Movie review: Routine ‘Star Trek Beyond’ battles the blahs
Complacency and fatigue has set in aboard the Starship Enterprise, which is both the plot of and the problem with “Star Trek Beyond.”
“Beyond” is the third film in the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise, which launched in 2009 and continued with 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness.” The dust has settled, the excitement of this shiny new enterprise has worn off and now is the time when casual fans who were into the idea of a fresh “Star Trek” begin dropping out and ceding the series back to the Trekkies. “Star Trek” is now the popular Christmas toy that has been cast aside while the kids play “Pokémon Go.”
To their credit, the filmmakers understand this, and “Star Trek Beyond” opens with a voiceover by Captain James T. Kirk (a wonderful Chris Pine) that acknowledges as much. It’s the ship’s 966th day in space, the third year of a five-year mission, and it’s all beginning to feel a bit monotonous. Where are we going? What’s our goal? Kirk is talking about the crew onboard the ship, but he might as well be talking about the “Star Trek” franchise.
So where do we go from here? Sadly for “Beyond,” nowhere to break the film out of its third-chapter rut.
While beaming through the stars, the ship runs into some space interference and crash lands on a mysterious planet, splitting the gang into small groups. Kirk is with Chekov (sweet, sweet Anton Yelchin, who died last month and to whom the film is dedicated, along with the late Leonard Nimoy); Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are together in another corner of the planet; Scotty (Simon Pegg, who wrote the script, along with Doug Jung) is off with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien who is helping the group find their way to safety; and Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is captured by Krall (Idris Elba, hidden under deep layers of alien makeup), the alien military commander who’s looking to take down the Enterprise crew.
As a rescue plan is hatched, at one point the Enterprise crew learns they can defeat their foes by blasting their ships with ’90s alt-rock jams. The ensuing embarrassment echoes throughout the solar system.
Director J.J. Abrams, who revived the “Star Trek” franchise and brought the series vibrant new life, has taken his lens flares with him and departed into another galaxy far, far away. He’s handed the keys to the kingdom to Justin Lin, whose “Fast Five” was the zippiest entry in the street racing series, but Lin’s flashy sense of stylized grit is lost in a sea of sci-fi noise as “Beyond” becomes a monotonous blur of space babble and battles.
Still, there are human moments that elevate the film and give it a soul.
Pine makes a fascinating Captain Kirk, turning in the kind of nuanced work that rarely gets recognized in blockbuster filmmaking. Kirk has now outlived his father by one year, and he is constantly wrestling with ghosts, his own mortality and his sense of purpose, all of which he expresses through anguished looks that rest just beneath his cocky veneer.
Elba is a suitable villain, but is largely lost underneath his layers of makeup. When his face is finally seen late in the film, it’s his first appearance on screen in what has already been a $1 billion-plus year at the box office for the actor (he was a voice in “The Jungle Book,” “Zootopia” and “Finding Dory” — not a bad year).
Mostly, “Star Trek Beyond” keeps the franchise afloat even as tedium has set in.
“Fear of death is illogical,” Spock tells Bones at one point, to which Bones replies, “fear of death is what keeps us alive.”
It seems to be the thing that’s keeping the “Star Trek” series alive, too. Keep moving forward, if only out of a sense of duty.
‘Star Trek Beyond’
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Running time: 122 minutes