away last year. Producer JJ Abrams has already said the role of Chekhov will not be recast, and that’s all for the better in keeping with the image of these characters as portrayed by these particular actors and no others.
There’s a life and personality in Paramount’s rebooted Star Trek series that is not found anywhere in the Disney franchise machine- the increasingly homogenized and studio assembled Marvel films, the as of yet too slavishly beholden to nostalgia Star Wars movies, and the schlock and lazy storytelling from the unmemorable live-action remakes of the animated catalogue. Here there’s a respect for the past that blends nicely with a clear commitment to standing apart as its own universe, and the sense (at least on the creative side) that there’s maybe a little more than pure dollar signs in mind when producing these films. And that’s something to be thankful for in a continually depressing year of big studio drivel.
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