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Zoe Saldana plays Uhura and John Cho plays Sulu in Star Trek Beyond.

Kimberley French

3 out of 4 stars

Title
Star Trek Beyond
Written by
Simon Pegg and Doug Jung
Directed by
Justin Lin
Starring
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
Genre
Scifi
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2016

When Paramount signed J.J. Abrams to resurrect Star Trek for the next generation (sorry), studio executives surely must have been hoping to boldly go (sorry again) where few franchises have gone before. Aside from the James Bond films (which refresh themselves every decade or so), the Godzilla movies (whose only constant is an arbitrary dude in a kaiju suit) and the Friday the 13th chapters (even ol' hockey-mask Jason sat out a few entries), no modern Hollywood series has been as long-running as Star Trek. But to take the brand beyond the original casts – to make it the sleek, sexy, lens-flare-y product audiences now crave – would be a challenge. Enter Abrams, the industry wonder boy adept at turning mythology-dump gobbledygook (Alias, Lost) into for-the-masses entertainment.

It was a smart hire, at first. Abrams's simply titled Star Trek was a blast of adrenalin and a clean-slate wipe of the canon that so weighed down the Star Trek legacy. It was zippy, fun and even deployed a cute time-travel plot that placated both Star Trek novices and the diehard experts who so carefully monitor any movements in Gene Roddenberry's vast galaxy. But then things fell apart. Star Trek Into Darkness took all that was good about Abrams's first film and placed it into a Dumpster, which was then set on fire. The villain was fresh, but beholden to the old mythology. The plot was gritty purely for grittiness sake, and more earthbound than any film with "Star" in the title had a right to be. Oh, and there was magical blood that solved everyone's problems. Something had to be done to correct course, or the entire USS Enterprise would crash.

So, exit Abrams (off to guide some other "Star" franchise, never really heard of it) and enter Justin Lin. It all made sense on paper – Lin had already turned the Fast and Furious series around when it looked as if Tokyo Drift would die a straight-to-video death. Perhaps he could also help guide Star Trek before it inadvertently hit its final frontier (sorry for the last time, I swear) – a reboot of a reboot, to couch it in the industry's own language.

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Happily, Star Trek Beyond is much more than a mere refresh. Thanks to Lin's steady directorial hand and knack for visualizing improbable set-pieces, the new film is bold, breathless and propulsive, a distillation of the action movie to its purest elements. Which is not to say it's merely eye candy – this is a character-forward film, too, with every key member of the Enterprise getting a storyline to develop, and a moment to shine. The film just might be the most balanced blockbuster of the summer.

Credit must also go to screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Wisely ignoring most of Into Darkness, the pair return to the simple elements that made Star Trek so appealing in the first place: crew camaraderie, a sense of unbound curiosity, an appetite for adventure and, most importantly, a world that is built upon hope.

To that end, Beyond kicks things off in the right direction, with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew in the middle of a five-year, deep-space exploration. Worlds are visited, species are catalogued, McGuffins are collected, etc. But then a ferocious alien named Krall (Idris Elba, oozing an easy evil) comes along, Kirk and Co. find themselves stranded on an unknown planet, and Lin's movie becomes an amalgam of the greatest summer-movie tropes: a heist film, a rescue mission, a road-trip movie and a spectacle where things just blow up real nice.

In between, Jung and Pegg (who returns to play engineer Scotty, which is mostly a riff on his Mission: Impossible nerd) carve out solid corners of character development, plus enough comedy to mistake this for a Galaxy Quest sequel. Even the third-act twist – mandatory these days for franchise entries where the thrill of the familiar is simply not enough – makes a sort of sense, or at least more than the terribly telegraphed Khan reveal did for Into Darkness.

There is little doubt that some Star Trek fans will find fault with Lin's whiz-bang approach – and, yeah, using the Beastie Boys song Sabotage to save the galaxy is a stretch, even in sci-fi – but it's impossible to watch Beyond without cracking at least the tiniest of smiles. Now all Paramount has to do is convince Lin and his collaborators to stick around – and avoid the siren calls of that other Star franchise.

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