Originally published in the May 10, 2009 edition of "The Source."
Exciting, witty and fun are not words typically equated with “Star Trek.”
Unlike many of my peers, I did not grow up in a Spock-loving home. I viewed “Star Trek” as the domain of nerds, a logic-obsessed cult obsession that was as lifeless and dull as high school physics.
The best compliment I can pay to director J.J. Abrams’ re-launch of the franchise is that it is not only all the positive things I said earlier, but it also made me want to revisit the previous films and see if my prior judgment was completely wrong.
Part reboot and part sequel in a way that only “Star Trek,” with its time-hopping and alternate realities, can be, Abrams reignites a tired franchise in an intelligent, entertaining sci-fi adventure that wins over the uninitiated while still satisfying hard-core Trekkies. It starts the series fresh without denying the dozen films that came beforehand and does so with energy and charm that provide the real jump-start to the summer movie season. Forget the flaccid “Wolverine;” “Star Trek” is the origin film to see this summer.
The film opens with a brutal attack on the S.S. Kelvin by a Romulan vessel that has appeared out of nowhere, commandeered by vicious Nero (Eric Bana). Nero kills the Kelvin’s Captain, leaving George Kirk to sacrifice his life to save the crew, which also includes his wife and newborn son. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up to be a reckless juvenile delinquent, stealing cars and picking bar fights before a chance encounter with Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) causes him to enroll in Starfleet.
Right about now, devoted “Trek” fans are probably counting the ways in which this origin is wrong—Kirk knew his father, was a dedicated leader and best friends with Spock. I know this not because I was a fan of the series but because the film addresses these very inconsistencies; Nero’s attack, it seems, has altered the space-time continuum and changed the way that Kirk comes to serve on the S.S. Enterprise.
It has also changed his relationship with Spock (Zachary Quinto), the half-human, half-Vulcan who becomes the center of Nero’s plan. I won’t address anymore spoilers, except to say that the apparent discrepancies are explained by a beloved “Trek” icon whose appearance hammers home Abrams’ respect to “Trek” fans while setting the tone that while the film will be respectful, it’s going to evolve the franchise into its own animal. The continuity issues that many Trekkers complained bogged down previous films have been changed and the series has the freedom to move forward in a new direction.
While the events of the “Star Trek” universe may be altered, Abrams’ masterstroke is to use those as a way to re-introduce beloved characters. Although I was not a Trekker, it is probably to grow up without accumulating some “Star Trek” knowledge by pop culture osmosis. That’s why even I can smile when Kirk is introduced to “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), the gruff, no-nonsense doctor who becomes Kirk’s best friend in Academy. Mr. Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura are also along for the ride. The film also finds a new way to introduce Scotty, played by “Hot Fuzz’s” Simon Pegg, who manages to steal every scene he ends up in.
Make no mistake, though; this is not merely a “get the band together” film. At heart, Abrams is interested in restarting the franchise in a way that honors beloved characters. And that means creating a story in which Kirk’s cockiness will be put to the test and Spock will have to struggle with clashes between his human emotion and Vulcan logic. A key theme in the film is the balance needed between Kirk and Spock, who must overcome their bitterness and work together. The theme wouldn’t work if the actors didn’t deliver and its here that the film truly comes to life. Quinto, best known as the cold and calculating villain on television’s “Heroes,” embodies Spock’s brilliance and logic but also brings a human anger and sadness to the icon. Pine (“Smoking Aces”) never once goes for a William Shatner imitation and, instead, delivers a movie-star making turn as the reckless, womanizing and overly-confident Kirk. I was curious as to whether a young, unproven actor could anchor such an iconic franchise but, by the time Pine sits in the captain’s chair in the film’s end, I had no doubts. He’s a charismatic, funny and likable lead who directors would be wise to keep an eye on.
The lion’s share of the credit, however, belongs to Abrams, the TV producer who also helmed the underrated “Mission: Impossible 3.” Balancing healthy respect for the franchise while injecting it with much-needed life, Abrams brings a fresh, fast and exciting energy to the film. The special effects are skillful but not overwhelming and the film deftly balances heart and humor with thrilling action sequences. Rather than deliver a bleak origin, as the Batman and Bond franchises have, Abrams peppers this feature with the sense of adventure, excitement and hope that Gene Roddenberry’s series was known for. Tonally, “Star Trek” recalls last year’s “Iron Man,” which had the same giddy, exciting and supremely entertaining feel. It’s the rare summer film that feels completely satisfying and a ride worth taking again.
I have a feeling those “Star Trek” conventions may be a bit more crowded next year.
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