Directed By Angus MacLane
Starring – Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Dale Soules
The Plot – Buzz Lightyear (Evans) embarks on an intergalactic adventure with a group of ambitious recruits and his robot companion.
Rated PG for scenes of intense action and peril
After four films in a franchise that bare more than a strikingly derivative outline in continuous plot structure, “Lightyear” is a refreshing turn not only for the direction of the titular character, but also for the prolonged lifespan of the series, which here turns back the clocks to 1995, before we were even introduced to Andy and his vast collection of toys. In doing such, the film’s opening structure of a movie persisting within a movie is a creatively invigorating turn for the origin story of Buzz, full of beneficial reveals and surprising depth for the character that I honestly wasn’t expecting. This is first attained in tone, which here commands more of a serious approach to its storytelling that solidified an air of tragedy and heartbreak for Lightyear that immediately invests you to the plight of his character, all the while outlining the galaxy of stakes and circumstances that continuously hang in the balance that feel galaxies bigger than the bedroom of bedlam that we’ve become used to in previous films. The familiarity of humor and heartfelt warmth of nostalgia is certainly still there, mainly in a four-legged android who steals the film with every precise and articulate delivery, but it’s reserved for those valuable moments of much-appreciated levity in between the intensely rattling action sequences, giving their appeal a freshness in approach that affords them consistency due to avoiding repetition or oversaturation. On the topic of those aforementioned action sequences, the direction from Maclane is impeccable, capturing the intensity and imagination of a space opera, but with all of the personality of 21st century technical advancements in sight and sound. For the former, Pixar and Toy story continue the gradual improvements in designs that have greatly benefited the luster of their gorgeous presentations, this time with a vibrancy in color and sleekness in definition and filmed in 1.43:1 IMAX that values every little detail of the immensely universal spectrum. The polishing pursues a far greater search of natural environmental elements, like exhaust smoke or reflective canvases, that obscure the line further with live action cinema, and the extensive detail of the foreign planets, with Michael Giacchino’s thunderous score in tow, that Buzz travels feel richly exotic with the versatility in backdrops and color that keep any of them from feeling one-dimensional. This depth is corresponded brilliantly with the extensive merit of ensemble, with everyone from Bill Hader to Taika Waititi, to Efren Ramirez supporting Evans charmingly exuberant turn. Though his Buzz compared to Tim Allen’s are designed with the same personality traits and moral flaws, their portrayals feel anything but similar, with Chris deconstructing the perils of pride within Buzz that often override what’s best for the galaxy hanging in the balance. Evans carries a consequential weight on his shoulders that often motivate and occasionally blind him to the ideals of heroism, and though his turn is overflowing with honor and bravery, it’s those same concepts that occasionally cloud the judgment of his objective, solidifying this as a naive Buzz Lightyear who feels that much more human by the errors that come to judge him. Though this is Buzz’s film in both structure and title, make no mistakes that this film belongs entirely to Sox, the robotic cat, played marvelously here by Peter Sohn. Pixar films are known for introducing an animal side character for the sole reasoning of selling toys, but Sox means so much more to the prominence of the film, as not only is Sohn’s timing and monotonous delivery highly impactful to the comic muscle he’s asked to bare almost entirely, but also his superior intelligence and impeccable chemistry to Evans grant him an unshakeable influence that wouldn’t be as fun and energetic without him, leaving this cat as the biggest reason why “Lightyear” gets itself off the ground from the movie’s lift-off.
While most of the storytelling and picture-perfect pacing commands attention over the audience, there was one major decision at the beginning of the third act that I wish the film hadn’t pursued, for how many problems and plot holes it created as a result. “Lightyear” to its credit is never really a thinker’s film, instead crafting an easily accessible narrative that audiences of all age can seamlessly gravitate towards. However, that idea is corrupted with a plot twist towards the end of the film that directly compromises this intention with a concept that requires too much thinking and suspending disbelief primarily on child audiences. If you’re forcing yourself to go along with this discovery, you start to see the problems it creates for the continuity of both the franchise and the character designs, who require some conveniences to overlook how they weren’t able to spot it from the very beginning. It’s a bit too convoluted for a film of this straight forward magnitude, and I wish the script would’ve just kept matters ambiguous when pertaining to one particular character who means more the less we know about them. Beyond this, the smaller problem with the film is in its lack of ever creating an identity for itself which feels freshly invigorating for the justification of its rendering. This makes the script feel like a clunky manifestation of scattered pieces from other films like “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and “Interstellar”, to name a few. This aspect keeps it from ever evading the familiarity of its traveled territory, which does endure an unavoidable predictability to the formula that keeps “Lightyear” from feeling like an evolving installment to the genre, instead of another stitched together imitator.
“Lightyear” features striking visuals, strong performances, and layers to the titular character that at the very least justify the reasoning to craft a Buzz Lightyear story in the first place. Though the execution is momentarily marred with an unnecessary third act twist, this is mostly one joy ride that avoids turbulence at all costs, with limitless fun persisting to infinity and beyond.
My Grade: 8/10 or B