Much more fun than its predecessor, Star Trek Beyond manages to capture the adventurous and episodic feel of the original series and - at long last - a decently menacing villain in the form of Idris Elba.
When JJ Abrams scarpered from Star Trek in order to revitalise Star Wars, he left the franchise in a bit of a rut. Star Trek Into Darkness was something of a mess, neither an homage to the original series nor original enough to be considered different. Plus, you had Benedict Cumberbatch trying to force his way into proceedings and a wildly jarring tone throughout. Where the initial Star Trek captured a sense of fun and excitement, Star Trek Into Darkness tried to be the Gritty Dark Sequel™ that the series really didn't need. Star Trek Beyond wisely makes it seem like Into Darkness never happened and just pushes out into the reaches of space.
Three years into their five-year mission, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) notes that life has entered a routine on the Enterprise and, for the most part, things are as they've always been. In fact, he even calls the routine of it all 'episodic' - which is just the most on-the-nose reference you're ever going to see in a blockbuster this year. Docking at the Federation's newest station, Yorktown, Kirk informs his superiors that he wants to leave the Enterprise behind and take up a promotion. Concurrently, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has been informed of the death of Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) and that the Vulcans are in danger of becoming extinct as they are not reproducing fast enough. Dealing with all of this, the Enterprise is sent out to help a scientist retrieve her crew in a remote planet. However, upon arriving at said planet, the ship is attacked by a swarm of drone-like robots commanded by Krall (Elba) and downs the Enterprise on a wild planet and separates the crew entirely.
Three films in, the central characters - that's Pine, Quinto, Zoe Saldana as Uhuru, Karl Urban as Bones, John Cho as Sulu and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin as Chekov - are in full command of themselves and what to do. Simon Pegg, in the dual role here of both co-writer and Montgomery Scott, recognises that the film's greatest strength is the characters and the dynamics between and that's where Beyond is at its best. The snappy dialogue and traded barbs between everyone, especially Spock and Bones, is just electric and really makes it all the more entertaining. The introduction of Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, a pragmatic survivor who's also stranded on the same planet as them, adds some much-needed spice to the protagonists. However, the real standout is Idris Elba as Krall. One of the biggest problems with previous entries was that they lacked a memorable villain; Cumberbatch being overtaken by comparison to the original Khan and Eric Bana being too forgettable entirely. Elba gives a real sense of viciousness and savagery to the role; one particular scene stands out as something almost close to Cronenbergian body horror.
Having worked on the likes of Fast & Furious 6 and 7, Justin Lin is more than capable of ably directing an action setpiece and keeping a film's pace going throughout. From the very get-go, Star Trek Beyond hits the throttle and doesn't let up until the very end - just as it should be. By taking the crew out of the Enterprise and putting them into a real, textured environment, the stunts and explosions have much more impact than if they were in a set. Lin's keen eye for editing and pacing means that the film just zips right along and the script - written by Pegg and Jung - is snappy enough to keep up with it. It doesn't get too bogged down in needless exposition, instead just focusing on the action and interplay between everyone. Granted, there is a sense that the film is hugely episodic. You know just about everyone is going to make it out and so on, but there's more than enough fun and entertainment here that you won't really care all that much. After all, wasn't the TV series the same way? Did anyone care then? Of course not.
With Star Trek hitting its fiftieth year in existence, there can be no better acknowledgement to its storied history than this. It's a beautiful nod to the silliness and excitement of the original series and vital enough that it's still thrilling to this day.