It has happened again – the rebirth of an established series that has gone sour and is born anew in the hands of a master craftsman. First it was the new age of Batman with Christopher Nolan’s dual magnum opuses and now, for both a generation of old Trekkies/Trekkers and a whole new era of fans, director J.J. Abrams has brought his reboot of “Star Trek”, simply titled as such, to the screen. “Star Trek” is a major science fiction achievement – a real surprise treat with an exceptional cast led by an electric performance by Chris Pine as Kirk. So far, it’s one of the best films of the year.
For those who aren’t caught up in the series – it doesn’t technically matter. This film starts at the very beginning. Prefacing with the birth of Kirk and then transitioning into the two parallel stories of Kirk and Spock’s childhood, Abrams engages us immediately into the story.
Young Kirk (Jimmy Bennett) is introduced as a rebel, the kind who takes his stepfather’s sports car out for a joy ride and crash test, whereas young Spock (Jacob Kogan of “Joshua”) is presented as the incredibly intelligent Vulcan who is constantly in a struggle with his half-human self. The two grow up and into fully fleshed out characters. Spock (“Heroes” Zachary Quinto) has become somewhat bitter of his reputation as an incomplete Vulcan, and Kirk (now played by Pine) has grown up to become a charismatic cad with a knack for bar fights. After one particular bar fight, Kirk meets Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who opens the door to Starfleet, and to his future.
The plot centers around the formation of the first crew of the NCC 1701, and their fight against their first foe – the time-traveling villain Nero (a magnetic Eric Bana), hell bent on revenge against future Spock (a scene-stealing Leonard Nimoy), whom he blames for the destruction of his home planet of Romulus.
Along for the ride are classic characters such as linguistics officer Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), ensign Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the oft-complaining (“I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). The cast is excellent. Each member of the crew is in perfect form, each a glorious rendition of beloved characters that in some ways make them more interesting than the originals. Most impressive of this particular group is Urban, who injects a much-needed dose of humor and steals every scene he’s in.
A pleasant surprise is the inclusion of Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Spaced”) as the brilliant engineer Montgomery Scott a.k.a. Scotty. In the original series, Scotty wasn’t a cause of comic relief, he just became an effect. Over time, as Scotty’s dire situations became oddly familiar each time, his role became written with a comedic tone. This tone is utilized with terrific comic timing by Pegg who never takes it over-the-top.
The star of the film is undoubtedly its captain. Pine doesn’t re-imagine Kirk, nor does an impression of William Shatner. Instead, Pine’s Kirk is a more charming leader and something of an accidental hero. Pine’s depiction is raw – a force of nature. He’s a leader you can follow, who has flaws anyone can identify with, most importantly the control of ones ego. Pine fleshes out the character of Kirk in a way no one could expect anyone other than Shatner could. This film will make Pine a star, and deservedly so.
As for the portrayal of Spock, who is unquestionably the most popular science fiction character of all time, Quinto’s performance is admirable. One can nitpick at the fact that Spock is portrayed with too much emotion – but through most of the film, Quinto tones it down enough for us. The biggest problem with the film is personal. One subplot added by Abrams is a love interest between Spock and Uhura – a notion never suggested in “Trek” canon. This may not perturb non-fans, but as a lifelong devotee of the series – it was a little odd to see the two characters become intimate.
But these are just little petty complaints from a quibbling fan. In fact, this critic doesn’t really care about the changes. In fact, after this film – I welcome change. The main plot runs along the idea that this is a completely new timeline as affected by the plotting of Nero. So, in actual fact, everything event-wise is altered – the only remaining aspect of the original canon is that of characterization, which everyone basically nails.
A new timeline is exactly what “Star Trek” needed to do. Hardcore fans may be in an uproar about it, but they should be excited rather than upset. This opens the door to a whole new series. Abrams “Star Trek” is an excellent film. The special effects are eye-popping, the technology is intriguing, the music is superb (and memorable), the script is both comic and fun and again, the cast is perfect. If Abrams had bombed, “Star Trek” would be a dead series. Instead, fellow Trekkies and Trekkers can now celebrate that their love has been reborn again as a pop culture icon that can permeate into a whole new legion of people who would have never given the likes of Kirk and Spock a chance. Hopefully, those who aren’t familiar with the series before seeing this new film will be influenced to watch the rest that “Trek” history has to offer.
One fun thing about Abrams movie is its non-exploitative usage of famous lines and aspects of the show in his new film as “easter eggs” for traditional fans – a red shirt dies on an outing, young Spock sports green blood after a fight, Sulu wields a sword and supposedly, even a tribble makes an appearance. One bittersweet feature is the usage of the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s voice as the computer.
This is a very exciting time in “Trek” history. The only question is not if another film will be made – but when? Abrams has a responsibility to uphold the reputation of this film to return for a second – it would be like throwing everything away (i.e. Bryan Singer not returning for the third “X-men”). Will Abrams boldly go where no one has gone before and turn “Trek” into the film series it deserves to be, or will he just boldly blow?