Star Trek Beyond ✮1/2
By Glenn Lovell
A great deal of strum und drang and sub-par digital effects signify very little in “Star Trek Beyond,” which has to be the most inane episode in the franchise since “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” where Kirk, Spock and Bones bonded over a campfire, harmonizing (badly) on “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
This mostly frenetic “new” installment — little more than a succession of cliffhanger escapes stage-managed by Mr. Fast & Furious, Justin Lin — may also rank as the series’ most cynical: it takes a thimble’s worth of plot and stretches it to just over two hours, turning what used to be fun extras (running jokes, heartfelt cameos, nostalgic asides) into ends in themselves.
As for character development and rich allegorical subtext — the series’ distinctive assets when creator Gene Roddenberry was at the helm — they’re MIA. Nowhere to be found.
So what we’ve got here is the cinematic equivalent of a dark star collapsing in on itself.
Three years into its five year mission, Old Faithful, the USS Enterprise, continues to comb the outer reaches of the galaxy, to go boldly where no man has gone, i.e. to ferret out truculent alien life forms. Though about to be kicked upstairs and made vice admiral, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is struggling with an acute case of mid-career blues. “What are we trying to accomplish?” he asks, staring off into (where else?) space.
Kirk’s “final mission” involves another plunge into a roiling nebula to intercept an escape pod, this time from the rogue planet Altoid — rather, Altamid. What do you bet it’s an elaborate trap masterminded by someone like Khan with a grudge against the Federation? This time Kirk, et al. feel the wrath of Krall, played by the very busy Idris Elba under a Lucifer/reptilian mask on loan from either “X-Files” or “Jeepers Creeper.”
During the resultant melee, the Enterprise is torn apart, peppering crew members over the surface of the planet. For the next 40 minutes or so Lin follows three parties of survivors (Spock and McCoy, Kirk and Chekov, etc.) through assorted crises. We know they’re going to eventually come together, but getting there is beyond laborious.
Besides Pine, this unlucky 13th reunion features Zachery Quinto as a more reasonable Spock, Karl Urban as a less phlegmatic McCoy, Zoe Saldana as a more involved Uhura, and Simon Pegg as a slightly less apoplectic Scotty. Pegg also co-scripted. Which may explain why he has the funniest bits. John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin return as Sulu and Chekov.
French-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman”) joins the cast as a fugitive from Krall’s evil reign who throws in with the survivors. A master swordsman, Boutella sports the most distinctive makeup since Arnie’s war paint in the original “Conan the Barbarian.”
The big knock-down, drag-out between Kirk and Krall takes place at Starbase Yorktown. This climactic battle, which begins with enemy drones that have all the heft of swarming gnats, is so stultifyingly predictable it feels like it’s unfolding in slow motion.
“Star Trek Beyond”? Yeah, sure — beyond boring. Let this be a lesson to producer J.J. Abrams and the folks at Paramount responsible for this place-holder installment: wait until you have new terrain to plow, something to say, before you summon Kirk, Spock and the gang from dry dock.
STAR TREK BEYOND ✮1/2 With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin. Directed by Justin Lin; scripted by Simon Pegg, Doug Jung. 122 min. PG-13 (for monotonous nonstop space violence)