“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

“STAR TREK BEYOND” (2016) Review

I might as well place all my cards on the table. I am not a fan of J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the “STAR TREK” franchise. I heartily dislike the 2009 movie of the original title. And I also dislike – to a lesser degree, 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. So when I learned there was to be a third movie in this new franchise . . . needless to say I was not enthusiastic over the news. 

The second thing I learned about this third TREK film, “STAR TREK BEYOND”, was that it was not directed by J.J. Abrams. Justin Lin, who had helmed the fourth, fifth and sixth “FAST AND FURIOUS” movies; served as director. And for once, Simon Pegg, who also co-starred as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and Doug Jung served as the movie’s screenwriters; instead of Abrams’ usual scribes – Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. No disrespect to Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman, but I did not miss their presence in this production. If anything, I managed to enjoy the TREK reboot for the first time since it began in 2009.

“STAR TREK BEYOND” begins with the arrival of the U.S.S. Enterprise at the Federation Starbase Yorktown for new supplies and shore leave for the crew. Not long after its arrival at Yorktown, an escape pod drifts out of a nearby uncharted nebula. The survivor, Kalara, claims her ship is stranded on Altamid, a planet within the nebula. The rescue turns into an ambush when the Enterprise is quickly torn apart by a massive swarm of small ships. Krall and his crew board the ship, and unsuccessfully search for a relic called an Abronath that Kirk had obtained for a failed diplomatic mission. Krall captures and removes many crew members from the ship. Kirk then orders for the crew to abandon ship as the Enterprise’s saucer section hurtles towards the planet. After more crew members are captured, including Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, Kirk is forced to find those who have not been captured and find a way to stop Krall from carrying out his plans against the Federation.

If I must be honest, “STAR TREK BEYOND” is not perfect. I believe that it has a major flaw and it centered around the main antagonist, Krall. How can I put this? I found both his true identity and the reason behind his main goal – the destruction of the Federation with the use of a bio weapon – a bit on the lame side. Apparently, Krall was a former Human captain from the pre-Federation era named Captain Balthazar Edison, whose ship had crashed on Altamid. Believing the newly formed Federation had abandoned him, Edison and his surviving crew had used the technology of the Altamid’s natives to prolong their lives and mutate their physiology. I am sorry, but that seemed to reaching a bit. And the reason for Krall/Edison’s desire to destroy the Federation – the belief that the latter had deliberately abandoned him and his crew – definitely seemed a bit lame to me.

If the background of the film’s main villain and his reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit lame, then why did I like this film? Whatever weaknesses that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had, I can honestly say that it lacked the multiple plot holes that marred 2009’s “STAR TREK” and that ridiculous final half hour from 2013’s “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS”. The flaws for this film seemed minor in compare to the first two films. I also liked the fact that the characters seemed more mature and established in this movie. Even Krall seemed like an improvement over the first two villains. He did not engage in a convoluted plot that involved time travel. Nor was his character whitewashed and engaged in another ridiculously convoluted plot. Although Krall’s reason to destroy the Federation seemed a bit thin, at least his actual plot – involving the creation of a bio weapon – seemed to be on solid. And for that, I have to thank screenwriters Simon Pegg and Donny Jung.

I have to admit that when it comes to action sequences, the new STAR TREK movies never fail to deliver. There were a handful of sequences in “STAR TREK BEYOND” that definitely impressed me. First and foremost was the attack on the U.S.S. Enterprise by Krall’s fleet and the crash landing on Altamid that followed. Honestly, I feel that director Justin Lin really outdid himself in that particular sequence. I found the minor scenes featuring the Enterprise crew’s efforts to survive on Altamid very engrossing and once again, well handled by Lin. Now that I think about it, just about all of the movie’s actions scenes impressed me – including Kirk and the other non-captured crew members’ efforts to free those who had been captured, the Enterprise crew’s efforts to prevent Krall/Edison from using his new weapon to destroy the Federation’s massive space station, Starbase Yorktown; and Kirk’s final confrontation with the main villain. I also liked the fact that the movie’s two major female characters – Lieutenant Uhura and a castaway named Jaylah – also took part in many of the film’s action sequences. And both seemed more than capable of taking care of themselves.

“STAR TREK BEYOND’ marked a major improvement in the franchise’s characterizations. For the first time, the main characters seemed to be truly comfortable with each other. And all of them seemed to be more mature and believable as Starfleet officers. This especially seemed to be the case for Chris Pine’s performance as James T. Kirk. For the first time, I found it easy to see his Kirk as a worthy captain for the U.S.S. Enterprise. The prat boy from the 2009 and 2013 movies was gone. Zachary Quinto also seemed very comfortable in his role as the Enterprise’s First Officer, Commander Spock. I also enjoyed how both he and Karl Urban, who portrayed Medical Officer Dr. Leonard McCoy, managed to establish a strong and rather funny screen chemistry – something that I do not recall from the two previous films. Quinto’s Spock seemed even more comfortable than ever with Zoë Saldana’s Nyota Uhura. First of all, both had the chance to enact a private drama between Spock and Uhura that did not come off as forced. I find it hard to believe that I had once found the idea of a romance between the two as unbelievable.

The movie also featured solid performances from Idris Elba as the movie’s main antagonist, Krall aka Balthazar Edison, who managed to thankfully convey his character’s emotional nature without engaging in any histrionics. I also enjoyed one particular scene between Elba and Uhura that struck me as both tense and effective, thanks to the actors’ performances. I also enjoyed the performances of John Cho, who always managed to give a cool, yet wry portrayal of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu; Anton Yelchin, whose Pavel Chekov seemed more controlled and mature than he did in the previous films; Simon Pegg, whose portrayal of Lieutenant-Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott seemed a great deal more controlled and still funny; and Sofia Boutella gave an intense and skillful performance as an alien castaway/scavenger named Jaylah with a grudge against Krull.

I understand that “STAR TREK BEYOND” had not performed well at the U.S. box office. Some critics claimed that the movie was not as good as the 2009 movie. When I heard that, I nearly coughed up a lung. Frankly, I think it is a lot better than the two previous films. I thought Justin Lin did a great job as the movie’s director. And he was ably supported by Simon Pegg and Donny Jung’s screenplay, along with a first-rate cast led by Chris Pine. As for why many moviegoers stayed away, I do not have the foggiest idea. What matters is my own personal opinion.

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

R.I.P. Anton Yelchin (1989-2016)

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“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

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“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” (2015) Review

Matthew Vaughn must be a major comic book fan. This is the second . . . no, third time in his career in which he has directed a film adaptation of a comic book series or story. This time, he directed an adaptation of Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s 2012 comic book series, “The Secret Service”.

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” told the story of a young man named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, who becomes a recruit for a secret service organization called Kingsman. The story begins in 1997 when a team of Kingsman agents led by Harry Hart lead a raid to interrogate a terrorist in the Middle East. When their prisoner reveals an unpinned grenade, one of the Kingsman agents – who turns out to be Eggsy’s father – sacrifices himself to save the others. Harry leaves a medal with a coded message to young Eggsy, in case the latter needs help. Seventeen years later, Eggsy, now a young unemployed adult living with his mother, an infant half-sister and an abusive stepfather; runs afoul of the police after he and his friends steal a car that belongs to one of his stepfather’s personal thugs. When Eggsy contacts Harry, using the medal, the latter arranges his release and encourages the younger man to apply for a position at the Kingsman agency.

Meanwhile, one Professor James Arnold is kidnapped by henchmen who work for Internet billionaire Richmond Valentine. A Kingsman agent known as “Lancelot”, tries to rescue Professor Arnold, but failes when Richmond’s henchwoman, Gazelle, kills him. Valentine manages to convince Arnold, along with various heads of state and VIPs, to participate in a scheme that he hopes will save the planet Earth from humanity. While Harry keeps an eye on Eggsy’s training, he also investigates Lancelot’s death and its connection to Valentine.

Okay, I might as well say it. I enjoyed “KINGSMAN” THE SECRET SERVICE” very much. Hell, I loved it. Now, I cannot say that it is an original tale, considering that it is based upon a comic novel. But it is one of the most enjoyable comic book adaptations I have seen since . . . well, since last year’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” and“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” Okay, it is simply a damn good movie. And I am amazed that 20th Century Fox did not release it for the summer season. It is worthy of a major summer release. But since the summer of 2015 might prove to be very competitive, I can understand why the studio decided to give it an early release.

I would not say that the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not particularly original. Then again, it might be. Yes, Richmond Valentine’s plot to improve Earth for mankind proved to be very similar to plots I have recently encountered in two ABC series – “ONCE UPON A TIME” and “AGENT CARTER”. But it was originally used in Millar and Gibbons’ 2012 comic book series. So, one can accuse the show runners for the two ABC of plagiarism. In some ways, the plot for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” reminded me of the plot for the 2014 movie, “DIVERGENT”. Both movies started out featuring hardcore training sessions for the protagonists and ended with the characters of Eggsy Unwin and Tris Prior engaged in some serious action sequences. Yet Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman did a better job of balancing Eggsy’s training and his participation in the movie’s final action sequence. This is due to the presence of Harry Hart, who served as this movie’s other major protagonist. While audiences were allowed to watch full details of Eggsy’s Kingsman training, they also got to see Harry’s detailed investigation of Richmond Valentine before the former was included. Using both Harry and Eggsy as the protagonists, while they engaged in their own agenda throughout most of the film allowed Vaughn and Goldman to maintain a balance in the story.

Despite “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” being an action comedy scene, it not only featured excellent acting, but also some interesting dramatic and comedic moments. Among my favorites included Eggsy’s introduction to the Kingsman organization, his conflicts with his abusive stepfather, Harry and Kingsman leader Chester King’s conflict over the idea recruiting potential agents from the middle and lower classes, Valentine’s recruitment of the world’s elite into his plan and his first meeting with Harry over a McDonald’s meal.

I talked a good deal about the movie’s plot. But remember . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is also an action film based upon a comic book series. And this movie featured a good deal of memorable action scenes. My favorites included Lancelot’s attempt to rescue Professor Arnold, two of the Kingsman training sessions featuring a water-filled room and a parachute jump, and Harry’s encounter with thugs working for Eggsy’s stepfather. My favorite sequence – and it is a long one – featured the remaining Kingsman operatives’ attempt to stop Valentine’s plot regarding the world’s human population. Most final sequences in action movies these days tend to be ridiculously long and filled with mindless violence and explosions. Yes, the final action sequence for “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” has its share of violence and explosions. But I thought it was well shot and did not leave me feeling disoriented and slightly deaf. This sequence also featured one of the funniest character death scenes I have seen on film.

Now . . . “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” is not perfect. I believe it has its flaws. First of all, there is one action sequence that I did not find particularly thrilling to watch. I am referring to the massacre at the Kentucky hate group headquarters in which Harry Hart participated against his will. My problem with this scene? It seemed to go on forever . . . as if Vaughn wanted to savor every moment of the violent conflict inside that Kentucky church just struck me as a bit too much. I also had a problem with the movie’s use of the Lancelot character, portrayed by Jack Davenport. I had no problem with the latter’s performance. But . . . I wish he had lasted a bit longer than he did. Davenport’s time span in the movie reminded me of his limited screen appearance in the 2007 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”. Which left me feeling dissatisfied. I wanted to see more of the actor . . . in this film and in the previous one.

The performances featured in “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” proved to be first-rate. Hell, they were better than first-rate. The supporting cast – including Samantha Womack, Geoff Bell, Corey Johnson and Hanna Alström – provided some real, solid performances. But I was really impressed by Edward Holcroft’s portrayal of Charlie, Eggsy’s aristocratic main rival in the training program; Sophie Cookson as another one of Eggsy’s fellow trainees, the winsome, yet tough-minded Roxy; and Jack Davenport’s portrayal of Agent “Lancelot”, which struck me as a cheeky take on the James Bond character. Mark Hamill also gave a brief, yet entertaining appearance as a British academic named James Arnold, whom Valentine manages to recruit into his scheme. I was surprised by Hamill’s first-rate British accent. Michael Caine added a touch of class as the Kingsman agents’ aristocratic leader, Chester King aka “Arthur”. And Sofia Boutella was very impressive as Valentine’s cool and very deadly henchwoman, Gazelle. I swear . . . Boutella’s Gazelle could put any Bond henchman or woman to shame.

Mark Strong, a veteran of past Vaughn films, did a great job of portraying “Merlin”, a senior Kingsman agent who serves as the agency’s trainer and senior tech expert. I was especially impressed by how Strong managed to project a mixture of authority and cheeky sense of humor in his performance. One of the best things about “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” was Vaughn’s choice to portray the Kingsman trainee, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin. Taron Egerton gave a star making performance as the energetic and intelligent Eggsy, who is hampered by his working-class background and impatience. I never thought a twenty-something actor with very little experience could hold his own with the likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson. But he did. Perfectly.

Colin Firth proved to be a surprisingly first-rate hero as Harry Hart, the veteran Kingsman agent who not only saw promise in Eggsy, but also the latter’s father some seventeen years earlier. Firth is cool, witty, and authoritative. More importantly, he proved for the first time in his career that he could be a superb action hero . . . even in his early fifties. All the film historians in the world could argue over who might be the best Bond villain. As far as I am concerned, the winner of that little contest could never be as good as Samuel L. Jackson’s portrayal of billionaire Richmond Valentine. He trounced them all. Not only was he one of the best (and scariest) on-screen villains I have seen in years, he was also very entertaining. Utilizing a lisp and projecting his character’s aversion to violence and blood, Jackson gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie.

It is rare to find a first-rate action film that was not released during the usual summer season. It is rare, but not unknown. I do not know how “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” would have held up against the movies released for the summer of 2015. But regardless of its release date, it might prove to be one of my favorite movies of the year. Matthew Vaughn did a superb job as director of this adaptation of the 2012 comic series. And he was ably supported by Jane Goldman as co-screenwriter and a superb cast led by Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Taron Egerton.