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The USS Enterprise, halfway into its five-year mission and with boredom and fatigue taking its toll, arrives at the Starbase Yorktown for some much-needed shore leave. But when the crew is sent on a rescue mission through a nearby nebula they come face to face with Krall, who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) takes command
Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) takes command

It’s tough to make a Star Trek film. You have to satisfy the Trekkers, hardcore and otherwise, of course. But the movie will also have to have wide appeal beyond the fervent few, and tempt those on a casual visit to their local multiplex to pay for the further adventures of a fifty-year-old franchise.

That 50th birthday loomed large in the genesis of Star Trek Beyond. With J.J. Abrams, director of the first two reboots, jumping (space)ship to another galaxy far, far away and a little picture called The Force Awakens, the job fell to stalwart genre writer and producer Roberto Orci, who then dropped out at the eleventh hour. With a scramble for both a script and director, Star Trek Beyond could have turned out to be a complete disaster. That it isn’t is a surprise. That it’s also an absolute triumph, the best ‘Trek for ages and the perfect 50th celebration is nothing short of a miracle.

Krall (Idris Elba), this crew's nemesis
Krall (Idris Elba), this crew’s nemesis

We join our intrepid crew almost three years into their fabled five-year mission. They’re bored, the ship is feeling the strain and Captain Kirk – here more world-weary, less cocky than before – is having Daddy issues. It’s his birthday, he’ll be one year older than George Kirk was when he died and he’s contemplating leaving Starfleet. A layover at the mightily impressive Yorktown starbase for some welcome R&R is interrupted with an urgent mission; as the most advanced ship in the fleet, the Enterprise must go to a planet beyond a previously unnavigable nebula to rescue a downed ship. Once there, the Federation’s flagship is attacked, boarded, then destroyed as Krall appears, searching for the film’s MacGuffin and scattering the valiant Enterprise crew across the planet below.

Both Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) were criticised for focusing almost solely on the Kirk/Spock burgeoning bromance. Indeed, Karl Urban – aka Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy – almost turned down the option to reprise his role a second time for just that reason. Thankfully, replacement writers Simon Pegg (on double duty here as well as playing Montgomery Scott) and Doug Jung play smart and offer some disparate teaming-up; Kirk lands on the planet with Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu and Uhura get captured by Krall and, best of all, Bones and Spock buddy-up, giving the film it’s humour and heart.

Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a walking stick! Bones (Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) team-up
Dammit man, I’m a doctor, not a walking stick! Bones (Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) team-up

What unfolds feels like an extended episode from The Original Series and that’s a huge compliment. Krall hates the Federation, wants to destroy it and will stop at nothing. Same old, same old, but this is Star Trek and it just feels so right. Getting the crew back together, getting off-planet, following Krall back to Yorktown for the big showdown – these are all obvious steps that you could write down on a napkin. But Star Trek, the best ‘Trek, always won by focusing on the characters and that’s also where Star Trek Beyond shines.

There are a couple of bum notes. As with this year’s X-Men: Apocolypse, which buried Oscar Isaac under layers of prosthetics, Idris Elba is unrecognisable as Krall, asking the question – why hire such a well-known face in the first place? A couple of fight scenes are so tightly filmed as to be unfollowable and a dirt bike? Really? In the 23rd Century? No. Just no.

Krall launches his attack on Yorktown
Krall launches his attack on Yorktown

Still, Krall is a formidable enemy and his backstory reveals an intriguing, alternate take on the concept of a Federation. Everything looks great up on the screen and it’s refreshing to finally have the crew of the Enterprise actually go trekking somewhere other than Earth, with Yorktown looking sumptuous and extremely high-tech. Sofia Boutella, as ‘alien of the week’ Jaylah, more than holds her own and the way in which the real-world passing of original Spock Leonard Nimoy is dealt with within the story is extremely touching. And of course every scene with Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, still as bouncy and optimistic as a puppy, has huge poignency due to his passing earlier this year; Kirk makes a toast to ‘absent friends’ at one point and Chekov is front and centre as he does so.

As we’ve reported, Star Trek 4 has already been announced, so box office expectations for ‘Beyond are already high. As well they might be. The 2009 reboot was superb, ‘Into Darkness far less so. Star Trek Beyond, however, is a quintessential ‘Trek film and should ensure that the franchise has a good chance of living long and prospering for the next fifty years.