The rebooted Star Trek series that began back in 2009 has proven to be a fascinating franchise experiment. For better or for worse, overwhelming love for the original television series and movies has dictated that the blockbusters remain eternally faithful to the original material -- and while this is especially true in terms of character and story, the filmmakers even went as far as to find a way to tell a new origin story while keeping all previous features and shows in canon. This has been a big part of both J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, but now director Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond is bringing back another one of the franchise's notable traditions: responding to a less-than-stellar theatrical outing with a sequel that's a fun, intelligent and thrilling big screen adventure.
In fact, thanks to a wonderful, character-rich and engaging script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, paired with the smart style and camera movement of Justin Lin's direction, Star Trek Beyond is arguably the best film in the Kelvin Timeline thus far.
Picking up the story approximately three years after the events of Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond begins with Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the USS Enterprise deep into their famous five year mission of exploration in deep space. While they have stayed active, taking part in all kinds of peacekeeping missions on a wide variety of new and different worlds, the more common monotony of ship life has left Kirk questioning the path he has chosen with the Federation, as well as his future.
Of course, there's nothing that will make you appreciate what you have quite like losing it. Following a short stay at the newly built and gorgeous Starbase Yorktown, the Enterprise crew is called back into action to help a ship that has crash landed on a planet after trying to fly through a nebula. Unfortunately, this rescue mission is devastatingly interrupted by an assault from a Federation-hating enemy named Krall (Idris Elba), who orchestrates an attack with a swarm of thousands of small ships that literally manage to slit the Enterprise's throat. In their various escape attempts from the Federation ship as it is being destroyed, Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) all wind up landing on the nearby planet in pairs -- Scotty befriending and teaming up with a local named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). In order to survive, they all work to try and find each other and rescue the crewmembers that Krall kidnapped -- but at the same time they must also stop Krall from constructing a weapon of mass destruction that could kill millions.
Compared to both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is a much more scaled down adventure for the crew, and the McGuffin-centric plot doesn't really lend itself to an array of big twists and turns - but all that serves to allow the film to primarily focus on character. This is why the movie works as well as it does. In their pairings of the stranded members of the Enterprise bridge, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung find excellent ways to highlight all the best aspects of the various personalities. The duo of Bones and Spock unquestionably makes for the most entertaining team-up -- as it's the perfect textbook clash between id and superego -- but the blockbuster also crafts fantastic moments of Kirk acting as a real leader alongside the youthful Chekov, and provides the chance for Uhura and Sulu to team up and work side-by-side as they find themselves as Krall's captives.
In many ways, Star Trek Beyond feels like an episode of the original series, and furthers it's connection to classic Star Trek with everything from bottles of Saurian brandy to Shakespeare quotes, but the movie's greatest charm is just how fresh it is and feels. The script takes pieces of franchise history and lore and molds them to create something original - not only providing the opportunity to view classic elements in different lights, but also opening the doors to the creation of two tremendous supporting characters in Sofia Boutella's Jaylah and Idris Elba's Krall. The former is destined to become a fan favorite (being a firecracker badass who shares a fantastic back-and-forth with Scotty); and while the latter requires some time to evolve on screen and become interesting, by the end he makes for a terrific foil to the ennui-addled Kirk.
Taking the reins from J.J. Abrams behind the lens, Justin Lin succeeds in crafting a Star Trek movie in his own personal style -- constructing not only mind-blowing action sequences, but even giving audiences a new way to look at the Enterprise. With its camera work and visual effects, the movie creates a great sense of geography within the classic spaceship (prior to its destruction), achieved with beautiful, long arcing shots that travel around the outside.
And while Lin's success with big battles and explosions are hardly a surprise given his background in the Fast & Furious franchise, that in no way undercuts how jaw-dropping and thrilling Star Trek Beyond's biggest set pieces are. Krall's swarm of ships are effectively terrifying in action -- particularly because of how useless they make the Enterprise seem -- and Lin utilizes them in tremendous fashion through two breathtaking sequences in the first and third acts (the latter having what will inevitably be considered one of the best music cues of the year).
Given that 2016 happens to be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, it would have been a tremendous shame if Star Trek Beyond was a disappointment -- but it's really the opposite of that. It's a refreshing and exciting sci-fi feature with a classic feel, brought to life with a funny, engaging script and thrilling direction. It's a reminder of the true greatness in the franchise, and one of the summer's best blockbusters.