“Star Trek Beyond,” the third film in the rebooted franchise, isn’t a particularly memorable movie by any stretch. In fact, it feels more like an elaborate TV episode than a cinematic event.
But it’s a comfortable film, for the audience and seemingly for the characters, in which the familiar faces don’t go anywhere no man has gone before — boldly or otherwise — but they seem to be having a rousing good time anyway. It’s like hanging out with family on a Saturday afternoon, if the family had to go to the edge of the universe and save humanity — and every other species in the Federation — once in a while.
This time around, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are looking forward to a little R&R at Yorktown, a deep-space Federation outpost where all sorts of sentient creatures great and small can hang out and recharge.
Kirk is contemplating whether he wants to make the move to vice-ddmiral, which no doubt would mean more politicking and fewer chances for dalliances with alien women. Similarly, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also at a crossroads, having broken up with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and wondering what his life path should be.
It’s at Yorktown where director Justin Lin and writers Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung let us see that Sulu (John Cho) is gay as he greets his husband and daughter, a character twist that set the Internet on fire when it became public. (For the record, George Takei, who is gay and played Sulu in the original series, is against this development. He thinks they should have introduced a new gay character and not reverse engineered, so to speak, an old one. Lin and company have said they meant it as a tip of the hat to Takei.)
But there’s not much time for either contemplation or family reunions as there’s an emergency that only the Enterprise, of course, can handle. They have to head back into space to help an ailing ship but the whole thing is just a trap set by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba). He and his minions totally wreck the ship, ripping it from starboard to stern, making for an impressive display of CGI destruction.
Our heroes have to eject, landing on the desolate planet of Altamid, where they meet up with a stranded female alien, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), who is in a similar situation after running afoul of Kraal. Unsurprisingly, they unite to try to take down Kraal.
The specific plot points matter less than the convivial glue that bonds the characters together. They joke and tease — and Spock actually laughs! — and, whatever their origin, everyone comes across as resolutely human. Some of it doesn’t make a lick of sense. What are the chances that anyone’s going to be blasting ’90s-era hip-hop tracks “Fight the Power” from Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on starships two or three centuries from now?
But the special effects are particularly explosive — Lin has directed a couple of the “Fast & Furious” movies, after all — and “Star Trek Beyond” moves at warp speed, so there’s not much time to think about the details.
Yet, for all of that, “Star Trek Beyond” also leaves a slight aftertaste of dissatisfaction. While it’s understandable why Lin wanted to make a more human-scale “Star Trek” without the huge, universe-threatening stakes of so many summer blockbusters, the scope here is frustratingly small.
Kraal, despite the usually strong performance from Elba, is less all-powerful than he at first seems and there’s nothing really jaw-dropping in the entire two hours (though seeing Leonard Nimoy in a photo as well as the last performance from Anton Yelchin, who died in June, does add a sense of sadness and loss).
The overall effect is one of solid contentment rather than electric enthusiasm. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much like the relaxing visitors at Yorktown, everyone needs to catch a break once in a while.
But, next time, let’s reach for the stars.
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba.
Director: Justin Lin.
Screenwriters: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 120 minutes. Sci-fi violence. Playing at area theaters.