Star Trek Beyond

Director: Justin Lin (2016) BBFC 12A

Beam yourself aboard the starship Enterprise for a non stop rocket ride of outer space adventure.

This third film in the rebooted sci fi franchise is a solid improvement on the muddled second episode Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Lin has directed 4 of the Fast Furious films and he’s energised this series after JJ Abrams’ faltering tenure. There’s every suspicion Abrams’ head being turned by the opportunity to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2014) resulted in the mess that was Into Darkness.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Zaldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho and Simon Pegg slip easily into their natty new uniforms as Captain James T. Kirk, Mr Spock, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu and Scottie. Though it’s Karl Urban as the irascible Dr McCoy who is gifted the best lines.

Sofia Boutella enjoys herself in an aggressively  physical role as Jaylah, a non human. In the Federation, everyone is an alien. There’s no return for Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus and at no point are any women required to pose in their underwear, a gratuitous moment which embarrassed Into Darkness even more than the script did.

While on a rescue mission through an unchartered nebula, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of giant insect like steel spaceships.

Most of the crew are killed or kidnapped, the Enterprise is destroyed and the captain is stranded on a nearby planet. It’s home to a powerful warlord called Krall, played with muscular menace by Idris Elba.

There’s a jaw dropping action sequence on a beautifully designed space station, anti gravity combat and a mysterious ancient alien weapon. I can’t stress how fabulous the space station is. It’s fragile grace is one of the most remarkable pieces of design I’ve seen this cinema year.

As well as starring, uber Trekkie Pegg co-wrote. In his best work for years the script cleaves closely to the soaring spirit of joshing optimism and adventure of the original 1960’s TV show.

There’s a touching moment of remembrance for Leonard Nimoy who essayed the part of Spock for many years and the film is dedicated to Anton Yelchin who sadly died this year.

A fourth film has already been announced and on this form the series is set in the words of Mr Spock, ‘to live long and prosper’.

@ChrisHunneysett

Star Trek Into Darkness

Director: JJ Abrams (2013)

This spectacular looking but disappointing sequel to 2009’s brilliant franchise reboot is a bumpy retread of the best Star Trek film, The Wrath of Khan (1982).

It’s shamefacedly self-referential, surprisingly violent and riddled with plot-holes.

The cosmic cast returns with Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Karl Urban as ‘Bones’ McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty.

After breaking Starfleet protocols on an alien planet, Kirk is recalled to Earth where former agent Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) is conducting a terror campaign.

Harrison escapes to Qo’noS, the Klingon home world, and Kirk hunts him down only for the Enterprise to be stranded, powerless on the edge of the Neutral Zone.

Photon torpedoes, phaser fights, space battles and armour-suited Klingons zip past in a blur of CGI.

As Kirk and Spock’s bickering bromance continues, Cumberbatch’s purring villain brings much needed intelligence and depth.

Director JJ Abrams has difficulty juggling his large cast and some are wheeled on and off at warp speed to pay lip service to the character.

Alice Eve is particularly ill-served as a scientist required to get her kit off to defuse bombs.

Plus the irritating Pegg has far too much screen-time, his comic delivery is laboured and light on humour.

As it’s played at a breakneck speed throughout, it demonstrates Abrams has little time for, or possibly understanding of, dramatic relief.

Abrams is happy to fly at lightspeed past the emotional hub of the film in order to pursue a far less interesting – and over extended – fist fight.

Abrams may wish to be considered the new Spielberg but this appropriately, is more worthy of a latter-day George Lucas.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn (2014)

The strangest group of heroes Marvel comics ever created blast off into space in this visually sensational sci-fi action adventure.

They’re a mismatched motley alien crew consisting of an Earthling called Peter (Chris Pratt), a beautiful green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a genetically-engineered raccoon called Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel).

It is a fun-filled knockabout romp with stellar design, tremendous special effects and CGI characters blending seamlessly with the real actors.

But it’s gratingly pleased with itself but nowhere near as funny or as smart as it believes itself to be.

It takes far too much juvenile pleasure in rude words and drowning scenes with 1970’s pop tunes quickly wears thin – an unusually needy and heavy-handed attempt at cross-audience, all quadrant appeal by the mighty Marvel studio.

The self styled Star-lord and deluded scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a kid and raised by intergalactic thieves known as the Ravagers.

He hasn’t a lot of experience fighting or leading or coming up with plans. Or having ideas in general. In fact, he’s not all that smart. Plus, generally unskilled.

Nevertheless he manages to steal an orb of mysterious power which is also wanted by the psychotic Ronan (Lee Pace) who secretly works for the powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin). who wants the orb to wage war on his enemies.

Quill is thrown into a space-prison called The Kyln where he meets a warrior called Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who has sworn vengeance on Ronan.

In a fantastic action sequence they break out alongside Gamora, Rocket, Groot and a spare leg but the script shoots itself in the foot in a space-walk sequence which drains the rest of the film of tension.

When Quill discovers the true danger of the orb he discovers the hero inside himself and cajoles the squabbling misfits to fight a desperate and spectacular battle to guard the galaxy against destruction.

Much like the Hulk in Avengers Assemble, Groot steals every scene he’s in, despite only being able to say the words ‘I am Groot’ – which to be fair, is as much as the Hulk ever managed.

British actress and former Dr Who star Karen Gillan is impressively agile and deliciously villainous and shares a history and a terrific fight scene with Gamora.

Pratt is less endearing than the film supposes and his reprising of a peril-inspired song and dance routine similar to which he performed in The Lego Movie wears thin here.

Guardians of the Galaxy is entertaining enough though not Marvel’s finest hour; after The Winter Soldier it’s not even Marvel’s best film of 2014.

And the joke at the end of the film’s credits isn’t worth hanging around for.

☆☆