Tricky time-space continuums, a nasty thirst for revenge and stealing kisses with Uhura aren’t the only things that will make your head turn—or your mind spin—in Star Trek. The acting is above par (good news indeed), the script is (relatively) tight and there are actual moments of real suspense. It’s the latter that may stun most because the last time audiences felt more than an inkling of suspense in a Trek film it was back in 1986 with Star Trek IV.
But this isn’t your father’s Star Trek. Not anymore.
It’s director J.J. Abrams’ (Alias, Lost)—at least for now. Actually, it’s really the Trek of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the hot writing team behind Transformers and TV’s Fringe. Together, they create a bold new Trek, one that offers just the right amount of nuances from the iconic franchise— the ’60s series, 10 films and four other weekly shows throughout the decades—and more than enough fast-paced techo panache to keep you invested in the story.
And what a story it is. True, some diehard convention-hopping Trekkies may scratch their fake Klingon foreheads after coming out of this one, but by the time the credits roll, it’s hard not to embrace just how well Abrams and Co. have rescued a faded film franchise from its own black hole.
Already generating buzz is the main storyline—and for those who want to be completely surprised, don’t read any further—which revolves around a renegade Romulan (Eric Bana as Nero) who’s traveled through time seeking revenge on a Trek character. That very act tweaks that timeline the franchise has always been fond of toying with, especially in its series. As a result, the Trek history we’ve all come to know—at least for those who’ve been paying attention to it—is sent into warp drive to another creative galaxy, far, far away here.
That’s not to say all Trek lore is lost. It’s not. In fact, most of it is still there, but slightly altered and, truthfully, the tweaked Trek we’re seeing makes sense considering the script.
But beyond this outing’s time travel element—cleverly used to foster future films no doubt—this is ultimately the tale of the origins of Captain James T. Kirk (a noteworthy Chris Pine) and Spock (Heroes’ Zachary Quinto in a defining role), and how destiny demands their inevitable partnership. In fact, both the writers and director manage to evoke emotion if not intrigue in the way they handle the backstories of these iconic characters: on Vulcan, young Spock decides how to integrate his emotional side (from his human mother, played by Wynona Ryder); a rebellious Kirk happily leaves his Iowa home for adventure at Starfleet Academy; Spock’s rise at Starfleet intersects with Kirk’s rambunctious reinterpretation of passing mission simulations; tensions mount as the two become “rivals” on the very first mission of the USS Enterprise.
Actually, the interchanges between Pine and Quinto are engaging to watch. Pine, in particular, seems to have mastered his Kirkisms—the confidence, the horndogginess, that punctuated speech pattern—without seeming over-the-top or that he’s mocking originator William Shatner. Quinto’s fresh youthful vigor gives Spock both the humanity and groundedness the role requires but even the most unmovable Vulcan eyebrows might rise at how the writers toss in enough flirtations between Kirk and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Uhura and Spock. (Star Trek 2: The Love Triangle?) But what gives this Trek much of its thrust is the complex emotional dynamics Pine and Quinto bring to life. (Although, it’s really a Spock-driven picture when all is said and done and looking back, the best Trek films always were.)
Other Trek characters are just fine in Abrams’ capable hands. Karl Urban stands out as a pitch-perfect Dr. Bones McCoy—he’ll have you captivated upon first meeting—and Simon Pegg, who could not have been better cast as young engineer-in-the-making Scotty. John Cho morphs into a surprisingly athletic Sulu, Anton Yelchin is Chekov.
There’s plenty of action in between all this and Abrams choreographs it all to winning ends. A breathtaking sequence in which Kirk and Sulu are spit out of a shuttle and sent sailing down like torpedoes toward the planet Vulcan to thwart an enemy attack stands out. Another segment finds Kirk banished to a frozen tundra where he battles gigantic creatures more likely found in something like Land of the Lost.
The only stumbling block occurs when an older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) surfaces. His explanation of how (or when) he’s arrived feels slightly contrived but even that doesn’t take away from an otherwise invigorating outing, one which, up to its very last battle sequence, keeps you guessing on what sort of Trek we’ll end up with in the future.
By the looks of it, a good one.
***1/2 (out of four)
With John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoë Saldana, Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin. With Eric Bana and Leonard Nimoy. Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Directed by J.J. Abrams.
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