CAST: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
BASICALLY…: Buzz Lightyear (Evans) goes on a mission that takes him to infinity and beyond…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
In theory, a movie about the actual Buzz Lightyear isn’t such a terrible idea. The idea all the way back in the first Toy Story was that the action figure was modelled after an extremely popular sci-fi hero, so to see the in-universe movie that introduced the world – and specifically, a young boy named Andy – to the coolness that is Buzz Lightyear is an interesting way of expanding the saga without compromising the emotional conclusions that the main Toy Story series came to.
However, if Lightyear was in any way as entertaining, funny, emotional and intelligent as any of the other movies, then it would have been worth opening up the toy box even further. Instead, the movie is a giant disappointment, unable to take its generic story, bland characters, underwhelming action sequences or ultimate entertainment value anywhere close to infinity, let alone beyond.
Opening with text stating that the movie we’re about to see is Andy’s favourite movie – which in and of itself raises a number of questions, as shall later be explored – Lightyear concerns the efforts of space ranger and test pilot Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans, taking over from Tim Allen), who after inadvertently stranding himself and his crew on a desolate planet becomes determined to achieve hyper-speed in order to get everyone back up into the stars. His test missions come at a cost, though; every time he attempts to travel at impossible speeds, a number of years pass by in mere moments for Buzz, which age everyone else around him. One mission, however, sees Buzz travel too far into the future, which is now overrun by an army of robots under the command of a being known as Zurg (James Brolin), forcing Buzz to team with a group of inexperienced cadets – among them Izzy (Keke Palmer), the granddaughter of Buzz’s former partner Alisha (Uzo Aduba) – and a robotic cat named Sox (Peter Sohn) to save the day.
The fact that it is stipulated very clearly at the beginning that Lightyear is supposed to be young Andy’s favourite movie from growing up in the mid-90s makes things very confusing within the main Toy Story narrative. Mediocrity of the movie aside, it doesn’t make sense as to why Andy would actively look upon Buzz Lightyear as the coolest and most awesome hero in the galaxy, because he is by far the least interesting character in his own movie. While it gets the straight-faced stoicism and self-serious mannerisms down (not to mention repeating lines verbatim that the Toy Story version utters), nothing is added to this character that gives him a whole new dimension, and he just comes across as a very uninteresting clone of much more engaging sci-fi heroes from Han Solo to Flash Gordon. It doesn’t even make sense that, of all the characters in this film, it would be Buzz Lightyear who would go on to become the must-have toy amongst children like Andy, especially when you also have a robotic cat in the mix who’s not only more marketable as an action figure, but has much more charm and likeability than the lead does.
Most of its generic nature would be forgivable if the movie was at least entertaining, but surprisingly this is one of Pixar’s dullest movies in a number of years. Because the plot is so straightforward (not to mention derivative of things like Interstellar and even the mid-90s Lost in Space movie), and the characters – aside from that movie-stealing robotic cat – aren’t fleshed out nearly as well as they ought to be, you’re left watching a lot of things happening but with little valid reason to care about any of it. Most of the plot is thoroughly predictable, with few surprises (barring one interesting direction they go with Zurg, but even then it’s heavily rushed in the film’s third act) and not that many laughs from this script, and while the animation is often stellar to look at (as is the basic requirement of any Pixar movie, even the lesser ones) there isn’t much creativity added to the action scenes that manages to engage the viewer enough to want to see this lead or his bumbling sidekicks complete their mission.
Ironically, it was the short-lived cartoon series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command that felt much more like what an in-universe Buzz Lightyear franchise should be, as it manages to get in a decent amount of humour as well as an actual sense of fun as it explores various different planets with several alien creatures. Lightyear, on the other hand, feels like a Zack Snyder-era DC reboot of that cartoon series, one where most of the fun and enjoyable elements are stripped away and all that’s left is an alarmingly bland and unengaging shell of what this character is supposed to be. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem that the cartoon show is anywhere to be found on Disney+ (as of writing), otherwise I would absolutely recommend checking that out instead of this, especially if you’re looking for something that not only makes a solid argument for Buzz Lightyear’s legitimate appeal amongst children and even adults, but also makes sense as to why this character would then go on to become a must-have action figure in the world of Toy Story.
If you are curious as to what an actual Buzz Lightyear movie would look like, I suppose this is the closest you’ll get to living that reality, but do not expect to be utterly blown away by it as Andy apparently was. It really is one of the year’s biggest disappointments so far, because this should have been an easy movie to make both fun and entertaining, especially with a beloved character who’s become a true favourite amongst audiences over the years; instead, it’s a dull and utterly pointless piece of fan-fiction that got itself a comfortable Hollywood budget, but apparently not enough to actually take the adventures of this character to infinity and beyond.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Lightyear is a disappointingly fun-free attempt to expand the backstory of the famed space ranger from the Toy Story movies, with the title character being underserved by a generic and derivative script that posits him as the least interesting person in his own movie, to a point where it doesn’t make sense why this character would be an in-universe favourite amongst children like Andy, and is neither funny nor entertaining enough to justify its rather pointless existence.