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Star Trek Beyond

(2016) ** 1/2 Pg-13
120 min. Paramount. Director: Justin Lin. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shea Whigham, Deep Roy, Greg Grunberg, Lydia Wilson.

/content/films/4940/1.jpgSpace: the final frontier. Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry launched the Star Trek franchise—and its U.S.S. Enterprise crew—into largely uncharted territory as a weekly science-fiction series, on network television, with weighty themes on its mind. But as Douglas Adams once wrote, "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is." And big is what Star Trek had to become to survive on the big screen, beginning with 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and running through a few crews of actors to arrive at the new Star Trek Beyond, unlucky number thirteen for Trek at the movies.

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. That's still true, although the J.J. Abrams reboot handed the baton to a new crew of actors as the beloved original characters. In Star Trek Beyond, the Magnificent Space-Seven ride again: space-cowboy Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), emotionally repressed Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), irritable Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), fumblingly resourceful Lieutenant Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg, who co-writes this entry with Doug Jung), all-heart Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), hot-dogging pilot Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), and whimsical Ensign Pavel Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin).

Though still a producer, Abrams handed the directing reins to Justin Lin (helmer of four of the Fast and Furious films) in what turns out to be a nearly seamless stylistic transition. The rebooted Trek remains blindingly colorful and dizzingly dazzling eye and ear candy: floating camera and cockeyed angles promise reliable kineticism even in scenes of relative repose, aural grandeur provided by composer Michael Giacchino, power-pop by Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and—over the credits—that noted Trekker Rihanna. Perhaps the four most important people billed in the credits, however, are the four editors credited with helping the audience follow the action and, heaven help us, the plot.

Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds... Three years in, the crew suffers from mission fatigue, happily checking in to Federation Starbase Yorktown to enjoy a bit of R&R (and in the case of Sulu, some family time with his husband and daughter). But duty calls all too soon, as the Enterprise redeploys to aid a distraught captain, Kalara (Lydia Wilson), in recovering her lost ship and crew. In the film's most spectacular action sequence (one that rhymes this crew's "Star Trek 3" with the original crew's Star Trek III), Kirk's ambushed crew gets stranded, mostly two by two, on a hostile planet. There, a rage-filled humanoid named Krall (Idris Elba) tenaciously seeks an artifact transported by the Enterprise and promises to put the hurt on Kirk. seek out new life and new civilizations... In a sense, then, this 50th-anniversary adventure does inch closer to the original brief. While trying to save the Enterprise crew from Krall, our heroes do a bit of exploring on a strange new world, meet a go-getting alien named Jaylah (a pleasingly sharp turn by Sofia Boutella of Kingsman: The Secret Service), and face a, well, uncivilized threat from Krall and his army of drones. "This is where the frontier pushes back," Krall hisses, and it may well push all the way back to the Yorktown and its "millions of souls" if Kirk and company can't save the day. boldly go where no one has gone before. About that... Uncharted territory is hard to come by these days, and Elba's villain proves particularly generic and unworthy of the thespian beneath the layers of rubber. In-a-rut Kirk early on complains of space life having become "a little episodic" (wink, wink), although in some ways that's Star Trek Beyond's strength, extending the franchise by another reasonably entertaining, if disspiritingly disposable, "episode" and one that's just slightly more evocative of Trek's '60s roots than Abrams' pseudo-Star Wars entries.

Unfortunately, one can feel the attempt collapsing under the weight of overcrowding, and being left behind by relentless pacing. Beyond suffers from plotting that feels globally impersonal, and the attempt to fix the problem via reshoots (identifiable as the scenes with late-addition cast member Shohreh Aghdashloo) pushes Kirk out of character and into emotional dimwittedness. Even though previous entry Star Trek Into Darkness devolved into screamingly stupid plot points, Abrams' War-on-Terror action ride wasn't quite as emptyheaded a sprint as Lin's, a basically themeless adventure save the no-brainer message that a good crew works together.

What works (marginally) in this instantly forgettable entry: a few diverting character moments for the crew, Pegg and Jung's cosmetic sprinkling of fan-serving fairy dust onto the movie here and there (speaking for myself, I enjoyed the reference to a "giant green space hand") and, when it's not insultingly dumb (Kirk getting Fast and Furious with a vehicle that simply shouldn't be there) or visually disorienting, the action, action, action.

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