"Star Trek Beyond" is as close as the new cinematic reboots have gotten to emulating the spirit of the original Gene Roddenberry-created series and subsequent big-screen movies. This will be welcome news for long-time Trekkies and purists who may have thought 2009's "Star Trek
" and 2013's "Star Trek Into Darkness
" lost a little of their spirit, trading larger universal questions and philosophical musings for whiz-bang action sequences (as only a casual fan of the property, I thought both were terrific). The new blood behind the cameras and page likely have something to do with this return to the vintage feel of classic "Star Trek"albeit still with plenty of daring stunts, chases and all-around thrills. Taking over for previous helmer J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, director Justin Lin (2013's "Furious 6
") and scribes Simon Pegg (2011's "Paul
") and Doug Jung (2003's "Confidence
") have concocted a slightly more contained story that takes its characters away from their spacecraft's bridge and traps them in uncharted territory from which they must work together to escape. One's initial impulse to claim "Star Trek Beyond" is a slighter sequel proves unfounded as its deeper existential themes reveal themselves.
Three years into the USS Enterprise
's five-year mission, fatigue has set in for the crew as both Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) are experiencing early midlife crises. Celebrating his birthday with a heavy heart, Kirk isn't sure he has earned his position in Starfleet and cannot help but consider how he has passed the age of his father when he was killed. For Spock, word that the elder Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in photos) has passed away leads him to contemplate the inevitability of his own death while putting his cooled romance with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoë Saldana) to the test. Kirk and Spock's respective inner conflicts must be placed on the backburner when a mission to rescue an imperiled crew stranded on a nearby planet reveals itself to be a trap, the Enterprise
ambushed by a squad of drone soldiers led by alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba). Krall is in search of a powerful, potentially deadly artifact in their possession, and he will do whatever necessary to obtain it.
Authentically picking up with an understandably tired USS Enterprise
crew and very quickly placing them in mortal danger, "Star Trek Beyond" gets off to a bold start following a cartoonish prologue involving Kirk's appearance in front of an alien council lorded over by what could best be described as warthogs. Introspective moments of soul-searching putting Kirk and Spock's roles on the Starship Enterprise
into question segue into an enormously gripping set-piece in which their spacecraft is attacked and ultimately crash-lands on an unknown planet. Screenwriters Pegg and Jung handily juggle the ensemble, giving their supporting players significantly more to do as the characters are separated into smaller clustersan injured Spock and Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy (Karl Urban), Kirk with Ensign Pavlov Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and engineer Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott (Simon Pegg) with lonesome alien scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella)while seeking to rescue the captured Uhura and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho). All the while, they must protect the mysterious alien artifact, fearful of the catastrophic powers it may hold if Krall gets ahold of it.
Watching these actors interact outside of the Starship bridge is one of the central pleasures of the film, the lot of them by now entirely comfortable within their seminal roles. Chris Pine (2016's "The Finest Hours
") and Zachary Quinto (2011's "What's Your Number?
") are once again the anchors as unlikely friends and colleagues Captain James T. Kirk, passionate and quick-tempered, and Commander Spock, driven by logic and reason. Pine is ideally cast as Kirk, his hotshot ways gradually being replaced by a newfound maturity which has come with age and experience. The joy of seeing Quinto as Spock is in the layers he has brought to the part, both in the love he has for Uhura and the rare instances where outward emotions betray his typically straight-faced façade. Zoë Saldana (2014's "Guardians of the Galaxy
") is sympathetic and strong-willed as Uhura, her relationship with Spock given less screen time but nonetheless developing in interesting and winning ways.
Karl Urban (2015's "The Loft
") is perfection as the forthright, often amusingly frustrated McCoy, while Simon Pegg (2015's "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
") isn't far behind as Scott, his burgeoning friendship with Jaylah an endearing and unexpected dynamic. As Jaylah, Sofia Boutella (2015's "Kingsman: The Secret Service
") doesn't let her newbie status get in the way of an instantly likable performance of sneakily comedic vitality. Frequently the most underserved of the central cast, John Cho (2013's "Identity Thief
") and the late Anton Yelchin (2016's "Green Room
") additionally receive a number of well-earned moments in the spotlight as Sulu and Chekov. The discovery that Sulu is in a committed same-sex relationship and has a young daughter is treated less as a revelation calling attention to itself and more as a natural extension in learning about who he is. With the wounds of his loss still tender for those who loved him and appreciated his work as an actor, it is impossible to see Yelchin on screen and not think about his untimely June 2016 death. Nevertheless, it is a testament to his talent that he fills each frame with a charisma and disarming purity of performance. He will be missed. The usually reliable Idris Elba (2012's "Prometheus
") is the weak link among the cast as villain Krall. For the bulk of the picture, it is difficult to figure out where the heavy prosthetics make-up ends and the actor begins. After he sheds much of this in time for the third act, Elba chooses to go over-the-top when a more subtle, measured, simmering portrayal would have been far more interesting and chilling.
"Star Trek Beyond" works, first and foremost, as a crowd-pleasing science-fiction adventure, but it is equally notable as a thoughtful rumination on embracing one's larger purpose and coming to terms with the temporariness of life. Director Lin and writers Pegg and Jung have created a fitting installment that acts as a throwback to the legacy of the series and as a pop-infused entertainment bursting with all the excitement, visual grandeur and character moments one has come to expect from the J.J. Abrams era. The conception and ultimate realization of the Yorktown Starbase is a particularly dazzling achievement in imagination and special effects, the home of much of the crew's families like a dizzying, futuristic M.C. Escher painting come to life. Disappointingly, Alice Eve's science officer Carol Marcus (introduced in "Star Trek Into Darkness
" and last seen setting off with Kirk & Co. on their five-year mission) has been excised with no mention of where she has gone; a simple line of explanation would have corrected this curious omission. As expertly shot as the film is by cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (2015's "Furious 7
"), it bears also mentioning a handful of nighttime scenes are a touch too dark, difficult to decipher all that is occurring. Minor details aside, "Star Trek Beyond" has a mind and a soul and, by now, a collection of actors who fit into their roles as seamlessly as their elder counterparts. For fans of these newer pictures, this is another satisfying, rock-solid entry. As for those who have longed for a little of the old-school magic from decades' past, they have finally gotten their wish.