Star Trek Beyond (2016) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Not Beyond Yet

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“Star Trek Beyond” seems to be ready to go boldly where no previous Star Trek movie has gone before, but, again, it turns out to be still trying to warm up its renewed franchise before whatever will follow after this. While “Star Trek” (2009) found considerable potentials in its mostly successful reboot attempt, “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) played safe with the established ground of the franchise without much surprise or wonder, and the same thing can be said about “Star Trek Beyond”, which provides some entertaining moments to enjoy but is basically a passable entry which fails to distinguish itself from other notable Star Trek movies while merely being as big, loud, and explosive as many other summer blockbuster movies.

It is now 3 years after the major incidents in “Star Trek Into Darkness”, and the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) and its crew have been going through its five-year space mission. After an unsuccessful diplomatic business at some alien planet, the Enterprise flies to a space station named Yorktown for a brief shore leave, and this massive space station is a wonderful visual pleasure to look around. As the Enterprise goes inside the station, we behold the giant inner frame structure inside its transparent sphere, and we see several amusing sights of roads and buildings being placed horizontally or vertically along the frame.

Meanwhile, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), the captain of the Enterprise, has been restless and uncertain about his life as finding himself beginning to live longer than his dead father. When he receives the news of his possible upcoming promotion, he is surely glad about this good news, but that means he will probably have to leave behind his ship and his key crewmates who have been not only dependable colleagues but also dear close friends.

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In case of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), he also has his own personal matters to deal with. He receives the sad news about the recent death of his older self who came from an alternative timeline, and he tries to process this news logically as a Vulcan although his human side is deeply mournful about it. In addition, he recently broke up with his girlfriend Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), but it is apparent to Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) that Spock and Uhura have some remaining feelings between them, though Spock flatly emphasizes that he and Uhura are officially no longer a couple.

And then, of course, there comes a new threat on the horizon. During the impromptu rescue mission to a planet located somewhere inside a nearby nebular, the Enterprise is suddenly ambushed by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien villain who is about to execute his evil plan he has nurtured on the planet for many years. It turns out that he wants something stored inside the Enterprise, so he and his drone minions mercilessly attack the ship, which eventually crashes down to the planet in a way reminiscent of the similar scene in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” (1984).

Uhura, Sulu (John Cho), and many other surviving crewmates are captured and then imprisoned by Krall, but Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who died shortly before the release of the movie in US) manage to evade the capture, and so do their three colleagues. Although he is seriously wounded, Spock remains calm and logical as usual while helped by Dr. McCoy, and the movie has a little fun with the pointed exchanges between them as they try to locate others. While he happens to wander alone by himself, Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg, who also wrote the screenplay with Doug Jung) comes across an unexpected help from Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a native alien girl who impresses Scotty a lot with her combat skill as well as her private technical project.

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As all these plot threads eventually converge on a certain point as expected, the director Justin Lin, who previously directed no less than four Fast and Furious movies before moving onto the universe of Star Trek, keeps things rolling besides serving us a number of big CGI action sequences, but I often felt distant from all those noises and explosions as these action sequences were being busily presented with a very little sense of direction and movement. There are a few inspired things including the use of a song by Beastie Boys during the climax sequence, and I smiled as another recognizable classic song from the 20th Century was used in the other certain scene, but they were not enough for me to be involved in its weak plot decorated with many narrative holes and nonsenses.

The main cast members are reliable as they were in the previous two films. Chris Pine presents a more matured and introspective side of his character while maintaining that brash, confident attitude observed from William Shatner’s version, and Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin also show more ease and deftness with their respective roles. While Sofia Boutella imbues some spunkiness into her character despite her heavy make-up, Idris Elba is regrettably wasted as being stuck inside his nearly unrecognizable appearance. As a matter of fact, there is not much Elba can act except wielding his distinctive bass voice, and that takes me back to his wonderful recent voice performances in “Zootopia” (2016), “The Jungle Book” (2016), and “Finding Dory” (2016).

I was not bored while watching “Star Trek Beyond”, but then I began to miss again better Star Trek movies such as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) or “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986). They have a lot more drama, humor, and intelligence to engage and intrigue me, and they are certainly fun and exciting enough for watching them again. At the end of “Star Trek Beyond”, we are reminded again that the franchise is ready for going boldly beyond its familiar territory, but, boy, when will that really happen?

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