By Richard von Busack
Among other things, the Enterprise is our own leaky American ship as we love to envision her, stuffed with benign, theatrically accented foreigners all pulling together. “My wee Scottish gran said, ‘You can’t break a stick in a bundle,’” says Scotty (co-scriptwriter Simon Pegg) in Star Trek Beyond.
Star Trek Beyond comes out of the gate funny, like one of Keith Laumer’s Retief novels: Kirk (Chris Pine), a one-man diplomatic delegation, tries to return an unwanted cultural artifact to a planet of angry gargoyles. It’s his 966th day in deep space. Waiting for them at Starbase Yorktown is an emergency. A female ship’s captain seeks rescue for her trapped crewmembers, left behind on an uncharted planet behind a formidable belt of asteroids.
Too bad it’s the wrong franchise, because Admiral Ackbar could have warned the Enterprise. When it arrives for the rescue, the great ship is ripped to pieces by an enormous fleet of spiky fighter pods. A shipwrecked Spock (soft-faced Zachary Quinto) himself is badly injured. Help arrives from a mighty spacewoman, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). With black terrapin stripes on her clown-white face, she looks like ’60s star Ursula Andress done up by H. R. Giger. The lord of the planet is a two-legged iguana called Krall (Idris Elba). He’s minor as Star Trek villains go, but he fills the resume: An asthmatic heavy breather, who growls ‘r’s in the name “Kirrrrrrrrrrk.”
Justin Lin, of The Fast and the Furious series, brings in collisions and physics-defying fights in 3D space, in front of a rotating and revolving camera. He also weaponizes items of late-20th century coolness, such as the Beastie Boys’ music and motorcycles.
The movie is sworn to fun. And it delivers amusement, with last-second transporter rescues, and the long-legged Jaylah pouring herself all over the captain’s chair. Strange then that the most emotional moment in the film comes from the old days, with the new Spock contemplating a relic of the old Spock—a posed photo of a group of portly men and one woman, in polyester and turtlenecks. That photo is something that this movie isn’t, in one word: Touching.