REVIEW: ‘Lightyear’ Gives The Space Ranger A Stellar Sci-Fi Adventure

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Lightyear - But Why Tho

Lightyear, directed and co-written by Angus MacLane, returns to the Toy Story franchise that helped launch Pixar — particularly the titular Space Ranger, or rather the in-universe character that inspired him. Captain Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) is flying a mission on behalf of Star Command to the planet Tikana Prime. However, when attacked by Tikana’s hostile plant/insect life, Buzz ends up damaging the Star Command ship while attempting to escape. Years pass as he and the rest of his crew, including his fellow Space Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) attempt to create a fuel source powerful enough to achieve lightspeed and go home. Buzz also has to contend with a fleet of robot invaders and a trio of rookie Space Rangers that include Alisha’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer).

A title card at the beginning of the film solidifies it as a franchise within a franchise, as a young Andy Davis saw it in 1995 and it became his favorite film – to the point where his mother brought him a Buzz Lightyear action figure for his birthday and kicked off the events of the first Toy Story. Not only does this solidify Buzz as the hero of a major film franchise in the Toy Story universe, but it also serves as a meta-narrative about how certain movies can speak to us. A lot of people who see this film grew up with the first Toy Story, and their children may end up loving Lightyear just as much as Andy did.

Evans steps into Buzz’s space boots, and perfectly captures the Space Ranger’s heroism as well as his stubborn streak. Throughout the film, Buzz is fixated on the mess he made — doggedly blasting off into space to try and find a way home. His determination to “finish the mission” plays into the film’s exploration of failure, and how it doesn’t have to define your life. A decade of playing Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has served Evans well, as he manages to give Buzz vulnerability and bravery in equal measure. He even manages to capture Tim Allen’s cadence in certain scenes, and I admit a smile crossed my face whenever Buzz said classic phrases including his trademark mantra “To Infinity, and Beyond” – reinterpreted as a touching moment he shares with Alisha.

The rest of the cast is on their A-game, as well. Aduba is the beating heart behind the film, as she and Evans have a natural chemistry that helps set the film’s emotional and physical stakes. Taika Waititi and Dale Soules provide some much-needed levity as accident-prone Mo Morrison and ex-convict Darby Steele, respectively. But the MVPs are Palmer and Peter Sohn, who plays the robotic cat Sox. Palmer makes Izzy a character who’s dealing with her own baggage, including the legacy her grandmother left her; this makes for some of the film’s best moments as Buzz has to be for Izzy what Alisha was for him. And Sohn is a hoot as Sox, with the metal feline designed to be an “emotional support companion” for Buzz that also has a blowtorch and tranquilizer darts hidden in his body.

MacLane has a clear love for the sci-fi genre, and Lightyear pays homage to quite a few sci-fi franchises over the years. There are nods to Star Wars and Star Trek — particularly Buzz’s infamous archenemy Emperor Zurg (James Brolin), who in this film feels like a mix between Darth Vader and the Terminator — but there are also elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey and even The Last Starfighter. At times, those nods can be a bit on-the-nose, but overall this feels like the kind of sci-fi adventures I used to watch with my Dad and that definitely works in the film’s favor. The best moment is a montage featuring Buzz’s constant hyperspace flights juxtaposed with Alisha living her life, which serves as a fitting homage to Up. Michael Giacchino even provides the score for said sequence, which feels appropriately melancholy.

Lightyear is a stellar sci-fi adventure, adding a new dimension to the titular Space Ranger and the world of Toy Story in the process. Though it isn’t as groundbreaking as Soul or Turning Red, it still has enough of Pixar’s trademark emotional weight and character work to make it worth a watch.

Lightyear premieres in theaters nationwide on June 17, 2022.


Lightyear
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

Lightyear is a stellar sci-fi adventure, adding a new dimension to the titular Space Ranger and the world of Toy Story in the process. Though it isn’t as groundbreaking as Soul or Turning Red, it still has enough of Pixar’s trademark emotional weight and character work to make it worth a watch.