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'Star Trek Beyond' Is An Unapologetically Wild Ride, Steeped In Human Drama


This is FRESH AIR. Gene Roddenberry's futuristic TV series, "Star Trek," ran for only three seasons in the mid-1960s. But it's given birth to other TV series, movies and a new cycle of films featuring the original characters played by younger actors. Now, we have the third in the series, "Star Trek Beyond," starring Chris Pine as Captain William T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Film critic David Edelstein has the review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: The new "Star Trek" picture, "Star Trek Beyond," is a wild ride. It's fast and furious, which makes sense, since director Justin Lin made the last few "Fast And Furious" movies. And he thinks in terms of whoosh and jangle. He bombards you with angles. You have to concentrate or the action will streak right by. It's like abstract expressionism.

Now, if you're a lover of the original series, you might think, I like "Star Trek" because it wasn't fast and furious. It was philosophical. Well, I've got news. That "Star Trek" is gone. Since the series was, quote, "rebooted," the movies have made billions but haven't dispelled the memory of the original cast. There was something creepy about watching these young performers, as if the future will bring not just starships, but android replacements. Maybe it's better to have a well-made, unapologetic action adventure like this than a spooky replication.

The script, by actor Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, does provide a human drama of sorts. Early in "Star Trek Beyond," Captain Kirk, played by Chris Pine, is having a midlife crisis. He wants to leave the untethered world of starships and settle down. This seems strange, given that Pine looks as if he'd still get carded buying beer. Zachary Quinto's Spock is also itching to leave the Starship Enterprise to rebuild the civilization of Vulcan. Can they really be on their way out in only the third movie? It's a set up.

Most of "Star Trek Beyond" takes place on the blue planet Altamid, where the Enterprise is destroyed with sadistic thoroughness, taken apart by scores of little ships that swarm like bees. The characters are thrown to the winds, leaving them in groups of two. Kirk and Chekov, played by the late Anton Yelchin, dodged the death rays of a small woman with a wide brainpan and slide down what's left of the Enterprise's saucer section. It looks like the best water park ride imaginable.

A badly-wounded Spock and Dr. McCoy sling insults before realizing they have no reason for resenting each other, especially since Quinto's petulant Spock is a world away from Leonard Nimoy's Vulcan Buddha. Simon Pegg has written himself a lot of funny, high-strung shtick. And the movie's best scenes feature his Scotty and a pugnacious alien named Jaylah, a star turn for Sofia Boutella whose sharp features register even under a pound of white makeup slashed with black lightning bolts.


SIMON PEGG: (As Scotty) Now, that's Starfleet property, OK, you can't just take - but I'm feeling generous today, so have at it.

SOFIA BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) Where you get that?

PEGG: (As Scotty) It's my Starfleet insignia.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) What does it mean?

PEGG: (As Scotty) Means that I'm an officer of Starfleet, its engineering division.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) Engineering.

PEGG: (As Scotty) Aye, that's right. I fix things.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) I know what is engineering.

PEGG: (As Scotty) You're not with those bastards that killed my ship, are you?

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) (Spitting).

PEGG: (As Scotty) I'll take that as a no.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) He is Krall. He is the reason why you're here. Come with me, now.

PEGG: (As Scotty) Wait, now, hang on a minute, lassie. I'm having a difficult day here. I've got to find my crewmates.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) You help me and I help you.

PEGG: (As Scotty) All right, well, things being as they are, I doubt I'll get a better offer today. So lead the way.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) Good. I am Jaylah. And you are Montgomery Scott.

PEGG: (As Scotty) Aye, Scotty.

BOUTELLA: (As Jaylah) Come now, Montgomery Scotty.

EDELSTEIN: That villain, Krall, is a huge guy with a leonine alien face and horrendous diction, which means I never fully caught his reasons for wanting to wipe out the Federation. I was stunned to learn that under all that prosthetic muck is the great Idris Elba, which suggests the problem with prosthetics. They make dissimilar actors look alike. I'd rather see Elba's naked features.

Two issues have loomed in pre-release publicity for "Star Trek Beyond." There's a shot of John Cho's Sulu with his arm around another man, signaling that he's gay. This has reportedly troubled the original Sulu, George Takei, who thinks the revelation has more to do with his own post-track celebrity than the character of Sulu. Maybe so, except there is no character of Sulu. Fifty years ago, it seems that William Shatner made sure his supporting cast had only rudimentary dialogue. Sulu is a blank slate. He can be anything the new writers want him to be.

"Star Trek Beyond" is steeped in a larger sadness. The new Chekov, the gifted 27-year-old Anton Yelchin, died after the film was completed in an absurdly tragic accident. His car rolled down his driveway and pinned him. In his final turn, he's so exuberant. He seems to bound from scene to scene. High-flying as the movie is, the thought of his death can bring you crashing down to earth.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. Monday on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Michael K. Williams who played Omar on HBO's "The Wire" and Chalky White on "Boardwalk Empire." He's back on HBO in the new crime series, "The Night Of." We'll talk about the confusion he faced when fans expected him to be like his powerful, intimidating characters. And we'll talk about how he got his facial scar and how it changed his life. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julien Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.