In principle, it’s hard to dislike “Star Trek.” Each time the crew of the USS Enterprise venture into the great beyond, broadcasting their mantra of peace and intergalactic harmony, it’s a riposte to the iffy politics advocated by other movie franchises: they’re the United Nations to Marvel and DC’s quasi-fascist Ubermensch.
Times have changed since Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi saga first debuted in the 1960s. In this latest incarnation, which began with J.J. Abrams’ energetic reboot in 2009, the morality lessons of old have been sidelined in favor of relentless action, and it’s less clear if the crew are still setting their phasers to stun.
In “Star Trek Beyond,” Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his comrades are confronted with a foe who violently rejects the United Federation of Planets and its all-embracing humanism. Alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba, lost beneath heavy prosthetic makeup and a thick accent) espouses a doctrine more in line with the Spartan soldiers of “300.”
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||122 mins|
“Struggle made us strong — not peace, not unity,” he declares. “These are myths the Federation would have you believe.”
It’s an awfully philosophical position for a villain to have, so it’s a shame that “Star Trek Beyond” ends up saying so little about it. When Krall is later revealed to have a more personal — and more plausible — motivation for his actions, it effectively absolves the film from answering the quandary he posed. (There’s no room for subversion in a blockbuster tailored for global audiences, especially one that boasts such significant Chinese financing.)
Still, if it’s innocuous popcorn fodder you want, “Star Trek Beyond” is perfectly serviceable. “Fast and Furious” series veteran Justin Lin takes over from Abrams as director, and co-star Simon Pegg — who proved his “Trekkie” fanboy credentials in cult British TV series “Spaced” — finally gets a screenwriting credit, something that should have happened far sooner.
During the brief moments when characters are allowed to have a proper conversation, the dialogue is spry and witty. Compared to the fatuous plotlines that so infuriated fans in the previous two Abrams-directed installments, perhaps the most implausible contrivance this time around is a trivial one: the idea that Kirk would have a working knowledge of 1990s hip-hop.
At the start of the film, Kirk is experiencing a pre-midlife crisis during a lengthy deep-space mission and craving “respite from the mysteries of the unknown.” He gets more than that when the Enterprise attempts to rescue a stricken spaceship, only to come under attack from Krall’s forces, an armada of tiny ships that move like a swarm of locusts.
The Enterprise is systematically dismantled, sending its saucer-shaped front portion crashing onto the surface of an uncharted planet like an enormous Frisbee. (If the sequence feels familiar, that probably means that you saw 1996’s “Star Trek Generations,” for which I can only offer my condolences.) With most of the crew captured by Krall, it’s left to a few members of the officer class to save the day, helped by Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a spunky fighter with an unlikely affection for Public Enemy.
The most touching moment — and the only scene that’s likely to confuse viewers who didn’t watch the 2009 film — is when Spock (Zachary Quinto) mourns the demise of his older, parallel-universe self (Leonard Nimoy). He’s really shedding tears for Nimoy, who died last year, and as tributes go it’s surprisingly affecting.
So, too, is the dedication “To Anton” in the final credits. Anton Yelchin’s death in a freak car accident in June, at the age of 27, casts a melancholy pall over the movie. As Pavel Chekov, the cherubic actor doesn’t have a whole lot to do in “Star Trek Beyond,” but it’s sad to think that any future Enterprise voyages will have to be conducted without him.
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