There’s overlooked movies every year. Usually they’re independent films or small releases intended as Oscar bait that depend on word of mouth to spread their worthiness to other movie patrons. I’m not talking about those movies. I’m talking about the movies that are overlooked without reason, movies that have a marketing budget bigger that the GDP of island nations. Movies that run trailer after trailer in the theatres, so much so that when asked about overlooked movies, you never think of the one you’ve seen twenty commercials for.
But this year, there were two big budget movies that were waaaay better than folks have given them credit for. And here they are:
STAR TREK: BEYOND
Okay, it’s not just because its ‘Trek that I’m bringing this one up, there’s actually some excellent reasoning. Did you know 2016 was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek? (unless you want to count from the year the first pilot was made, in which case 2014 would’ve held that illustrious title. But I’m probably the only one who even thinks to count from there, so we’ll move on…) If you didn’t, don’t worry. For whatever reason Paramount & CBS did not go ‘nacelle’s to the wall’ promoting this major milestone. With a brand new feature coming out, you’d think they would’ve marketed the shit out of the 50th anniversary, but they declined to do so. Not exactly sure why. Critical and fan reception of the previous two ‘Kelvin Timeline’ films, Abrams ‘Trek ’09 and ‘Into Darkness’ has been at best mixed, and maybe the movie powers-that-be figured that kind of marketing wouldn’t attract the crowd’s they wanted. I don’t know. All I know is a really decent ‘Trek film came and went and almost nobody made a big deal about it. Which is a shame.
Because ‘Beyond’ is actually a really solid ‘Trek movie. Probably one of the better ones ever made. And very few people have talked about it. Why? Even I don’t know, but I can tell you this is probably the best of the ‘Kelvin timeline’ without a doubt. ‘Trek movies have a difficult role to fill: The nature of the TV show often defies the standard conventions of storytelling. Exploring ideas is more important than following arcs, and learning societal lessons is more important than character growth. While by the end of any ‘Trek episode we have probably found that our enemies are not actually our enemies, and that by communicating we can overcome most of our differences, when we’re at the end of any ‘Trek movie, the circumstances are far more harsh. It’s the nature of episodic TV versus feature films. In order to be successful feature films need to provide an audience with a more pronounced resolution, something better suited to the big screen. ‘Beyond’ is one of the very few (of 13) ‘Trek movies that manages to balance both.
This is a movie that’s truly ‘an episode’ of the show. The crew of the Enterprise is presented with a rescue mission that morphs into a confrontation with a rogue individual bent on demonstrating to the Federation that it’s ways and goals are flawed. Even after the (SPOILERS) Enterprise is destroyed (It’s becoming a rule that you need to destroy the Enterprise every third movie) and the crew scattered to the winds, they manage to work together, pool their resources and ultimately defeat their foe, conquering a part of themselves as they do it. The movie plays perfecty inside the (Kelvin) ‘Trek universe, it gives us beautiful moments with familiar characters without trotting out non-canonized twists that aren’t needed. It’s exciting, fast paced, humourous and most importantly of all, honest about being (or wanting to be) ‘Star Trek’. Both ‘Trek ’09 and ‘Into Darkness’ were a kind of ‘Star Trek’ skin wrapped around different movies, trying to take the universe to places it was never really suited to go. Justin Lin and team managed to bring ‘Trek movies back to their enjoyable roots with this film, and they pull it off amazingly. Just a shame more people didn’t head to the theatre to see it, maybe because they didn’t know how good it was.
The other big underrated film of the summer (IMHO) was one of the best Bond movies we’ve seen in years, and with the most recent crop of Daniel Craig films that’s actually saying something.
But of course this one would be big right? It’s the return of SPECTRE and Blofeld, this is about as meat & potatoes James Bond as you can get. It has some brilliant action set pieces, an opening sequence to rival any other contender, perhaps even the opening of ‘Goldeneye’ and a reasonably intriguing story about surveillance and government overreach in the modern era. It also manages to tie the previous three films together in a larger continuity lacking across previous Bond’s. Like every Bond movie it seems to go on just a little too long, with a few unneeded anti-climaxes and the occasional joke that’s more groan than laughter, but by and large the film succeeds in places that Bond movies typically don’t.
Bond’s extended actions against the helicopter in the opening, his fight against Drax in the train, his escape from Blofeld’s crater-base, all of these are extremely well executed pieces that remind us of what a Bond movie is supposed to be about. What really catches me is the story between Bond and the woman he must protect, Madeleine. Their relationship is reminiscent of the greatest relationship story ever told through Bond, and that’s the affair between Timothy Dalton-Bond and Kara Milovy in ‘The Living Daylights’. Ignoring the parts where Bond goes to Afghanistan to help the Mujahdeen, ‘The Living Daylights’ actually depicts Bond falling in love with the woman’s he’s assigned to protect, and how that affection changes his approach to his job and who he thinks he is. We get the same kind of effect here, as Bond becomes truly conflicted about his feelings, trying to keep Madeleine safe from the assassins who came after her father. It’s a more nuanced and reflective examination of Bond and his relationships than we’ve seen in a very long time (with the possible exception of Vesper from ‘Casino Royale’ – but she was the ‘love’ that set Daniel Craig-Bond off into the world in the first place.)
While some may have thought this was ‘just another Bond movie’ those of us lucky enough to see it know that it was in fact everything you ever wanted in a Bond movie, and more.