The third film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise and thirteenth Stark Trek film overall, Star Trek Beyond hits theatres almost exactly fifty years after Gene Roddenberry’s original series debuted on NBC in September 1966. Justin Lin (best known helming four Fast & Furious films) takes over directing duties from J. J. Abrams for this third instalment, working from a script penned by Doug Jung and castmember Simon Pegg. Pegg’s involvement may explain the lighter, more comedic tone of Star Trek Beyond (relative to the somewhat dour previous entry in the series), starting with the film’s charmingly silly opening, in which Chris Pine’s Captain James T. Kirk is attacked by a horde of adorably ferocious, Welsh corgi sized aliens during a failed attempt at diplomacy. The scene also manages to introduce the film’s MacGuffin, an ancient alien artefact called the Abronath.
With this plot device safely in hand, Kirk returns to the USS Enterprise for a surprisingly pensive sequence in which he roams the starship, observing his crew and ruminating on the state of things. He’s about to turn thirty, making him a year older than his father was when he died, and three years into the Enterprise’s five year exploratory mission life has taken on a strange kind of monotony for Kirk. When the ship docks at the newly constructed Starbase Yorktown (and Lin wisely gives the audience plenty of time to marvel at the massive scale and visual splendour of the CG structure) for maintenance and supplies, we learn that Kirk has applied for a Vice Admiral position at the base. Plagued by survivor’s guilt following the destruction of his home planet, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also considering leaving Starfleet to help establish a new Vulcan society.
Before the two friends have time to talk the Enterprise is dispatched to rescue a Federation vessel stranded on a nearby planet. The rescue is revealed as a trap when the Enterprise is suddenly set upon by a swarm of vicious, insect-like enemy ships that quickly overwhelm the starship, allowing their leader Krall (Idris Elba) to board and recover the Abronath. Even the most casual Star Trek fans are likely to share some of Kirk’s sorrow watching the Enterprise being torn to pieces and all but devoured by the swarm, forcing her crew to abandon ship and crash-land on the mysterious planet below. Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Lieutenant Sulu (John Cho) and most of the crew are taken prisoner by Krall’s forces, where they learn that the Abronath is the missing component from a devastating bioweapon that Krall plans to unleash on Yorktown.
The remaining crewmembers become separated during their crash landing, ending up in three isolated duos. Kirk and Chekov (the recently deceased Anton Yelchin) are paired up for a series of thrilling, exposition heavy action scenes, while Scotty (Simon Pegg) finds an ally in local scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an accomplished warrior and Public Enemy enthusiast who has plenty of experience with Krall’s particular brand of villainy. The scenes with Spock and Bones (Karl Urban) don’t offer up much besides bickering, emotional honesty and blood loss related delirium, but they are easily the film’s funniest and best. The playful antagonism between Quinto and Urban is so much fun that you feel a little let down when they reconnect with Kirk and the others as the movie launches into its third act and the predictable (though undeniably visually stunning) final battle against Krall.
Like the two previous films in the rebooted series, Star Trek Beyond is more action movie than science fiction. Screenwriters Jung and Pegg and director Lin follow the rubric established by J. J. Abrams in 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, laying out a fairly simple plot featuring plenty of explosions, well choreographed hand-to-hand combat and large-scale destruction and little in the way of genuine conceptual creativity or basic scientific plausibility. Good sci-fi storytelling this is not, but in Lin’s capable hands the film more than succeeds as a piece of fun, action driven cinematic spectacle.