After the poorly titled misfire of "Star Trek Into Darkness," one could be forgiven for assuming Paramount hiring "Fast & Furious" vet Justin Lin to direct the follow-up was the worst kind of Hail Mary. Diehards already quibble over J.J. Abrams realigning Gene Roddenberry's cerebral brand of science fiction into space opera territory, so the prospect of the Trek world getting any more high-octane has been cause for many an enlarged forehead vein. But Lin, himself a lifelong Trekkie, has helmed a serviceably deft series reinvention in "Star Trek Beyond," the least ambitious Trek movie in ages.
In a landscape where the majority of tentpole films should be indicted in movie court for Doing Too Much, "Star Trek Beyond" is a beautiful underachiever that aims low, content to present a fun adventure film without getting lost in a thorny labyrinth of questionable aspirations. Working from a sharp, trope driven script from co-stars Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, Lin applies much of what made his previous franchise function to the world of Starfleet. Similar to "Fast & Furious" hero Dom Toretto's family, every single member of this diverse cast is given something entertaining to do. This smart move away from the toxic obsession with Chris Pine's Kirk opens the door to a more prismatic view of the ship's crew that feels in line with the themes of unity inherent to Roddenberry's vision.
Where the last two films sought to blow the scope of Trek's world to newly epic proportions, "Star Trek Beyond" is structured comfortably like an extra-sized episode of the original series, just with the rhetoric toned down in favor of easy thrills and snappy banter. The framework is familiar enough: In the midst of their five year mission, the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves between episodic missions, lost in the repetitive ennui of deep space travel, only to be conned into a battle with Krall, a suitably straightforward baddie played with scenery chewing aplomb by Idris Elba. Their ship gets destroyed. The team gets split up. They find each other. A tragic secret about the federation's past gets unearthed and the status quo is reasserted with comforting catharsis.
Outside of one well-executed twist late in the second act, not a single moment of "Star Trek Beyond" is shocking, but the film moves along at such a clip that its sturdy screencraft fails to read as retread. Every scene is little more than an expert delivery system for crisp repartee, aspirational aphorisms, and blatant foreshadowing for comical callbacks. Sound plotting holds together a procession of exciting set pieces, from Lin's visceral decimation of the Enterprise to the breathtaking suspense of Sulu (John Cho) jumpstarting a hundred year old ship by driving it off a cliff face. There's nothing here to elevate the art form, but who really cares? This is a movie where James T. Kirk drives a motorcycle in space and our heroes fell an entire armada by blasting The Beastie Boys at them. It's the summer. What more do you really want from a $185 million blockbuster?
It's not a hollow film by any means, but the simple throughline of "Star Trek Beyond", that we as a society are better off together than at odds with one another, is never shoved in your face. Instead, it plays like a soothing bass line anchoring this poptimist thrill ride to its satisfying climax. Not every summer movie has to be a home run to succeed. "Star Trek Beyond" is proof enough that hitting a double and getting on base works just fine.
"Star Trek Beyond," directed by Justin Lin, is now playing.