Star Trek Beyond
seen @ New Paltz Cinema, New Paltz NY
New Paltz, New York is a small college town in the Hudson Valley. Bibi and Eric have lived there for many years. It suits their temperament. It's ultra-liberal, scenic, close enough to New York that it doesn't seem too far away, yet distant enough to feel autonomous. I visit them once or twice a year. Sometimes they come down here to New York to visit me. Bibi and I were debating what to do during my trip up there last Saturday when we realized we had an opportunity to see Star Trek Beyond together. That settled the problem of what to do.
I think I might have seen a movie with them before, but I don't recall what it was (Hellboy? A Pixar movie maybe? Not sure). Given the blazing hot weather, watching a movie in a nice, air-conditioned theater sounded like a good idea to all of us, but there was other stuff going on around town which we wanted to check out too...
...namely, a chalk art festival. A bunch of regional artists gathered, by invitation, for the weekend and made chalk drawings in the parking lot of a touristy market area downtown. I had taken part in something similar when I lived in Columbus, but that was open to anyone. This was specifically for pros, and the work ran the gamut from pop culture images (including one of original Spock) to portraits to images of animals and landscapes. It was good. It attracted a fairly big crowd too. How fortunate that the weather cooperated.
New Paltz, to my knowledge, has only one theater, offering mainstream fare. The auditorium in which STB played had a stairway leading up to an emergency exit on the front left-hand side. The screen was flush with the right-hand wall. If you didn't notice the stairs, it looked as if a quarter of the screen was chopped off on the far left side. It was a full screen, though. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it before.
Bibi and I liked the movie; Eric didn't. He likes Trek in general, but she and I are the big fans. We went into the film knowing as little as possible (though she probably knew less than me). It was a straightforward adventure story that didn't rely heavily on what happened in the last two movies. Bibi was concerned she might have forgotten information necessary to understand the plot of STB.
Eric's main complaint was the film's lack of originality - and yeah, in the sense that it looked like every other summer blockbuster, I can't argue that. We all talked about the desire for Trek movies to be brainier than they often are, but we doubted that would happen anytime soon.
I told Eric with summer movies, you have to ask yourself how much stupid you're willing to put up with in the name of entertainment. STB didn't strike me as stupid, but there were some gratuitous moments that did seem like pandering to the audience (Kirk on a motorcycle, Spock saying "shit," the Beastie Boys, again). You either like them or you don't, but I can see how they'd be off-putting.
Idris Elba's character confused me. First, he looked like an alien opposed to what he saw as unchecked Federation expansion, which was very interesting. Then he became a human pre-Federation soldier who wasn't told the war was over? I didn't understand which was more important, nor why he had to look like an alien. It almost felt like another nu-Khan bait and switch.
Trek movies are so eager to give us villains for the Enterprise crew to fight, yet with the exceptions of (real) Khan and the Borg Queen (and maybe General Chang from The Undiscovered Country), they've been rather forgettable. The villains of the JJ Abrams-produced films in particular seem over-written, with motivations that are never as clear as they should be.
Also, how many times do we have to see the Enterprise destroyed or about to be destroyed? This is getting tiresome. I mean, we were just becoming familiar with this alternate version of the 1701, and now it's gone after only three movies. Zod forbid anything in action movie franchises be enduring, should last in an audience's memory after the closing credits.
All this said, STB was an improvement over Into Darkness in a number of ways. The character moments felt more genuine, like they had finally been earned rather than merely inherited. The humor was good. I liked the idea of splitting the team up and making them go through their own trials before reuniting. I love, love, love Karl Urban as McCoy and I was glad he got a lot to do, especially with Zach Quinto. It is a shame and a tragedy that this is Anton Yelchin's last movie as Chekhov, but I hope JJ isn't serious about retiring the character. More can be done with him.
Nu-Sulu is gay? Fine, whatever, but I gotta agree with George Takei in that they should've made a new cast member gay instead. I saw this same approach all the time in ccorporate superhero comics whenever they wanted to bring in a woman or minority: take an old name and create a new identity. Easier to market than someone new made from scratch.
From the moment we saw (real) Spock in the alternate universe, I feared he would die there, and so it's happened at last. Seeing nu-Spock talk about his counterpart - that is, seeing Zach Quinto talking about the late Leonard Nimoy - was a metatextual flourish that gave me, and I imagine, the rest of the audience, a chill. (Bibi says she has yet to fully mourn Nimoy's death a year and a half after the fact.) If any good can be said to come of the legendary actor's demise, it's that the new Trek cast can finally stand on its own, without the shadow of their predecessors looming over them. I'm glad this necessary step was finally taken.
I did not get home from New Paltz until 3:30 in the morning the next day. The last bus leaves for New York at 8 PM on Saturdays, way too early for us, so Bibi and Eric drove me to nearby Poughkeepsie so I could take the Metro-North train to Manhattan. I opted to walk from Grand Central to Penn Station to take the Long Island Railroad home (there's a station across the street from where I live). How was I to know the crowd from a Guns 'n' Roses concert was coming home at the same time? The train was packed with dude-bros in GNR tees and bimbos in high heels, eating pizza, yelling and playing music on their cellphones. New Paltz is a small town and I probably wouldn't want to live there for that reason (even with Bibi and Eric around), but there are times when small town life looks very appealing indeed.