'Star Trek Beyond' boldly brings the fun back to Trek (spoiler-free review)

"Beyond" stumbles at the finishing line, but it's an excellent capstone to the rebooted Trek trilogy.

Luke Lancaster Associate Editor / Australia
Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).
Luke Lancaster
3 min read
Paramount Pictures
Watch this: 'Star Trek Beyond' review: Traditional Trek on fast-forward

Simon Pegg, in his seminal geek sitcom "Spaced", said, "It's a fact, sure as day follows night, sure as eggs is eggs, sure as every odd-numbered Star Trek movie is..." Well, not good.

Lucky him, he got to share screenplay duties with Doug Jung on "Star Trek Beyond", the third movie in the rebooted series and the 13th installment in the Star Trek franchise overall. On Star Trek's 50th anniversary. But Pegg is a nerd's nerd, and he's broken his own rule with "Beyond". It's by no means perfect, but it brought back the fun, the freshness and the Trekness so sorely lacking in 2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness".

On this particular voyage of the starship Enterprise, Kirk, Spock and company are three years into their five-year mission to explore deep space, and they're chugging along with a little listlessness and reluctance. Before long, the crew find themselves marooned on a hostile alien planet with no way to call for help and staring down the alien overlord Krall.

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Captain Kirk and the mysterious Jaylah boldly go beyond in our exclusive art by comic artist Des Taylor.

Des Taylor

The best thing about scattering the crew across an alien world is exploring relationships between characters who often don't get to share the screen. Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock share only a few pivotal scenes, and it's good to see their lackluster chemistry taking a backseat.

In its place, scribes Pegg and Jung get to show off how well they understand the crew of the Enterprise. From McCoy and Spock's buddy-cop moments to Kirk and Scotty on rescue-mission duties, those relationships are where the movie really comes alive.

Beam me up, Jaylah. Scotty's jaw drops down as Jaylah's Maglite goes up.
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Beam me up, Jaylah. Scotty's jaw drops down as Jaylah's Maglite goes up.

Beam me up, Jaylah. Scotty's jaw drops down as Jaylah's Maglite goes up.

Kimberley French/Paramount Pictures

Director Justin Lin, of "Fast and Furious" fame, is at the helm this time, and his influence is immediately obvious. The action sequences are packed in, and they're without exception brilliantly conceived, playing with motorcycles and gravity manipulation, to name a few.

A few of the fights staged on the ship interiors are cluttered and confusingly shot, but all's forgiven once you see the ships in action from the outside. The swarms of enemy ships dancing around the Enterprise look simply spectacular.

Idris Elba's menacing Krall serves as an excellent foil to Kirk, as the captain of the Enterprise struggles with his dedication to his crew and mission. Sadly, Krall needs more screen time than he gets, and the movie fumbles with a rushed explanation of his motives and origin.

That's par for the course though, with a couple of side characters who do things that would make infinitely more sense if we were given time to learn about them. Thankfully, the movie doesn't really live or die by these episodes.

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It's all about the crew, and it's clear that's where the screen time went. The new generation is as close to perfectly cast as can be, and three movies in, it's clear these characters are like a second skin for the actors. There's a dragged-out, saccharine epilogue to sit through once the business of saving the day is said and done. It's a forgivable indulgence in the end, with 50 years of Trek history to celebrate and a trilogy to farewell. (Not that the reboot series is ending here: there's interesting casting info out about the fourth movie.) And the fan service is still there, from a photo of the original cast in their Federation finery to more subtle nods like a cameo appearance by Sulu's daughter Demora.

"Beyond" is a Trek movie through and through, right down to the technobabble-infused plan to deal with Krall's fleet of enemy ships. Make no mistake, that one sequence is going to go down as one of the most divisive in Star Trek history. And it'd be completely ridiculous if it weren't perfectly executed in the pursuit of such reckless fun.

That's the real magic of "Beyond" -- Lin, Jung and Pegg know that it's OK to have fun with Star Trek, and they prove that 50 years on, the crew of the Enterprise has plenty left to give.