Review: 'Lightyear' (2022) Dir. Angus MacLane
What if we could go back and watch the science-fiction movie young Andy saw before 'Toy Story' to ignite his love for fictional action hero Buzz Lightyear? This is that movie...
Star Command Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Evans) and his team are exploring the potential hospitability of planet T'Kani Prime, but their expedition is attacked. In the attempt to escape, Buzz ignores help and in turn damages the craft, forcing everyone to become isolated on Prime.
While on Prime over the course of a year, Buzz and his Commanding Officer Hawthorne (Aduba) test a new fuel cell to reach hyperspeed and return to Earth, but the test flight fails. Upon returning to Prime, 4 years have passed with everything aging, bar Buzz.
Now on a desperate mission to rectify his mistakes, Buzz teams up with new Space Ranger Izzy Hawthorne (Plamer), daughter of his former Commanding Officer, and AI cat Sox (Sohn) to not just find a way home, but repel a new alien invasion force led by the evil Emperor Zurg...
There has been much confusion – arguably a little irrational – on the idea of what ‘Lightyear’ is. Spin-off? Solo movie? Prequel? Sequel? Well, spin-off just about. This is the 80s or 90s science-fiction movie that young Andy watched before we met him in 1995s Toy Story, and introduces us to the “real” Buzz Lightyear character the popular toy is based on. Of course this is not a movie within a movie – it has no nods or winks to who the actor is playing Buzz etc. This is just a science-fiction adventure starring Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear that captured the worlds imagination and launched best-selling toys.
But on the other hand, that’s the only link there is to the beloved Toy Story series. The concept, story and supporting characters (bar Emperor Zurg) are original and brand new from Pixar. The only familiarity to our favourite sci-fi toy is the classic white/purple/green suit and a few classic phrases, voiced in great macho bravado by Chris Evans. Why not Tim Allen I hear you cry? Well, as most film merchandise, the toy voice over artist is mostly different from the movie star. So in that respect, that’s why it’s different. Evans carries over that daring-do, square jawed heroism Buzz is known for, but also plenty of room for showing he’s still discovering a sense of humour and dealing with his emotions as a man thrust into a daring mission. He does the job just fine, but with unfair comparison to Allen’s inimitable voice work over the four previous films, it was always a battle Evans was going to lose. It’s a case of what do we want to believe came first, the Allen egg or the Evans chicken.
A supporting cast don’t really stand out, bar the familiar comedy ramblings of new Disney favourite Taika Waititi as comical buffoon Ranger Morrison and Pixar regular Peter Sohn as Sox, the dry and comical robot cat who is there for cute companionship as well as security and defence, easily stealing the show.
The crux of the film, established early on by a rather hot-headed Buzz, is about our hero learning to trust others, work as a team and have faith in those you call friends to get the job done. And that job is not only developing a new hyperdrive unit to get back home to Earth, but also save the planet of T’kani Prime (and the galaxy) from the threat of invasion by the evil Emperor Zurg, sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance! Zurg is a hulking beast of a brute, voiced by James Brolin, but he’s never as intimidating a villain as we could be led to believe. He’s more an Emperor Palpatine villain over a Darth Vader, only getting a few moments to square off against Buzz himself. The rest of the villainous threat comes from dangerous space robots, lots of space bugs and dangerous weather.
Director Angus MacLane has enough experience in working with Pixar over the years and is clearly a capable talent, but the lore here just isn’t an engaging one to make a full directorial debut in, due to the story being rather slow at times and full of talk that may not appeal to younger fans expecting something more for their Buzz. Even the score by Michael Giacchino is basic and lacking anything standout. With all the familiar elements of Buzz Lightyear present, the main issue is that this is just not a film that we really needed to see. It adds nothing to the established Toy Story films that are loved by generations, but it also adds nothing to Buzz himself that is important. It’s a case of having a product and wanting to simply cash in to tell a story that doesn’t need to be told.
With Toy Story 4 coming out just 3 years ago in 2019 and wrapping up (supposedly) the story, new associations with the series that don’t feature our favourite toys doesn’t feel right. Less we forget, Buzz had his feature solo film Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins in 2000 and a short-lived show Buzz Lightyear of Star Command in 2001. They were good fun, but something was missing.
The success of Buzz revolves around the company he is in. He’s not meant for solo adventures in the eyes of our audiences. He’s to be surrounded by the likes of Woody, the Potato Heads and Rex for a comedic, tongue-in-cheeky adventure. Buzz, on his own, is only marginally interesting. Here, while an original story about escaping an unknown planet and battling an often-unseen Zurg and his robotic army is full of sci-fi thrills, battleships and large scale action, it’s not the Buzz Lightyear audiences may feel the need to see more of or meet characters who are going to come and go. Sure, toys can be sold by the truckload for this new adventure grounded in a semi-reality, but they don’t compare to the wide-eyed innocence and sweet charm of what we saw in 1995 and the characters who have become part of popular culture.
It's an easy summary, but ‘Lightyear’ fails to reach infinity and beyond in an outing that didn't need to be told. It looks nice, as expected, as a sci-fi adventure, but this Space Ranger works best as a literal toy surrounded by cowboys, talking dinosaurs and slinky dogs.
'Lightyear' is a co-production between Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios