(Originally posted 22nd July 2016 - complete and total spoilers)
In a long tradition of Hollywood blockbusters, Star Trek Beyond gives you exactly what you expect, but it does at least do it competently and with some personality. It also lives up to the long lineage of Star Trek by successfully combining action fare with some long-standing character development. It's only really the bare minimum you could expect from a film series that relies on maintaining the status quo, but it is there.
The general theme of the film is that together we are stronger; “Ye cannae break a stick in a bundle” - primarily based on the fact that the villain of the piece is trying to bring down the Federation. Unfortunately, this doesn't come across very clearly because the antagonist's back story and motivation is kept secret for a dramatic “reveal” in the final act (which you will have figured out at least 45 minutes earlier). It's also rather undermined by the nature of the enemy, who are presented as a Star Wars-type army of Stormtroopers; faceless and plodding and can't shoot for shit. These drones are the ultimate in unity in that they mindlessly follow the orders and indeed it is this element that is exposed as a weakness when it comes to destroying them. So the message is unity but with individuality? We work together but we're not drones? I feel like it may have been slightly muddied along the way but there is definitely an aspirational message there somewhere.
The spaceships of the villains are a great concept; referred to as bees by the characters, they are more like locusts, overcoming their enemies with sheer numbers and literally ripping apart enemy ships. I'm not familiar enough with the world of sci-fi to know if this is an original concept but it felt very fresh and different and works in the tradition of Star Trek bringing in new and interesting technologies to keep their alien races on point (like The Borg for example). Similarly, the massive Space Station colony of Yorktown is gloriously realised and in terms of visual effects in general, it feels like the film never puts a foot wrong.
The main cast is as you were, and it's only the ones who have personality (Scotty and McCoy) who ever really catch your interest. The weight of the emotional story is placed on Spock, which never really works. There is only so many times you can play the “logical guy has emotions” card before it stops being a character arc and we just accept that the guy has emotions. Idris Elba is excellently menacing as the main villain but sadly is rather less convincing when he tries to play a human. Sofia Boutella is the other stand-out in the guest cast and her relationship with Scotty is played just about perfectly.
I do think this new incarnation is being slightly hamstrung by having to tie in to long-established characters and they need to make more of bringing in new regular personalities. The death of Anton Yelchin has gifted them a perfect opportunity to do this, as a respectful end for Chekov can be written in and that slot can be taken up by an entirely new character. Make it an arse-kicking woman who doesn't have to wear a tiny skirt as standard issue uniform. Someone very much like, if not actually, Boutella's character of Jaylah (the ending does open the door for her to become a regular).
Plot-wise, don't expect any surprises. It's pretty by the numbers stuff, but it does the job. The one thing that really always annoys me with these kinds of films is when they put people into positions of danger as if we're supposed to feel any real suspense about their fate. We know that Kirk isn't going to get sucked out into space and he'll manage to press that button just in time. We know that the villain isn't going to shoot magic death smoke into the atmosphere and kill millions of people. Stop building suspense into your plots if you never have the courage to do anything out of the norm. It doesn't work.
One last moan about Star Trek in general. As stated in this very film, Starfleet is not a military operation. They are a scientific expedition. An incredibly well-armed and combat-trained scientific expedition. I know you have to make action films, but could you just for once not have the whole plot centred around the killing of another species? This film had the set-up to do it, too, because the main villain is an ex-Starfleet member who is wreaking misplaced revenge after spending centuries losing his humanity. Wouldn't it have been more satisfying if he had reconnected with his fellow man and stopped his fiendish plot because he saw the error of his ways? No? Beat him up and then blast him into the deathly ice grip of space? Okay then.
A solid if unsurprising addition to the canon – 7/10