Lightyear Synopsis: Legendary space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) embarks on an intergalactic adventure alongside ambitious recruits Izzy (Keke Palmer), Mo (Taika Waititi), Darby (Dale Soules), and his robot companion, Sox (Peter Sohn).
Leaving his Toy Story days behind him, Buzz Lightyear takes center stage as a valiant galactic ranger in Pixar’s latest, Lightyear. It’s been a disappointing time for Pixar fans, as the vibrant appeals of Soul, Luca, and Turning Red never saw the light of day in theaters. In their place, Lightyear soars onto the big screen as the studio’s latest frontier in continuing well-established franchises. Unfortunately, Pixar’s sequel and spin-off legacy is a bit of a mixed bag. The titles range from inspired continuations (Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 2) to downright bizarre cash grabs (Cars 2 holds the mantle there).
I did possess some hope heading into Lightyear. Seeing the affably sincere toy in death-defying outer-space missions is a fruitful concept for big-screen exploration. Previously, the intro of Toy Story 2 and the underrated Buzz Lightyear Star Command TV series mined some fun from their serialized approaches to the character’s lore.
With Lightyear, Pixar struggles to take flight. The studio’s precise eye for affectionate narratives and ambitious thematic explorations feel noticeable absent. Instead, they chart a predictable odyssey into sci-fi adventure mechanics – an uncharacteristically voiceless endeavor that never reaches the character’s star-studded aspirations.
Even a flop for Pixar is better than most middling family entries. The studio discovers some sparks of creative juice along the way, enacting a few grand-scale setpieces by conveying Saturday morning cartoon’s playful energy on a big-budget scale. I also see some potential in Pixar’s exploration of the character. Viewing Buzz as a prisoner of his workaholic dedication and rigid machismo coding offers an emotionally relevant prism into the service mentality.
Stuck in a state of galactic hyperspeed, Lightyear never exhibits much interest in exploring that concept – or really any element of its universe. Jason Headley and writer/director Angus MacLane collaborate on a barebones and painfully weightless screenplay. Seldom attempts at world-building and a breakneck sense of pace briskly traverse viewers along without developing a reason for investment. The lack of textured plotting shines a glaring spotlight on the generic plotting mechanics on display here. Neither writer defines a reason for audiences to invest in Lightyear and its familiar central protagonist.
Aside from one or two brief scenes, Lightyear himself remains an earnest yet uninteresting soldier who rarely receives time to breathe onscreen. His insular struggles and relationships with a new generation of galactic recruits come to life in the most slapdash and standard-issue manner imaginable (a third-act twist brings the thematic ideals to an awkwardly literal place). Star Chris Evans also receives few opportunities to define the character as his own. Evans’ rigid “yes sir” cadence serves as Buzz’s only defining personality quirk, while the film’s forgettable supporting cast shrinks inside underwhelming sidekick roles.
Lightyear remains in a constant state of confusion about its vision. The film paints itself as the movie that inspired Toy Story protagonist Andy to purchase Buzz, but the film introduces shaky attempts at redrawing the character’s origins. Most new infusions often clash inside a screenplay that is never afraid to dredge in the spin-off trend of flat nostalgic callbacks. The lack of coherent identity creates a space adventure that gets lost amidst attempts at a new big-screen franchise.
Following an underwhelming weekend at the box office, it doesn’t surprise me that Lightyear stagnated with viewers. Pixar’s competence is displayed throughout, although their work here remains without the distinctive strengths and emotional magic that make the studio a beloved staple. The end product is a handsomely crafted yet hollow mission to infinity and beyond for its titular galactic space ranger.