Reviews | Written by Jack Bottomley 25/06/2022

LIGHTYEAR

CERT: PG / PLATFORMS: CINEMA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Since taking Woody’s spot on Andy’s bed, Buzz Lightyear has become ingrained into the animated fabric of pop culture. Across the Toy Story series, so many of us have grown up watching his adventures alongside his pals but not since the straight-to-video film and following TV show Buzz Lightyear of Star Command have we ever seen any inkling the character that the toy was based on. Until now. As Pixar state in the opening of this film, In 1995 Andy got a toy based on his new favourite movie…this is that movie.

Much has been discussed about this film ahead of time. There has been controversy (let’s avoid that particular ridiculous debate shall we?), rebellion against the decision to not have Tim Allen voice this Buzz and all round confusion as to what Lightyear actually is (a confusion the film clears up in literally seconds) and whether it has any impact on, well, anything that we have already seen (it doesn’t really).

Yet, there was real potential here for a good old-fashioned spectacular sci-fi adventure, as space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) embarks on a mission in uncharted space, resulting in disaster, and leading to Buzz attempting to do the impossible and get his stranded team/crew home. But hyperspace travel has its complications, and when Buzz returns to base after a - for once - successful test mission, he finds the planet in threat from the robotic armies of someone called Zurg.

Lightyear is an interesting movie for us to review because this writer came out of it in two fiercely divided halves. The little boy, who had always dreamed of seeing the real Buzz Lightyear and Evil Emperor Zurg do battle on the big screen was utterly devastated, and yet Pixar have still managed (as is their impeccably high standard) to make an often entertaining and visually stunning sci-fi action adventure. In spite of featuring one of the worst character/plot twists since Hancock. 

Allen's vocal absence is felt (how could it not be?) but Evans does a great job as Buzz, and it makes perfect sense to have a different voice for this take. In fact, the early Interstellar-esque plot yields some exciting moments all round, grabbing elements from classic ‘stranded on a strange planet’ sci-fi, with elements of Alien-like hostile environment beats. As well, as harnessing some poignant notes from its themes of time and consequence, especially in Buzz’s beautiful friendship with the character Hawthorne, which results in an early moment of tear-jerking power. 

As the film transitions into its second act, it becomes more of an ensemble caper with a hyperactive jolt of throwback serial sci-fi too, as Buzz and a ragtag team (voiced by the likes of Taika Waititi and Keke Palmer) of equally likeable heroes and anti-heroes seek to get a container of pioneering hyperspace fuel to Buzz’s colony and escape the robotic armies of the menacing Zurg. Plus, Buzz’s robotic emotional support cat Sox (Peter Sohn) is a showstealer, a funny and constantly memorable presence, who is always a joy and even when the comedy hits and misses, Sox is nearly always a hit. So, with all that going right, you might be wondering what on earth (or rather off earth) went wrong?

Well, where the film falls dispiritingly flat is in finally setting the table for its promised third act climax because a hugely problematic and messy finale destroys much of the earlier work. Complete with a ridiculous twist that thinks itself far cleverer than it actually is and is as unsatisfying a creative decision as we can remember in recent cinema, Lightyear nosedives. Overthinking what ought to have been a very simple decision, this plot twist is not only morally tied up in knots in relation to Buzz’s character (going the cold route of Ralph Breaks The Internet) but it is under-thought, superficial and completely disappointing and unnecessary, taking a fun gag in Toy Story 2 and trying to take it deadly seriously. 

Simply put, this film has a major villain problem, and its reveal strips a potentially imposing and truly nasty villain in Zurg (voiced very well by James Brolin) of everything that could have made him. It is a decision that feels out of place and immediately destroys any chance of this being a franchise, as it robs the Buzz’s answer to Darth Vader of all his mystique and again is an example of Disney oddly doing all they can to not have real villains anymore in their films...just misguided people or concepts operating as a baddie. Which jars with some of the silver age thrills the film is otherwise trying to aim for.

In better news, The visuals are astonishing, as is Michael Giacchino's rousing score, but the conclusion does not reward the journey and the entire plot does not hang together. There is not that same magic, spark and wonder that Pixar can always relied upon to offer, and despite the undeniable entertainment Lightyear does have, this film never reaches the stars and completes its mission fully, despite having all the ability and assets to do so. And that is unbelievably frustrating. Still, some kids will likely have a ball, so that is kind of the point. But Zurg fans stay away, and make do with the memories of that opening sequence in Toy Story 2. 

Somehow Lightyear is both undeniably fun and equally undeniably disappointing all at once, and the animation studios’ least stellar work since Cars 2.