Fifty years after the network-television debut of "Star Trek" comes "Star Trek Beyond," unlucky No. 13 for "Trek" at the movies. 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, J.J. 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. In-a-rut Kirk early on complains of space life having become "a little episodic" (wink, wink), although in some ways that's the movie's strength, extending the franchise by another reasonably entertaining, if disspiritingly disposable, "episode" and one that's just slightly more evocative of the Star Trek roots than Abrams' pseudo-"Star Wars" entries.
The "Enterprise" crew, suffering from mission fatigue, happily checks 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, 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.
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), 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.
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 (Elba's villain proves particularly generic and unworthy of the thespian beneath the layers of rubber), 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 empty headed 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 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.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Two hours, 2 minutes