Know the following before we proceed:
I have never loved any geekery more than Star Trek: The Original Series and its accompanying movies.
I am a stickler for and lover of continuity in sagas/universes/stories.
I am generally a great fan of J.J. Abrams’s work.
I hated some of the things I heard Abrams say about his attitude toward original Trek and his intent to re-imagine it.
And so today, on my wife’s 35th birthday, we went to an IMAX equipped theater to see…
I had nothing to worry about. Neither do you.
This thing is really good.
In this age of endless, needless horror remakes and TV show reboots, it would have been very easy for director Abrams and company, power players after the success of Lost and Cloverfield, to disregard 40-plus years of entertainment, cast from the A List, turn the Enterprise into a U.N. with engines, and slap the Star Trek label on it to the tune of a sheeple-fueled $80 million opening weekend.
They did none of that and I have a feeling the rewards, both financial and funtastic, are going to be greater than anyone thought possible.
(We’re SPOILER FREE until I tell you otherwise)
An electrical storm in space produces a massive, impossibly-shaped ship with a renegade Romulan in command. This Romulan, called Nero (Eric Bana), destroys the first Federation vessel he sees and disappears into the ether. He’s looking for something, for someone, and once he’s found his quarry he has catastrophically deadly plans for the Federation.
His search will take 25 years.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) bounces from bar to bosom, looking for any reason to avoid responsibility despite his natural born aptitude for Starfleet. Kirk’s latest bar fight leads him to Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, more mature and assured than Jeffrey Hunter), who dares the young Lothario to do more, to be more, than he has ever bothered to consider.
Flash-forward three years. When Nero threatens Vulcan, the bulk of the Federation armada is otherwise engaged. So Cadet Kirk, in Big Trouble as usual, is secreted onto the newly-christened Enterprise by his academy pal Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban). Once there, Kirk finds himself immediately at odds with not only Captain Pike, but the ship’s Vulcan first officer, a fellow named Spock (Zachery Quito), as well. With fellow fledglings Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov at their familiar stations, the Enterprise blasts off for dangers unknown over Spock’s home planet.
Where Abrams’s Star Trek succeeds best is in its replication of established characters while believably expanding them in settings and situations we’ve never seen them in. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman obviously did their research on who these people are and it shines through in the crew’s actions and reactions in chaos around them. Chekov seeks to prove himself. Sulu is gallant and steady. Scotty really gets off on solving engineering problems. Perhaps best of all is Urban’s McCoy, who has all the facial ticks and drawling cantankerousness that make me miss, and appreciate, DeForest Kelley all over again.
The casting and characters are great, but at the heart of this trek (and, indeed, now at the heart of the entire Star Trek universe) is Spock and Quinto is up to the challenge of recreating, and continuing, the legacy of one of the most recognizable characters in American popular culture. Never stilted, never remotely approaching parody or condescension, Quito’s Spock is the conflicted, bottled and, yes, emotional center of the new cast. Kirk is ostensibly the main character, but the plot revolves around, and is driven by, Spock, both the young and new…and the wizened and original. Leonard Nimoy’s appearance as "Spock Prime" not only lends gravitas to the project as a whole, but feels like a stamp of approval from what and who has come before, which is something this franchise reboot needed as an in with the fans. Once Nimoy’s foot is in the door, though, Abrams’s Trek flies entirely, and assuredly, on its own.
Everything is not Romulan Ale and tribbles, though. There’s a diversion on an ice planet that pads the narrative’s middle needlessly and we don’t ever get more than expository dialog to explain Nero’s motives. Also, the ending feels a bit too easy. I was surprised the end was the end when climax climaxed.
Quibbles aside, this a cracking good adventure, and a great jumping-off point for a new series of cinematic Treks.
Go see it.
* * * 1/2
(SPOILER LADEN COMMENTS BELOW)
-Continuity nerds take heed; this IS a retcon. Everything that’s come before will be overwritten by the history this/these movie/s creates. The beauty part is, everything that’s come before, particularly everything involving Spock, even tangentially, HAS to have happened in order for the new continuity to exist, so the past TV shows and movies are just as "real" as ever.
-Except maybe for Voyager.
-Perhaps ironically, the one Star Trek series that has NOT been retconned by the new movie is the much-maligned Enterprise, whose captain gets a mention.
-If you want to know more about Nero and his history, read the comic book prequel series from IDW. Spock in not the only established character involved.
-As I said above, this movie makes Spock THE central character in the Star Trek universe.
-I could have used more, or any, of McCoy in action.
-Some may be jarred by the romance between Spock and Uhura, but this is not with precedent. There was some hint at affection, at least from her to him, in the earliest episodes of the Original Series.
-I preferred Jeffrey Hunter’s take on Captain Pike.
-Ben Cross as Sarek was no Mark Lenard, either
-The nods to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were welcome.