2016 marks the 50th anniversary of when Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek TV show premiered on the small screen. It's for related reasons that Trekkies have been both excited and concerned about Star Trek Beyond, this year's film installment in the space exploration franchise. It doesn't help that Beyond is yet another addition to the Star Trek Kelvin timeline: an alternate/rebooted version of the Original Series (OS) Star Trek continuity that has achieved mainstream commercial success with Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, but proven far more divisive within the devoted Star Trek fan community.
Whereas the previous Star Trek Kelvin timeline entries were directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Trek Beyond was helmed by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) and co-written by Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty in the Kelvin timeline) and Doug Jung. The core cast of the rebooted Star Trek film series - Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, and (sadly, recently-deceased) Anton Yelchin - returned for Beyond, so it begs the question: what impact (good or bad) has the change in personnel behind the camera had on the quality of the latest Kelvin Star Trek movie, compared to what's come before?
Well, the review embargo for Star Trek Beyond has now been lifted; meaning, critics have begun weighing in with their own answers to that question. You can read SPOILER-FREE excerpts from several of the first published reviews for the film below (and can click the corresponding links for the full reviews).
THR - David Rooney
J.J. Abrams reanimated a dormant sci-fi franchise for the big screen with his propulsive 2009 origin story, Star Trek, but then shifted into neutral for the humdrum 2013 follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, a regimented blockbuster that felt hollow and heavy beneath all its noise and brawn. With Fast & Furious veteran Justin Lin stepping in as director, the third reboot installment, Star Trek Beyond, regains momentum, and not just in the obvious area of its muscular action set-pieces. The script injects a welcome strain of humor that's true to the original Gene Roddenberry creation, delivering nostalgia without stiff veneration.
Variety - Owen Glieberman
“Star Trek Beyond” might have been more accurately entitled “Star Trek Contained.” It’s got a very familiar, old-fangled, no-mystery structure, and that’s because it’s basically the “Star Trek” version of an interplanetary action film, with a plot that doesn’t take you to many new frontiers. But there’s plenty of chance to hang out with a cast that audiences have — rightly — come to love.
The Wrap - Russ Fischer
The greatest trick J.J. Abrams pulled when recreating “Star Trek” was assembling the first cast in the property’s long history with charisma to rival the original crew... Justin Lin achieved a similar feat in the “Fast and Furious” series, building a sprawling character ensemble into the main attraction of the franchise. That experience made Lin a smart choice to take the helm of “Star Trek” after Abrams teleported away to “Star Wars.” Indeed, Lin’s first spin in the Enterprise is cut from the mold of his muscle-car sequels, as it opts to exploit the cast’s facility with their Starfleet personas rather than boldly going where no “Star Trek” has gone before.
JoBlo - JimmyO
The modern summer blockbuster is usually filled to the brim with explosions and intense action sequences. All too often the filmmakers are more concerned with heavy loading CGI and effects, forgetting that we still need to care about the characters. With Justin Lin from THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise stepping aboard the USS Enterprise, you’d expect the same from STAR TREK BEYOND. And then it begins.... [However,] this feels in many ways like the original series. And yes, that is a compliment. At a swift two hour running time, this engaging continuation manages to mix action, humor and surprising depth when necessary.
Indiewire - Eric Kohn
A lighter, funnier effort than the previous installments, “Star Trek Beyond” reflects a changing of the guard. With JJ Abrams passing the baton to Justin Lin, the latest entry plays like a CGI-heavy “Fast and the Furious” movie set in the future, with fancy gadgetry and fast-paced showdowns taking prominence over plot. Simon Pegg does double-duty, returning to the role of Scotty and co-writing the screenplay with Doug Jung. The result has Lin’s eye for outstanding set pieces and Pegg’s ear for injecting familiar genre tropes with wit. There’s an odd disconnect between the movie’s undercooked conflict and its epic scale, to the point where it barely exists as more than a series of flashy moments. But its trivial qualities come as something of a relief — this is a movie engineered to avoid overextending its allure, which differs greatly from so many of its summer movie peers that do exactly that.
The Guardian - Peter Bradshaw
Star Trek Beyond doesn’t go that far beyond what we might expect: a very decent, watchable franchise episode which is marooned for quite a long time on a distant rocky planet. There is a potent new force for evil in the form of anti-Star Fleet insurgent Krall, played by Idris Elba... This new movie could arguably have given Elba more to do, earlier in the picture, but it is the inter-relationship of the Enterprise’s crew which is the real source of drama. An entertaining adventure.
Forbes - Scott Mendelson
The picture is filled with enjoyable characters and occasionally sharp dialogue, and a couple solid action scenes. It looked great in glorious IMAX 2D. For many that will be enough. But it spends too much time literally and metaphorically stranded. Beyond whether or not Kirk “finds his smile,” the movie really isn’t about anything of note. Star Trek Beyond sadly upholds that old “even/odd” rule for Star Trek cinematic universe. Or maybe it’s just the unlucky 13th installment.
Crave Entertainment - William Bibbiani
The new film Star Trek Beyond is not the best Star Trek movie, but it is one of the most enjoyable ones. The film, directed by Justin Lin (Fast Five) and co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, presents the audience with a fast-paced, smart adventure in which the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise finds themselves outmatched by a new enemy, so then they band together to solve a series of suspenseful and exciting problems. It is not unlocking the secrets of the universe, and it is not a particularly potent allegory for our times. It is a rip-roaring sci-fi movie in which the characters do wonderful things, talk to each other about the topics that matter to them, and stand up for their values. And that’s enough, this time.
Cinema Blend - Eric Eisenberg
Given that 2016 happens to be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, it would have been a tremendous shame if Star Trek Beyond was a disappointment -- but it's really the opposite of that. It's a refreshing and exciting sci-fi feature with a classic feel, brought to life with a funny, engaging script and thrilling direction. It's a reminder of the true greatness in the franchise, and one of the summer's best blockbusters.
So far, the critical response to Star Trek Beyond is largely positive and currently holding at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes after 18 reviews total. Critics seem to agree that Lin's knack for staging exhilarating set pieces and action sequences serves his Star Trek film well, as does the humor and humanity injected into the story by Pegg and Jung. Moreover, the chemistry amongst the film's central cast appears to be just as strong as it was in the last two Star Trek installments - with the series newcomers Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) receiving top marks for their work in Beyond, too.
The one recurring criticism made of Star Trek Beyond thus far is that the film doesn't break new ground for the Star Trek franchise and instead delivers a satisfying experience that lacks for innovation. Depending on how you look at it though, that could mean that Beyond feels like a missed opportunity to do something truly special to commemorate the Star Trek property's 50th birthday... or, it could mean that Beyond feels like course-correction, following on the heels of Star Trek Into Darkness (a film that was received well enough by general audiences, but heavily criticized within the Trekkie community).
All in all, though, it sounds like Star Trek Beyond has the makings of a crowd-pleasing sci-fi adventure that many (most?) hardcore Star Trek fans should be able to get behind. We'll see if that consensus changes next week, when the film arrives in U.S. theaters. Look for Screen Rant's own Star Trek Beyond review to go live when that happens!
Star Trek Beyond opens in U.S. theaters on July 22nd, 2016.