Star Trek Beyond keeps utopian vision of Gene Roddenberry alive
Script-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung stoke the comedic ante with a slew of wry one-liners but Star Trek Beyond's contrived plot and thin characterisation means the film never really takes off, writes Damon Smith
DEDICATED to Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak accident in June, and Leonard Nimoy, the third instalment of the rebooted Star Trek is a familiar conflation of past and future present that fails to set its phasers to stun.
JJ Abrams vacated the director's chair to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so Justin Lin, who helmed four turbo-charged entries of The Fast And The Furious franchise, steps into the fray.
He orchestrates action set pieces with confidence although some of the interstellar skirmishes are reduced to a dizzying blur by gyroscopic camerawork and overly enthusiastic editing. In 3D and IMAX, the giddy whirl will be even more disorienting.
Script-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung stoke the comedic ante with a slew of wry one-liners and they complement one outlandish set piece with a deafening blast of the Beastie Boys' 1994 hip hop anthem, Sabotage.
"Is that classical music?" quips chief medical officer Dr Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) over the cacophony.
Refreshingly, Sulu's sexuality is addressed without politically correct fanfare, propelling the adventures of Kirk and his embattled crew into a 21st century, which believes that strength comes from cultural unity.
The crew of the Enterprise are three years into their five-year mission to boldly go where the cult 1960s TV show went before, without the benefit of state-of-the-art digital effects.
Captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) is considering relinquishing the bridge because "things have started to feel a little... episodic".
He keeps his plans secret from the rest of the crew including human-Vulcan science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), navigator Pavel Chekov (Yelchin), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) and helmsman Sulu (John Cho).
During a visit to a Federation starbase under the control of Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo), an alien called Kalara (Lydia Wilson) issues a distress call to help recover her ship, which has crash-landed on a planet in a distant nebula.
Kirk and the team respond and subsequently come under attack from an otherworldly despot called Krall (Idris Elba) and his swarming drones.
While the Enterprise crew forges an alliance with feisty alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), Kirk holds firm to his moral compass, defiantly informing Krall that it's "better to die saving lives than to live taking them".
Star Trek Beyond dodges the curse of misfiring odd-numbered films in the series, but the flaws are obvious.
Pine, Quinto and co are solid in roles that lack dramatic meat and don't progress the characters over two hours, and a flimsy, contrived plot resolves potential conflict with minimum blood, sweat and tears.
Throughout, the script affirms the need for the multi-species crew to stick together in times of adversity.
At least the utopian vision of original series creator Gene Roddenberry is in rude health.
STAR TREK BEYOND (12A, 122 mins) Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller/Romance. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Lydia Wilson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Deep Roy. Director: Justin Lin
RATING: THREE STARS