This has been a wet fart of a summer at the movies. It started good, with the very solid Captain America Civil War, but that gave way to the flaccid and the bloated. There have been some passably entertaining films, but nothing I would call great or even very good. Luckily, the end of July is here to save this lackluster summer. It might very well be lowered expectations due to a few lackluster months, but Star Trek Beyond is right now a strong contender for best movie of the summer.
My lack of any deep care for the Enterprise crew or their adventures allowed me to have a fairly positive take on the Into Darkness when it first came out, though even in that review the more thought I applied to the film the less I liked it. My opinion has not improved in the intervening time. While there is no way for Beyond to escape some sense of pandering, with it still featuring the original crew, it lacks Into Darkness’s morbid feel of rooting through the bones of the old stuff instead of creating anything new. If anything, Beyond feels like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. A particularly action packed episode on steroids, but it still has that kind of adventure of the week sort of feel.
Star Trek Beyond sees the Enterprise crew’s shore leave interrupted for a rescue mission in uncharted space that goes seriously awry when they are suddenly attacked. As the ship is destroyed, an occurrence so frequent in the films that it lacks any effect, the crew is split up and they each have to work to try to get everyone freed from a powerful foe intent on destroying the Federation for some old slight. It is not exactly going boldly where no one has gone before, but at least it isn’t going where it has famously been yet again.
This is far from a perfect movie. The opening half hour is particularly unfocused, especially when the crew is first split up. The villain, as is becoming tradition in this series, never has his methods or motivations properly explained. Also, for a franchise that is often on the more thoughtful side of science fiction, Beyond pays the barest lip service to any serious science fiction before going full on action nonsense. Really, the villain feels like the biggest missed opportunity in the film, since once he is explained it helps tie the rest of the movie together, but that information would have helped a lot better earlier in the film.
Still, even with those complaints Star Trek Beyond is a blast. It gets the characters very right, with each member of the crew having a chance to shine and perfectly what captures what has made these characters so popular for so long. The cast they got for this reboot has always been one of the films’ strengths, and that is still true. Most of the primary crew can and have headlined films all on their own. Director Justin Lin is a master of using a big cast and making the viewer feel the camaraderie, as seen in his work on the Fast & Furious movies. And while the action is ridiculous, it is internally consistent. No nonsensical twists just to have twists, but a story that builds on its own logic.
Star Trek Beyond is not likely to go down as an all-time classic. It is no Mad Max Fury Road. It is an engaging and well executed action movie; thoroughly entertaining is not ground breaking. After a summer of franchise non-starters like Warcraft and ambitious wrecks like X-Men Apocalypse, the satisfying competence of Star Trek Beyond is a complete delight.