Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Ever since JJ Abrams (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS) relaunched the Star Trek movie franchise it has struggled a little bit to step out of the shadows of the originals.  Thankfully, the latest installment, STAR TREK BEYOND feels like a much more original story and finally lets the actors run with their characters and make them their own.  The movie starts out with personal turmoil rather than deadly peril: Captain Kirk is considering leaving the Enterprise to pursue a promotion and Spock is struggling with the responsibilities he feels towards his race now that there are so few of them left.  Before either one of them can come to a decision, they are called on to aid a captain who claims her ship and crew crashed on an alien world in an unexplored nebula not too far from starbase Yorktown, where the crew had been on R and R.  However, as they go to investigate they are attacked by an unknown force bent on stealing an artifact they have on board, and in the process of trying to fend off the attackers and save the crew, the Enterprise is nearly destroyed and crashes on the planet the attackers came from  To add insult to injury, the majority of the escape pods were intercepted and most of the crew are now prisoners with only three groups free from their enemies clutches.  Group one is Kirk, Chekov, and Kalara, the captain who led them out here.  Group two is Scotty, who was alone until he is rescued from some unfriendly locals by Jaylah, a woman of an unknown species who is trying to escape from Krall (the warlord in charge) and the planet.  Group three is an injured Spock and Dr. McCoy, who are trying to find survivors as well as better medical aid for Spock.  Now all these groups must find a way to uncover what is really going on, figure out how to rescue their friends, and stop whatever nefarious plan Krall is hoping to set in motion.

The story this time around was by far the best of the new trek films, so I must tip my hat to Simon Pegg (THE WORLD’S END) and Doug Jung (TV’s DARK BLUE) who took over writing duties.  Beyond does a decent job of building on the previous films while still being its own story, and I think this is largely based on the fact that this is the first film from the new franchise to give us a villain not tied to the previous universe, which made it easier to not constantly compare it to the films that came before.  The dialogue and character interactions were also vastly more natural and fun, allowing us to get a real feel for the characters, who they are, what they care about, and how they handle things, which makes it easy to empathize and holds the audience’s attention.  Also, while Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are usually considered to be the primary players in the story, they did a really good job of involving other members of the crew, as we get to see plenty of Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, as well as some of the new supporting characters who show up for the first time in this film.

Justin Lin (FAST AND FURIOUS 6) took over directing duties, and overall he did a pretty solid job.  Anyone who likes Star Trek will know that The Federation has a very sharp, sleek image and I love that STAR TREK BEYOND captures that perfectly.  Whether it’s ships, bases, weapons, costumes, or even the environments, everything looks crisp and defined, creating a universe that is easy to lose yourself in.  The action tended to be pretty fun and, with the exception of Krall’s swarming ships, usually easy to follow.  I particularly liked Jaylah’s fight sequences, as they were well choreographed and intense.  The only thing I really wanted more of were shots of space, because outside of the major battles, there were very few shots that covered the Enterprise out and about, which was a little disappointing.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call any of the performances in STAR TREK BEYOND outstanding, they were definitely fun.  Chris Pine (JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT) returns to the part of Captain Kirk, and he seems more comfortable with the role this time around.  Pine does a solid job of portraying a leader who may not always understand what is going on, but is smart enough to keep an eye on the angles and knows when to rely on his team, giving us an engrossing performance that feels natural.  The best part of Zachary Quinto’s (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) performance was Karl Urban (DREDD) and the best part of Urban’s performance was Quinto.  Urban and Quinto play Dr McCoy and Spock respectively, and their chemistry is fantastic.  The stoic, logical nature of Spock pairs perfectly with McCoy’s pessimistic pragmatism and both actors sizzle as their banter steals scene after scene.  Returning to the part of Scotty was Simon Pegg and while he has a bigger role this time around he still plays the character as the humble tech man who is just trying to fix the problem in front of him, albeit with fun dialogue and some snappy one liners.  Sofia Boutella (KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE) joins the cast as Jaylah, and she brings a level of refreshment to the franchise.  Jaylah is very much on her own side, but she is quick witted and handy, allowing her to understand the opportunities in front of her and act on them, and Boutella nails this, giving us a character who is strong, but not above normal fears and insecurities.  Last, but certainly not least, Idris Elba (THE JUNGLE BOOK) tackles the part of Krall, the villain who has a vendetta against The Federation.  Elba has such a terrific range and it’s great to see him apply his considerable skills to a man twisted by pain and time.  Krall is a superb nemesis as his dedication is unbreakable and his reasons  are as complicated as the man himself, and Elba mixes this with a healthy amount of rage and power to give us a villain who will surely become a fan favorite of trekkies.

With STAR TREK BEYOND the new film franchise has truly hit its stride.  The movie has a great story, solid directing, and the performances are fun and engaging, if you’ve been waiting to be impressed by the new universe, this is definitely the movie for you; go out and catch it in theaters, because science fiction blockbusters are always more fun on the big screen.

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10