I do not claim to be a STAR TREK fan. It's not for lack of interest, but lack of effort. I've never really taken time to delve into any of its iterations. So my only real STAR TREK experience has been from the mixed bag that is the Kelvin Timeline. The first Kelvin TREK was entertaining and brought newbies like myself into the fold nicely, but left something to be desired from lifelong fans. The second entry is hot garbage. When JJ Abrams left the franchise to go remix STAR WARS, Paramount announced Justin Lin would be helming the third entry into the Kelivn timeline. This was music to my ears.
Justin Lin is most famous for directing the worst and the three best FAST AND FURIOUS movies. Now, I am on record as an unabashed lover of the franchise, and before this review de-rails into why it's the best action franchise since Die Hard, I will just say this: Justin Lin is a salesman of the highest order. On paper, the FAST AND FURIOUS movies should not work, but Justin Lin was able to balance the large casts, imbue the films with a ton of heart, and pull off some truly bonkers (and entertaining) action sequences. I knew he was capable of handling the new STAR TREK franchise and boy does he do so well.
STAR TREK: BEYOND is a great time at the movies. Plain and simple, this is one of the most entertaining films of the summer and every element is in service of providing that entertainment. The cast has always been decent, but here they are all VERY good. Spock and Bones find themselves shipwrecked together, Scotty pairs up with the indigenous Jayla, Kirk and Chekov pair off, and Uhura finds herself with Sulu. Every single one of these pairings is great and Lin's skill at juggling the separate stories while making them culminate in the endgame is always impressive. He has a lot of experience working with large ensembles, but he's never had to split them up before. The result leaves a little to be desired in the way of individual character beats (Chekov takes an unfortunate backseat to almost everyone else), but the film feels balanced otherwise.
Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's script crackles with energy but also ebbs and flows nicely to give some time to let the characters interact with each other and take a breath. Spock and Bones having a heart to heart over Spock's future at Starfleet all while eulogizing Leonard Nimoy might be the most organic for of homage I have seen in one of these legacy films. In a summer full of frantic action movies and too drawn out comedies, STAR TREK: BEYOND finds a nice jog and holds to it with water breaks in between. It makes for an incredibly watchable experience.
As action goes, the film is lighter on it than any other Kelvin Timeline TREK or the usual Justin Lin piece. This works in its favor because when and action beat happens it feels earned and they are able to dedicate much more time to it rather than getting in, getting out, and moving on. Justin Lin might be the best single action director in the business today and that is no more evident than in the assault on The Enterprise. The sequence is confident to a point of near arrogance if he didn't have the chops to back it up. Lin uses the geography of The Enterprise to great effect and towards the end of the sequence lets the visuals and score speak for themselves. In a spot where a dumb little button could be placed on the scene, Lin restrains himself and lets the tragedy of the moment sink in.
There is a moment near the climax of STAR TREK: BEYOND that gave me chills and plastered a big dumb grin on my face as I experienced legitimate JOY from a movie for the first time this year. That moment does not work on paper and if I were to describe it here, you would roll your eyes and discredit me as a film critic (some of you who have seen the film have probably done that anyway). But that's right up Justin Lin's alley. He's able to take the most ill-advised ideas, play them with earnestness and find the joy embedded in there. STAR TREK: BEYOND has been completely undersold by word of mouth and is one of, if not, the best times at the theater this summer.