Review: 'Star Trek: Beyond'

Multicultural crew save the day in latest franchise installment
KIRKING IT: Chris Pine reprises his role as Captain Kirk in 'Star Trek: Beyond.'

Seeing such a reassuring message about plurality seems fitting and timely, especially after last week's atrocity in Cleveland. Among other things, the starship Enterprise is our own leaky American ship as we love to envision her, stuffed with benign, theatrically accented foreigners all pulling together.

"My wee Scottish gran said, 'You can't break a stick in a bundle,'" says Scotty (co-scriptwriter Simon Pegg) in Star Trek: Beyond.

Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is feeling the pull toward traditionalism, which is causing a rift with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). He's wondering if he hadn't better get back to New Vulcan and help raise some logical kids. Spock is counselled, sort of, by the peremptory Dr. McCoy, aka "Bones" (Karl Urban).

Urban has his own funny accent, in the form of frontier humor. After a particularly bad transporter trip, he quips: "I feel like my innards have been to a barn dance." Search through memories of this movie—a chaos of crashing spaceships, rough landings and rougher launches—and it seems that all the good lines belong to Urban.

DeForest Kelley, who played Bones back in the '60s and '70s, was no slouch as an actor. But when you watch him on reruns, belaboring Leonard Nimoy with insults, there's an ugly bit of racism to it. Urban is just as furious, but he's more of a miffed rooster; with Quinto being soft and slow on the uptake, he's oblivious to Bones' stings. They're a smooth comedy team.

Star Trek: Beyond comes out of the gate funny, like one of Keith Laumer's "Retief" stories: Kirk (Chris Pine), a one-man diplomatic delegation, tries to return an unwanted cultural artifact to a planet of angry gargoyles. It's the 966th day in deep space, and "things have seemed a little episodic," Kirk tells his log. When they pull into Starbase Yorktown, there's an emergency to deal with: a ship's captain seeks rescue for her trapped crew members. She has crash-landed on an uncharted planet behind a formidable belt of asteroids.

All the wisdom of Starfleet Command is present—Shohreh Aghdashloo is particularly good as a wise commodore. Too bad Star Wars' Admiral Ackbar wasn't there to warn Kirk. His great starship is ripped to pieces by an enormous fleet of spiky fighter pods; the Enterprisers are shipwrecked on a rocky planet, and Spock himself is badly injured. Help arrives from a mighty space woman named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). With black terrapin stripes on her clown-white face, she looks like '60s star Ursula Andress done up by H. R. Giger. The lord of the planet is a two-legged iguana called Krall (Idris Elba). He's a minor Star Trek villain, but Elba fills him out as an asthmatic heavy breather, who can growl the Rs in the name "Kirrrrrrrrrrk.

Justin Lin, of the Fast and the Furious series, brings in collisions and physics-defying fights in 3-D space. He also weaponizes items of late 20th century coolness, like the Beastie Boys' music and motorcycles. Gravity goes wild in the final fight, in front of a rotating and revolving camera. Earlier, in one memorable shot, the Enterprise is warping space, looking like those high speed pictures of a bullet going through water.

The last film was titled Into Darkness, and it's clear the producers wanted out of that darkness. The characters here are nothing if not proactive, but they have the personality of flying sports cars.

The Trek series is now like any other superhero series, with a wobbly range between the realistic and the ridiculous. The movie is sworn to fun. And it delivers amusement, with the long-legged Jaylah pouring herself all over the captain's chair, or with the last-minute transformer snatches. The multi-culti aspect has never been stronger—Sulu (John Kim) never seemed as much his own man before, ready to assume the ship's wheel.

Strange then that the most emotional moment is the new Spock, contemplating a relic of the Old Spock—a photo of a group of portly men and one woman, in polyester and turtlenecks. That picture is something that this movie isn't, in one word: touching.

Star Trek: Beyond
PG-13; 122 Mins.

Find Movie Theaters & Showtimes

Zip Code or City:   Radius: Theaters: