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Back to the future

As 2016 marks the 50 th anniversary of “Star Trek,” it’s no surprise that Paramount Pictures would commemorate the date by releasing the third installment of the third big-screen franchise, Star Trek Beyond.

By now, the story has taken on mythical proportions:

“Star Trek” scraped by for three seasons on NBC before being canceled, then underwent a Phoenix-like resurrection in syndication, followed by several feature films and spin-off TV series’ (the latest is currently in production).

It has become one of the most successful, and profitable, franchises in history, and its worldwide legion of fans (“Trekkies” or “Trekkers,” given one’s preference) can justifiably take some credit for bringing “Trek” back and keeping it alive.

Early in Star Trek Beyond, the young Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) observes that life on the Starship Enterprise has taken on an episodic quality – a sentiment that could easily apply to this film. It’s the third year of their five-year mission, and things have settled into a routine – an equally valid observation regarding this film.

The Enterprise is on a rescue mission that turns out to be a trap. The ship is ambushed and quickly destroyed – not an uncommon occurrence in the big-screen Treks – with the survivors stranded on a desolate planet and hunted down by the minions of the malevolent Krall (Idris Elba), the story’s resident inter-stellar heavy. Not unlike Oscar Isaac in the recent X-Men: Apoclaypse, the talented Elba is relegated to bellowing underneath heavy makeup, and even a late-inning twist regarding his character doesn’t give him much additional opportunity. Essentially, he’s a monster in a mask.

Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (scene-stealer Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg, who wrote the screenplay with Doug Jung), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Chekhov (the late Anton Yelchin) must seek out each other, then seek a way to thwart Krall’s evil plan to destroy the nearby Starbase Yorktown – and then, more likely than not, conquering the universe.

Everyone has a turn, exemplifying the cooperative, can-do spirit of the Enterprise crew, which is diverse in race and species but has a common, collective purpose. It’s much in line with what original series creator Gene Roddenberry had in mind, a reflection of society in the turbulent 1960s that is no less valid today.

Yet Star Trek Beyond is familiar throughand-through. The special effects are fine, the direction by Justin Lin (graduating from the Fast and the Furious franchise to this one) keeps things moving, with the obligatory narrow escapes and last-minute solutions, and there’s a scene-stealing turn by Sofia Boutella as the helpful alien Jaylah, but it would be difficult to take Star Trek in a completely fresh direction at this point.

Needless to say, however, the fans probably won’t mind. If you’re not a Trekker already, Star Trek Beyond may not make you one. But for the Trekkie faithful, this is just what they want – and they get it. !

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