Los Angeles (CNN)Near the beginning of "Star Trek Beyond," Captain Kirk complains about life on the Starship Enterprise having grown "episodic." The same can largely be said of this third outing with the new cast -- though, in this context, that's generally a good thing.
'Star Trek Beyond' returns to its roots breezily, if not boldly
While imbued with a melancholy streak due to the untimely death of actor Anton Yelchin, along with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, this latest adventure plays like a throwback from the old "Trek" series -- inflated, naturally, into a big, sprawling, IMAX-worthy version of it.
Perhaps for that reason, the movie starts with considerable energy, peaks about halfway through, and feels as if it's padding and improvising gravity-defying threats in the last half-hour or so, though not enough to significantly offset its other charms. In a summer of ho-hum blockbusters, this one at least mostly delivers, especially for those weaned on "Star Trek" lore.
Three years into its five-year mission, the Enterprise is dealing with the drudgery of space exploration when Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew dock at a massive space station. There, they learn of a stranded ship in a nebula that no other help can reach.
The rescue effort, however, quickly (if not unexpectedly) goes awry, as the Enterprise faces a sneak attack by an overwhelming enemy, in what's easily the movie's most visually dazzling sequence. From there, it's down to the nearest planet, where the scattered crew must try to thwart the genocidal aims of Krall (Idris Elba).
Because the key members of the Enterprise crew are a constant element, these movies are in some ways defined by their villains. And while Krall is plenty evil, the compelling actor playing him has a tough time chewing his way through the heavy makeup under which he's mired. Compared to the last outing featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, who wasn't burdened with bulky prosthetics, it's a step down.
Fortunately, director Justin Lin (a veteran of the "Fast & Furious" franchise, working from Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's screenplay) keeps the pace humming along, while offering nifty character notes. That includes wisely placing Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) in peril together, allowing them to bicker and, faced with death, flirt with admitting how fond they really are of each other.
The title notwithstanding, "Beyond" operates within a pretty narrow frontier and doesn't bring anything especially bold or new to the equation. But there's something to be said for its workmanlike efficiency. In more earthbound terms, that should also bring some good news to its studio, Paramount, amid the corporate soap opera currently surrounding it.
Granted, with all the galaxies at its disposal, and yet another TV series in dry dock, one might hope for a "Star Trek" movie with a bit more narrative heft. But in terms of delivering solid entertainment for its devoted base? Mission accomplished.
"Star Trek Beyond" premieres on July 22.