As attested by the four “Fast and the Furious” movies he made before this, “Star Trek Beyond” director Justin Lin was never a big fan of gravity. Here, at last, he can abuse it with impunity, and some of the most exhilarating moments in this amiable, low-stakes sequel involve upended starships and artificial atmospheres, people running up walls and sliding down corridors as the camera zips around to show us every angle. It may be the most intimate look we’ve had at the structure and geography of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and it’s fun to feel the ground fall out from under you in those moments — especially since everything else about the movie is so steady and unsurprising, with a villain-of-the-week ordinariness to it.
That villain is Krall (Idris Elba), a fearsome warlord who attacks the Enterprise in search of (what else?) an ancient artifact with which he can (what else?) conquer the galaxy. Krall and his very cool fleet of swarming, synchronized warships do significant damage to the most molested spaceship in the annals of fiction and take most of the crew — including Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) — back to headquarters on a remote planet. It thus befalls Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine), et al., to rescue them, aided by a fierce new character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who lives in the wreckage of a Federation starship that crashed on the planet a century earlier. Jaylah, working first with the marooned Scotty (Simon Pegg) and then with the rest of the Enterprise officers, may remind you of a certain Rey in a certain other recent Star-related sequel.
This all comes at a pivotal juncture for the Enterprise crew. As Kirk explains in his opening log, they’ve been in space for a few years, and the loneliness and repetition are taking their toll. The mission has begun to feel “episodic,” Kirk says, no doubt an intentional reference on the part of screenwriters Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung (who appears briefly as Sulu’s partner) to the saga’s TV origins. But that’s just the thing. Though the film glides merrily through its paces, it has no more urgency than a mid-season episode of a Trek TV show, no risks for anyone but the unnamed crew members.
It’s even lighter on character development — which is a shame, because we’ve really come to enjoy these new versions of the iconic characters. The actors are comfortable in the roles — Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) get some quality odd-couple time together; Chekov (Anton Yelchin) gets to hang out with Kirk — but everybody’s the same at the end of the film as they were when it started. (Except, that is, for the resolved mini-crisis over whether Kirk and/or Spock might leave the Enterprise for other assignments. Of course they won’t.) The personal lives of the Enterprise officers are on hold this week. And it’s too bad, because if Lin’s keen visual sense were paired with a weightier, meatier story, he’d really be able to soar.
B- (2 hrs., 2 min.; )