It looked like bad luck for the 13th “Star Trek” film, but writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and director Justin Lin have instead shaken it out, dusted it off, and found some new life in the 50-year-old series.
“Star Trek Beyond” feels refreshing in the way that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” felt back in the summer of 1982.
Moviegoers had been disappointed by the initial feature film, Robert Wise’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979). What Wise had tried to convey as a sense of observation and wonder, viewers interpreted as “slow” and “boring.” They wanted a return to the characters they loved from the 1966-1969 TV series.
As of late, the “Star Trek” movies have similarly lost their way in a wash of lens flares, explosions, alternate timelines and showboating.
Very simply, the new film creates symmetry, and teamwork. All seven of the principals — Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) — are now equal players.
When the classic “Space… the final frontier…” speech comes up, they all take turns reading it.
Deep into their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, there’s a bit of space ennui. But before long, the crew is tricked and attacked by a swarm of man-sized, metallic space “bees,” cracking the Enterprise into crumbs and crash-landing the crew on an alien planet.
There, they meet a cute, ponytailed alien girl, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and find the remains of a century-old Federation starship. They also encounter a powerful, vengeful villain, Krall (Idris Elba). It’s a story worthy of the old TV show.
Along with streamlining the characters and the relationships — both Kirk and Spock consider other lines of work, threatening the camaraderie of the crew — Lin provides a few behemoth action sequences — not exactly flawless, but exhilarating — and a snappy pace.
Lin’s track record is far from spotless, as anyone who saw “Annapolis” can attest, and notably in charge of four of the seven infuriatingly stupid, enormously popular “Fast and Furious” movies.
However, one of them, “Fast Five,” somehow found a magical balance between reckless and entertaining, which Lin also brings to “Star Trek Beyond.” It helps that the talented Pegg likely gave the screenplay a dose of nerdy goodness.
Together, as a team, they have unexpectedly delivered the best and most satisfying “Star Trek” film in 20 years, since “Star Trek: First Contact.” May it live long, and prosper.
Star Trek Beyond
Three and a half stars
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Directed by: Justin Lin
Running time: 2 hours