The long-running franchise's latest instalment "might be the summer's most satisfying blockbuster"
Star Trek: Beyond arrives with less hype than studio bosses who signed off an estimated $185m production budget might have hoped. This is probably a fall-out from 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ disappointing sequel to his rousing 2009 reboot Star Trek, coupled with a rubbish first trailer which makes this follow-up from Fast & Furious director Justin Lin look like a bland action adventure that just happens to be set in space. But it will be a shame if Beyond fails to attract casual sci-fi fans as well as dedicated Trekkies, because it might be the summer’s most satisfying blockbuster.
It begins with Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) both questioning their future with space exploration troop Starfleet. The former is finding his once exciting role hollow and monotonous, while the latter is feeling the pull of his Vulcan roots. When the USS Enterprise is breached by a staunch alien warlord called Krall (Idris Elba) who is convinced it contains a potentially devastating ancient weapon, both officers have to commit fully to their crew to prevent Krall from using the weapon to end civilisation.
Star Trek Beyond‘s relatively straightforward, self-contained plot makes it feel like a super-sized episode of the classic TV series, but that’s precisely why it’s so entertaining. The script co-written by Simon Pegg (who also returns as Enterprise engineer Scotty) nods fondly to the past while also pushing the franchise forward. In an early scene, we learn that Lieutenant Sulu (Harold & Kumar’s John Cho) is raising a child with his same-sex partner, a rare glimpse of gay life in a Hollywood film of this scale.
Lin’s film could be accused of lacking ambition compared to recent Marvel movies like Captain America: Civil War and it sometimes wastes its talented cast. Because of the actor’s untimely death in a car accident last month, every glimpse of Anton Yelchin’s ship navigator Chekov feels especially significant, but Elba’s villain only really shines at the climax and Zoe Saldana’s Lieutenant Uhura remains on the fringes. But these minor gripes aren’t enough to spoil a smartly-paced movie which loads its crowd-pleasing action sequences with emotional repercussions that keep you fully invested.