Whipping by at warp speed, the latest film in Paramount’s galactic adventure series “Star Trek Beyond” is thrilling yet familiar, and sometimes even ridiculous. At times, much of its expertly orchestrated action begins to drown itself out in a relentless, empty calorie gorge of running and jumping, phaser blasts and preposterous, last-minute technological salves. Yet the third film in this rebooted franchise is an undeniably effective piece of pleasurable escapism. And while “Star Trek Beyond” has little to say that hasn’t been said repeatedly since the franchise’s 1966 genesis — themes of solidarity, hope and the strength of confederacy abound— and is otherwise narratively thin, it should deeply engage multiplex audiences.
“Star Trek Beyond” begins on an uncharacteristically (for the new series, anyway) measured but refreshing beat indicating inertia and soul seeking. The crew of the Enterprise are three years into a five year mission, and the monotony of it all has numbed the crew, especially the adventure-craving James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) who is left emotionally “lost” without a true purpose; it’s a sentiment you’ll hear ad nauseum throughout the film (spoiler: he finds himself in the end).
Plot wise, ‘Beyond’ sticks to conventional schema; what should be a routine mission into an uncharted nebula finds the Enterprise blindsided and then besieged by an all-powerful swarm of alien bee ships (you read that right) hellbent on the vessel’s destruction. In this violent and visually sensational sequence —spectacularly-crafted by new series director Justin Lin to deliver a fast and furious overdrive of visceral conflict and collateral damage— the ship is all but obliterated, and the survivors take refuge on a nearby planet. From there, ‘Beyond’ pits the resourcefulness and elbow grease of the Enterprise crew against the monstrous alien Krall (Idris Elba) who is steadfast in his desire to demolish the Star Fleet, the United Federation of Planets and all both stand for.
“Star Trek Beyond” sometimes functions as if the sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the black sheep of the series, never happened, as there’s much connective tissue to the first film of the reboot and almost none to the second. In this film, Kirk suddenly has the same daddy issues that were part of the 2009 picture and there’s similar music references (The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”).
Former series director J.J. Abrams once said (to the chagrin of longtime fans) that he decided to treat “Star Trek” as a “Star Wars” film because it’s the faster, more compelling milieu he understood better. So adventure, pseudo-science and overt Kennedy-era sermonizing took a backseat to kinetic warfare. Co-written by hardcore fans Simon Pegg and Doug June, the ‘Beyond’ script endeavors to course correct the over-rotation toward combat back to thoughtfulness, humorous character interplay and capturing some of that Gene Roddenberry spirit. ‘Beyond’ succeeds in this regard, albeit in the minimum allowed moments. But lets face it; for the most part, this is a pulse-pounding space opera.
Thematically, “Star Trek Beyond” is on a repeat loop regarding unity, sacrifice and the needs of the many outweighing those of the few. These themes are inseparable from classic “Star Trek,” but you’d be sloshed if you played a drinking game wherein a shot is taken every time a character brings up strength in numbers, togetherness or a lack thereof.
As per usual, this film’s villain, Krall, is a weak retread, featuring the umpteenth loathing-of-Star-Fleet motivation that appears in nearly every episode or installment of the franchise. Krall has ultimate annihilation of Star Fleet and humanity on his mind, and the why of it all is fairly typical and seemingly similar to Khan’s (Benedict Cummerbatch) motivation in ‘Star Trek Into Darkness.”
Given that problem solving is a hallmark of the ’Trek’ franchise, the ingenuity shown is another throwback. But technobabble is not in short supply and provides an abstruse solution to every problem that appears every five minutes: there’s the gravitational slipstream, the teleporter hack, and the whatsit plugged into the whatchamacallit that conveniently bails out the crew over and over again.
Curiously enough, little of this matters. Despite these myriad deficiencies —we haven’t even talked about the film’s corny use of contemporary hip-hop— ‘Beyond’ still manages to be diverting. Lin directions delivers with tension, visually arresting momentum and cathartic escape. And while the sequences of upending action can be overstuffed, the movie sounds enough classic, pensive, Roddenberry-approved notes to appease the hardcore fans but which will not put contemporary audiences to sleep.
Sometimes silly, outlandish, and sentimental in its fan service-y callbacks, “Star Trek Beyond” and its sense of entertaining urgency often trumps its insubstantial qualities, as illogical as that may be. Inarguably enjoyable, albeit disposable, the picture is a bucket of summer popcorn that should satisfy the blockbuster aficionado who simply wants to be dazzled at the movies. [B]