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Front Page - Friday, July 29, 2016

‘Star Trek’ beams up fun

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

When Gene Roddenberry created “Star Trek” 50 years ago, he had a grand vision of the future. Not the future of the franchise – he was creating just a television show – but the future in which his series was set. He imagined a time when man had overcome his proclivity for violence and divisiveness and set out to explore the universe. “Look at what we could accomplish if we refocused our efforts as a species,” he was saying. But as creative and far-seeing as Roddenberry was, he couldn’t have foreseen what “Star Trek” has become.

We are in the future Roddenberry likely hoped we’d avoid. But “Star Trek” is still here, reminding us of what we could become. It’s no longer a humble little sci-fi show with clunky sets and cheap costumes, though; it’s a massive franchise that reaches across all forms of media, and has enough fans to populate a large country. Its latest salvo at our wallets is the third installment in the rebooted film series, which follows the original crew of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al, during their five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Titled “Star Trek Beyond,” the third film brazenly goes where the series has gone many times before: An escape pod emerges from a nebula near a new Federation space station, the Yorktown, and the single alien onboard claims her ship and crew are stranded on a planet buried deep within the cloud of dust and gas. Kirk and company are dispatched on a rescue mission, but an unknown enemy ambushes them, and they soon find themselves stranded on the planet’s craggy surface, separated, and trying to find a way off. They must also stop the villain, Krall, from executing a plan to attack Yorktown.

I hesitate to reveal more of the plot because it’s merely the framework on which the film’s real pleasures are hung. “Star Trek Beyond” opens with Kirk struggling to find a purpose, both in the mission of the Enterprise and within himself. The dialog in the early scenes is superb, and grounds the film in its primary characters, much like Kirk’s issues with aging gave resonance to “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.” Also, Spock and McCoy lighten things up with their special brand of repartee, which earns the film more than a few laughs.

Then there’s director Justin Chin’s action scenes, which are spectacular, and top the space battles in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The scene in which Krall’s forces attack the Enterprise is exciting, tense, and beautifully executed, but it doesn’t scale the heights of the climax, in which the Enterprise soars through the interior of Yorktown in pursuit of Krall. Several shots left my jaw hanging.

Then there’s the sense that “Star Trek Beyond” simply feels more like classic “Star Trek” than the films have in decades. Unfortunately, that means it comes with clunky bits, too. The movie’s greatest weakness was “Wrath of Kahn’s” greatest strength – the villain. Krall’s motivations are weak, and the technology that made him who he has become is cheesy. Played by the usually terrific Idris Elba, Krall is no Kahn, and the lack of a good scoundrel sucks some of the energy out of the film.

There are other annoyances, such as how Scotty has complete understanding of complex systems, and is able to come up with a solution to every dilemma at the drop of a hat. I realize that plays into one of the lovable quirks of the original series, but screenwriters Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung stretch it past the point of believability – unless you have no trouble believing Scotty could know the Yorktown’s ventilation system by heart.

These issues aside, “Star Trek Beyond” is one heckuva fun ride, and a great reason to get off the couch and see a movie on a big screen. Ever since Roddenberry created “Star Trek,” the franchise has been passed down from one generation of caretakers to the next, with varying results. Fortunately, the current film series is in capable, loving hands. My only hope is that they take a chance with the next movie, and truly send the Enterprise and its crew where they have never gone before.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence