Too much ambition can be a dangerous thing. The previous ‘Star Trek’ movie, 2013’s ‘Into Darkness’, was packed with it: a sprawling epic full of new worlds, violent consequences and hefty emotional moments. It was later – just a little unfairly – voted the worst Trek movie ever by some of the series’s most hardcore fans.
So it’s a genuine pleasure to report that ‘Star Trek Beyond’ is not ambitious in the slightest – unless you count the filmmakers’ absolute commitment to making audiences grin, whoop, and bounce up and down in their seats. More than any franchise entry since 1998’s (admittedly ropey) ‘Star Trek Insurrection’, it feels like a classic TV episode: the crew of the Enterprise head to a mysterious planet, they get into a spot of bother and Captain Kirk punches an alien. The end.
Of course there’s a tad more to it than that, as the Enterprise’s investigation into a mysterious shipwreck leads to a spectacular confrontation with a swarm of drones, and leaves the crew marooned and scattered on a rocky, treacherous world. This time around it’s Kirk (Chris Pine) and Scott (Simon Pegg) who do most of the heroic heavy lifting – co-writer Pegg has noticeaby beefed up his own role – while Spock (Zachary Quinto) keeps it suitably cerebral, wrapped up in fears for the future of his race and grief at the death of his older self. A tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy is genuinely moving – though there’s only a post-film dedication to Anton Yelchin, aka Chekov, whose tragic death was too recent.
But the dominant mood is giddy and jubilant: not since the original crew stepped down have we felt such a vivid sense of adventure and comradeship. And it helps that ‘Fast & Furious’ veteran Justin Lin is a better straight-up action director than JJ Abrams ever was: the battle scenes roar like thunder, and a late sequence in a gravity-defying starbase is astonishing.
The film’s Achilles heel – again – is its villain: Idris Elba gives it his all as lizard-faced psycho Krall, but deep down he’s just another muscly warrior with an irrational grudge. Still, that – and a handful of dicey plot holes – aside, this is all fun all the time, a dizzying carnival of wisecracks, fisticuffs, explosions, chases and truly eye-popping effects. Who could ask for more?