Saturday, May 9, 2009
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek captures the spirit of Gene Roddenberry's original creation better than any other subsequent spinoff or sequel has up until now. I'm even including the six films which starred the original cast led by William Shatner. This enormously enjoyable summer confection is still lacking the all important philosophical depth of the sixties-era sci-fi actioner. But with the once ailing franchise now reinvigorated by Abrams and crew, it looks like there will be plenty of opportunity to perfect the brew.
When I say the film goes back to Star Trek's beginnings, I'm not kidding. We see the birth of our hero, James T. Kirk, during a turbulent battle in which his father dies at the hand of the Romulan villain, Nero (Eric Bana). There's also a glimpse at the childhood of the stoic Vulcan, Spock, a painful time when he is teased and bullied for being half-human. Twenty minutes of this setup are a bit too much for anyone but the fanboys. It's enough to know that Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up with a chip on his shoulder due to daddy's absence, and Spock (Zachary Quinto) has his own - an inner emotional turmoil due to his mixed parentage - that he hides from his father's race which forbids such emotions.
The action really begins after Starfleet cadets, including Kirk and Spock, are called to defend one of the planets in their Federation from a Romulan attack, again led by Nero. This is the impetus for the familiar supporting players of McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to unite under Spock's command on the starship Enterprise against the lunatic Nero. Wait... shouldn't it be Kirk commanding?
This Star Trek is at once familiar, yet different, one of its strongest conceits used to inject jeopardy into what is otherwise a well-worn storyline. Every character displays the energy and wit we know them for, but the perspective has been a little skewed by the presence of Nero, who has traveled back from the future to get revenge on Spock for a "crime" he has yet to commit. Nero's presence has altered the way events unfold. Kirk's dad should never had died, and now he must become the man, the captain, he should have been without his father's guidance.
It is through Pine's performance as Kirk that the movie brings in elements of the original series that have been missing for so long. His Kirk is rebellious, stubborn, athletic, funny, and sexy. Part of the original Star Trek's charm was the infusion of an adolescent sexiness, best personified in this film by the green-skinned Orion woman Kirk is fooling around with in a scene set in a Starfleet Academy dorm room. Its appeal also lay in the friendly camaraderie between Kirk and the sarcastic McCoy, captured pitch-perfectly by actors Pine and Urban.
The action? Well, between the increasingly steep age of the original crew, and the general stateliness of Patrick Stewart and his Next Generation castmates, this component is what had truly been lacking in the film series. Here, Abrams does not disappoint. The film has a driving relentlessness behind it that literally keeps you glued to your seat. After the unnecessary prologue, it's just a big race to the finish line, and one that doesn't confuse you with its geography the way last year's big summer prequel, The Dark Knight, seemed to do in its action sequences. If there's one thing Star Trek has going for it, it's a sheer exuberance for the story and its players that is more akin to last year's fantastic Iron Man, that should give the movie some good word-of-mouth among the skeptical younger demographic it hopes to succeed with.
The only negative criticism I have for Star Trek is that it feels like it ends just when it's getting started. I can't wait to see the newly united crew of the Enterprise on their next adventure. And that is not a bad criticism to have.
More Star Trek coverage:
First Look: J.J. Abrams' Star Trek
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek - Speculation on What to Expect
Star Trek Week Begins
Blu-ray Review: Star Trek: The Original Series - Season 1 (1966-67)
Star Trek Podcast, Part 1
Star Trek Podcast, Part 2