Halfhearted "Star Trek Beyond" Shorts Its Talented Cast

“Star Trek Beyond” is a good title for a Star Trek movie, suggestive of far out space adventures past the understanding of even Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his Starfleet crew; of unexplored planets, exotic creatures, and rollicking action sequences. It’s a moniker in line with the tackiness of 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” but less glum and more intriguing, hinting at otherworldly thrills instead of closed-off, ill-conceived nods at the series’ past. Alas, there’s a movie attached to the name, one that’s roughly as adventurous as a stop at a theme park information center.

“Fast & Furious” filmmaker Justin Lin takes the reigns from J.J. Abrams (who maintained producing duties from a galaxy far, far away), and the hand-off is at first a smooth one. “Beyond” does all of its character work early on, positioning Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as each privately pondering retirement from the U.S.S. Enterprise. With Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, who died tragically last month) in tow, Kirk and Spock are off on what could be their final adventure together. So far, so good.

The cast is appealing as ever, their quippy interplay having lost nary a step, their characters shot off on a rescue mission that will inevitably call on each of their given skill sets. But the group is soon torn apart, ambushed by a malevolent alien commander named Krall (an unrecognizable Idris Elba); some are kidnapped, some are left for dead. It’s here that the screenplay (co-written by Pegg and Doug Jung) and its early invocations of words like “episodic” and “doodad” turn from knowing references to criticisms of blockbusters past into blaring alarm bells, signaling all of the same old failings coming in hot.

The remainder of “Beyond” is a series of loosely strung together action sequences – only one of them, a mountainside starship takeoff, truly rousing – criss-crossing between characters without any sense of pacing or purpose. There’s no meaningful connection to the past two films, making it a wonder that the cast stayed intact.

A cordoned-off Trek movie in homage to Gene Roddenbery’s classic television series isn’t a fundamentally bad idea, but in a time where consumers practically demand serialized stories, it comes off terribly. That every last main character ends the movie only steps removed from where he or she began does little to relieve this glaze of warmed-over storytelling, and the only new character of any substance, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), feels tacked on to a tale that doesn’t require her.

“Into Darkness” may have made one too many lunges at the most casual of moviegoers, but it periodically worked. In “Beyond,” the pandering has hung around, instead aimed exclusively at Trekkies (see: Spock looking longingly at a picture of the late Leonard Nimoy). This means that fans with deep attachment to the characters should make it through just fine, but everyone else will find himself or herself in the midst of just another loud, underwritten summer snoozer – one that’s more interested in continuing a franchise than expanding one, coasting on fumes of glories past.

The music is every bit as lackluster. Composer Michael Giacchino delivers an uncharacteristically impersonal score, leaning hard on the series’ musical history (most notably his own music for “Star Trek” 2009) and giving “Beyond” few flourishes of its own. The score’s most memorable moments are its references to Alexander Courage’s original Trek TV theme.

More clunky still is the eye-rolling use of Beastie Boys’ otherwise evergreen “Sabotage,” a pointless reference to Abrams’ 2009 film. Rihanna nearly swoops in and saves the day with a killer end title track (“Sledgehammer”) co-written by Sia Furler, but it’s too little, too late. Things have already wrapped up with a dopey climactic fistfight, further evidencing that no one at Paramount or Bad Robot paid mind to the valid criticisms of their last go-round.

“Star Trek Beyond” compounds the insularity of “Into Darkness” and subtracts the drama – however contrived that drama might have been – ending up the dullest summer action bonanza since… well, since last month’s “The Legend Of Tarzan.” Far from a bad movie but parsecs from being a great one, “Beyond” plays like its creative team was paralyzed by Abrams’ departure, terrified of laying an egg. Instead, they’ve made a bore. It’ll scratch an itch for die-hards but virtually no one else, ensuring that Abrams’ exceptional 2009 film remains the 21st century’s preeminent “what if?” in franchise-building.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Mediocre)

Release Date: July 22, 2016
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Justin Lin
Screenwriter: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence)