Star Trek Beyond

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* * 1/2

The new Star Trek picture not so boldly goes where the franchise has gone, several times, before. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because director Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond is one great looking movie that manages to be sometimes fun, even as star Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s screenplay stays in comfortable, fan-friendly territory.

The involving set-up finds weary Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) on the verge of resigning from his duties as Enterprise commander, Spock (Zachary Quinto) taking a breather from his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Bones (Karl Urban, wryly comic) observing the fissures.

The crew lands on a spectacularly designed colony to recharge before a distress message finds them embarking on an unexpected mission to rescue what they believe to be a missing ship and crew.

What they find is, not surprisingly, an ambush, and in the film’s best sequence the Enterprise, breached and disintegrating, crash lands on planet Altamid. So far, so very safe and formula, but there is something to be said about beloved characters in well-conceived, familiar situations, and our affection for the Enterprise crew goes a long way to bolster this movie.

Altamid is ruled by a large-looming baddie named Krall (Idris Elba, layers of make-up), a garden-variety villain bent on galactic ruin and responsible for the enslavement of alien Jaylah’s (Sofia Boutella) family. The strikingly made-up Jaylah is a fierce fighter and becomes an ally to Captain Kirk as the crew reunite and attempt to liberate its people and beam up from the jagged planet.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is a mixed bag, with a strong opening and closing, but a center section, including most of the scenes on Altamid, that aren’t novel, new or transporting in any sense, and to my eye felt like something from ScyFy.

But the climactic mano-a-mano between Pine and Elba high above the floating colony is great fun, reminding us that it doesn’t take a cadre of wiseacre superheroes to create summer movie thrills.

Admittedly, Star Trek Beyond doesn’t have the depth or substance of 2013’s more contemplative and appropriately titled Star Trek Into Darkness, but as a light summer entertainment, it does the job.

The presence of recently deceased Anton Yelchin as Chekov adds melancholy to this otherwise light affair, and the much talked about sexual orientation of John Cho’s Sulu is handled with a delicate touch early in the picture.

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