Okay. I honestly put this off to the point I nearly forgot to do it. But while this review may be shorter than others, something must be stated for the record.
Lightyear is a bad movie. And I'm probably going to end up talking more about how it is bad than the details of the movie itself.
When I say this is a bad film, I am not referring to recent postmodern culprits - shoehorned, gender-bent absurdities, needless insertions of political agenda, retconning, deliberate canon-breaking, nothing like that. Lightyear thankfully steers clear of these blisters that have formed across much of Hollywood. But that's about all it manages to do right. I'm not here to be a generic blogger, talking about how every soda flavor is "utter garbage" just to have a super cool, negative edge. I want to be realistic with you. I have never wanted to fall asleep during a movie, much less in the theater. But I almost did this time. And so to the best of my recollection, I'm going to go over the main points as thinly as the movie presents them - it's only fair.
Buzz's crew become stuck on a foreign planet with no simple way to reach home. The only hope for return is for Buzz to break the speed of light in his rocket ship, and this he attempts to do many times. Not only is each a failure, but the process distorts his perception of the passage of time. This is problematic, because compared to the rest of his crewmates and coworkers down on the surface Buzz is aging at a very different rate. He returns from each mission to see how they have further and further lived out their lives peacefully, having accepted their fate and moved on from the lofty idea of escape. But Buzz continues to search for new ways to break the speed barrier, and convince his doubtful friends that there truly is a way out. Eventually though, Buzz outlives everyone he had once been trapped with, and all that remains is a small group of ragtag descendants who fight to survive against an invasion of robots, commanded by Emperor Zurg.
While the passage of time montage does evoke a level of feeling from the audience, it is the last time anything is felt at all. What follows is a nightmare of pacing, bad comedy attempts, bad writing, bad direction and bad character design. Nothing ever makes its intended impact again. We are introduced to a few generic at-odds characters, as well as a generic cute character - seemingly deemed a requirement in any new film or TV series - who constantly changes the rules of what is and isn't possible for the group to achieve, thereby undermining tension on a regular basis.
Which reminds me: there is no tension. The goal of Lightyear and his descendant lackeys doesn't even feel important or meaningful, and the audience is given no reason to care about it or its associated characters. In fact, the whole movie could have just ended as a sad little existential short where Lightyear is shown to have ... well, failed. Seriously - this did not need to be a feature-length film.
There are many Toy Story references, and if I recall, a few from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. But it's all dead-end fan service. None of the familiar characters are part of this film, by the way - no Ranger Nova, no Commander Nebula, no Booster, no X-R, and no lovable, clumsy Little Green Men. I could accept all of this just fine had their replacements been meaningful and deserved. But what you get is a sense that each moment on screen is actually part of a convoluted life support formula to allow for the next moment, right up until the rolling of the credits. The hectic pieces feel exactly like a device set up to prevent the movie from halting abruptly - as long as people keep talking and running and hurrying, no one will notice the shallow inner workings under the hood, right?
Thankfully, a lot of people noticed.
What really confuses about this movie though, is the use of the one other familiar character - Zurg. As it turns out, confusion is what they were gunning for all along. The climax ignores the original premise entirely, and more involves a Zurg that is actually just Buzz from another timeline who did better than the one we're watching. Oh man, that sweet irony. Okay, so it's a fighting-your-own-shadow kind of thing. That's fine. I never thought Buzz would find himself in that predicament, but conceptually I have no gripes. Unfortunately, due to the empty dialogue, lack of backstory or driving force of any kind, the sudden shift to a concern over alternate timelines is an unearned one. The lead-up is insufficient to warrant it, and you are left just feeling pissed that you never got to truly see what you imagined Emperor Zurg would be like on the big screen. Or at least, even at the level at which the preceding films portrayed him. Turning Zurg into nothing but an alt-Buzz feels unsatisfying and cheap, and if we take this as canon, it means that Zurg was never really even his own character.
Great. So we actually did violate canon, by taking a step backward and cannibalizing prior content.
Lightyear's biggest moment was perhaps its pre-release controversy over a same-sex kiss scene, and how the team fought to restore the moment after a defiantly-minded Disney had it taken out. Given that, you'd think they were trying to rescue an awesome film, and ensure everyone got the full picture they had envisioned all along. Trust me when I say, there is no such vision.
If you think I've been overly vague with this review, you could always waste your hard-earned dollars watching Lightyear yourself, but that would be unwise. Lightyear itself is a vague product, one that neither knows what it wants to be, nor really cares to satisfy any deeper point it may have buried underneath its wall of mediocrity and desolace. The supposed idea we've been running with all this time was that this film is what Andy saw as a kid, and which made him want a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. A cute idea, but Lightyear isn't a particularly inspiring experience, not least for kids, and it doesn't come across as a kid's movie at any point either, so that notion only adds further insult to injury.
Lightyear is not worth the time, and should not be dignified through viewing under any circumstances. If you want some great, modern sci-fi, check out The Orville. Season 3 is the best so far, and was well worth the wait fans had to endure.
September 3, 2022