"At death's door and he's quoting Shakespeare."
There's a formula at work in Hollywood lately, and it goes a little something like this: The more fun you want your movie to be, the dumber it has to be. I've seen dozens upon dozens of movies that are fun but dumb, and finding the right balance between those two elements is nigh impossible in an age when films are focus grouped to death. In a summer that's given us plenty of films that are both fun and dumber than a bag of hammers, along comes Star Trek Beyond to inject some rather high minded fun into the multiplexes of the world. Don't get me wrong, it's got issues and isn't exactly the valedictorian of the summer, but it proves that fun and brains don't have to be mutually exclusive components of a film.
Jumping ahead three years from the events of Into Darkness—with nearly all of those said events being ignored entirely—Star Trek Beyond finds the crew of the Enterprise in a bit of a rut. Space exploration isn't quite the rip-roaring good time everyone had been hoping it would be. The film does something insanely shrewd, and something that no other Trek film has done, and that's to show just how much of a grind a five year mission can be. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is growing weary of the episodic nature of their missions, and plans to abdicate control of the Enterprise to Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) in order to accept a Vice Admiral position at Starfleet. Spock, however, is dealing with issues of his own, including a serious case of survivor's remorse over being one of the only remaining Vulcans in the known universe. This has put tremendous strain on his relationship with Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as well, with the couple having split up just prior to the events of the film.
Upon arriving at a new starbase on the outskirts of the galaxy, dubbed Yorktown—a nice inside joke for Trek fanatics—the team is sent back on a rescue mission that will take them through a nebula and thus, out of communication range with Starfleet. Upon discovering the planet they were sent to find, the ship is viciously attacked and the entire crew forced to abandon the ship and figure out a way off of this uncharted planet. The architect of the ship's destruction is a despotic alien named Krall (Idris Elba), whose beef with Starfleet remains enigmatic—even after a third act explanation that fails to address a number of issues. Kirk and crew must now figure out a way to disrupt Krall's plan to attack Yorktown, and they enlist the help of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a warrior stranded on the planet with her own vendetta against Krall.
Part of the fun of Star Trek Beyond is seeing the crew split up into various pairings in order to give each of the main seven crew members more to do. It's a gamble that pays off beautifully, with everyone getting their own moment in the spotlight. Of course, the biggest throwback to the original series is the pairing of Spock and Bones (Karl Urban), a relationship that probably gets the most room of all to grow. The interplay between Quinto and Urban is the highlight of the film, and gives these excellent actors some really good material to dive into. Pine also, finally, lives up to the promise he showed in this role back in 2009's Star Trek. A lot of his character development was chucked out the window in the last film, and it finally comes back to the forefront in this film.
The rest of the crew also get plenty of time to shine too, with Simon Pegg making the most of it—not all that surprising considering he co-wrote the film. John Cho is also fantastic as Sulu and truly growing into the role. Zoe Saldana also doesn't squander her expanded role as Uhura, giving us a much stronger character than poor Nichelle Nichols was ever afforded. And then, of course, there's Anton Yelchin, who gets a wonderful last line and a fitting send-off mid-credits, making his recent loss all the more heartbreaking. Newcomer Sofia Boutella is also fantastic, nailing her interplay with both Pegg's "Montgomery Scotty" and Pine's "James Tee." I really enjoyed the concept of the character and her execution of it only made her more memorable. I hope they keep her around and don't just jettison her the way they did poor Alice Eve.
The film's issues begin and end with Idris Elba's villain, Krall, however. It's not really his fault, as he can really only do as much as the script gives him, but the character feels like he was either the victim of editing or lackluster character development. Nearly all of the film's plot holes involve his character, and when his backstory is finally unveiled, it becomes a case of too little too late. There's a fantastic nugget of an idea in his character, it's just that the implementation of that idea is very poorly done. I can't say much more without going into spoilers, but if there's a fatal flaw with the film, it begins and ends with this character.
Despite these minor quibbles, Star Trek Beyond delivers something that Into Darkness simply couldn't: a fun and fast space adventure that hews faithfully to the spirit of the original series without ripping it off wholesale. There are plot holes you could fly an entire fleet of starships through, but none of those really matter while you're watching the film. Justin Lin proves a capable director, not just of the action sequences—which are all terrific—but of the quieter moments. In fact, the film's first act and the way it moves with alacrity is one of the highlights of the film. Lin has given us a lean and mean Star Trek that may not necessarily resemble "your father's Star Trek," but which always feels of a piece with the franchise. The future of Star Trek looks bright once again, and that might just be the best feeling of all coming out of this film.
Directed by Justin Lin
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, Based on "Star Trek" Created by Gene Roddenberry
Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, Melissa Roxburgh, Anita Brown, Doug Jung, Danny Pudi, Shohreh Agdashloo, Greg Grunberg
Running Time: 120 minutes
This review originally appeared on Double Viking