Film Review: New 'Star Trek Soars Into Final Frontier

Film Review: New 'Star Trek Soars Into Final Frontier
A still from the 2009 film "Star Trek" showing the reimagined U.S.S. Enterprise.
(Image: © Paramount Pictures.)

[This review contains SPOILERS]

Tasked with thenear-impossible responsibility of reviving a franchise that even most diehardfans will admit has been on life support, director J.J. Abrams changed the rulesto his own Kobayashi Maru.

In other words (for thoseof you not fluent in Starfleet-ese), he cheated.

?Star Trek? is a high-impact,high-stakes galactic adventure with a healthy dose of humor. Abrams has crafteda Trek movieat once familiar and completely foreign to those well versed in Starfleet lore,one that takes the franchise in a bold new direction thanks to inventivestorytelling and tremendous casting.

?StarTrek? the franchisehas been languishing in suspended animation for years, banished to the cheapseats of the pop culture universe.

Whether it was along-overdue realization of that sad-but-true fact, Abrams?clout in the industry or a combination of the two, it seems every allowanceand effort was made to reinvigorate Trek.The result is a spectacular success.

The thrust of the film?sstory is set up almost immediately in the prologue. The U.S.S. Kelvin is underattack from a monstrously imposing Romulan ship, the Narada. Nero (a snarling,nearly unrecognizable Eric Bana) has traveled back through time with the meansto create black holes capable of destroying planets. He plans to exact revengeon the Federation, and specifically a familiar ambassador, for what he sees asa betrayal of his people.

During this initial battle,the birth of a certain future starship captain with the middle name Tiberiusalso takes place.

Years later, we find youngJames T. Kirk (Chris Pine) in Iowa. He?s wasting his days and potential away,drinking and getting into bar fights.

When an old crewmate of hisfather, Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), challenges the wayward youth to focushis anger and energy on a more productive path, Kirk enlists in Starfleet.

As it did in his directingdebut, ?Mission:Impossible III,? Abrams? economical and action-oriented filmmakingstyle ? honed from his TV experience ? serves him well here. Things get movingquickly, and soon we are treated to more action than we?ve seen in perhaps allthe previous Trekmovies combined.

The highlight is thespectacular Space Jump sequence; when a not-quite-yet Capt. Kirk, Mr. Sulu andan overeager shipmate perform a suicide skydive mission onto a mining platformhigh above the planet Vulcan.

All that action may haveactually gotten in the way of other parts of the story. Not nearly enough timeis spent at the Academy, where the friendship between Kirk and McCoy presumablyis cemented. It?s just a guess, because in the film we are forced to take it atface value.

And the film?s lightermoments are often awkwardly timed and heavy-handed, including one sillysequence where Kirk has an allergic reaction during a deadly serious moment.

Considering all the Trek TV shows, movies,novels, and comic books created over the pastfour decades, it was surprising to learn that the tale of how the originalcrew of the Enterprise came together, had never been told.

Abrams wanted to distillthat basic origin story to zero in on the franchise?s two most familiar faces,Kirk and Spock.

And wouldn?t you know,before they began history?s greatest Bromance, these vastly different beings ?each having endured individual tragedy ? hated each other?s guts.

Whereas Shatner displayed thecool of an intergalactic James Bond, Chris Pine?s Kirk is all swagger andunfocused ego. He?s angry at the world. And while he doesn?t look or sound likehis predecessor, Pine embodies the role as well as anyone could have imagined.

Zachary Quinto had the resemblanceto Leonard Nimoy down, but he excels at showing the struggle to balance hislogical Vulcan side, and the human characteristics he gained from his mother.

And no one gets a rise outSpock faster than Kirk. First by cheating on his ?unbeatable? test ofcharacter, then by constantly second-guessing strategic decisions. If youhadn?t seen the 79 episodes of TOS (translation ? the "OriginalSeries") and the six feature films starring the original cast, you wouldnever guess that these two would become the closest of friends.

But it?sthe original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, during his brief but essential scenes inthe film, who helps the two see their destinies are intertwined.

?I have been, and alwaysshall be, your friend,? Nimoy tells the younger version of the man who would behis closest friend. Perhaps the quietest scene in the movie, and it?s mostpowerful.

By the way, if you haven?tseen any of those adventures before thismovie, it won?t matter.

Maintaining consistencywith four decades of Trekcanon would be a nightmare even for Trekjunkies like screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

So Team Abrams changed therules to their own no-win scenario with an ingenious plot twist.

Nero?s trip to the past hasdisrupted the timeline and changed the future. As he tells Kirk himself duringa fight scene, ?James T. Kirk was a great man. But that was another life.?

[You think the ?Wolverine? productionteam is thinking right about now that a time-travel McGuffin would have workedout better than mind-wiping Adamantium bullets?]

That?s not to say thefilmmakers ignored history. There are homages and easter eggs aplenty, fromcatchphrases to green alien girls...even a Slusho reference.

As for the re-casts, therewere a few missteps. Karl Urban works a bit too hard on mimicking DeForestKelley?s cadence as ?Bones? McCoy, and Anton Yelchin?s harsh Russian accent asChekov borders on self-parody.

Faring much better is JohnCho as Sulu, who turns out to be quite handy in a fight. And Zoe Saldana is asavvy and sexy Uhura.

And if anyone doubted thatSimon Pegg would steal every scene he appeared in, well, you were wrong!

As anyone who can recitedialogue from ?Wrath ofKhan? knows, a Trek movie is only as good as its villain. Eric Banadoesn?t chew the scenery or flaunt his pecs like Ricardo Montalban, but hisNero is a mad dog. The Romulan is motivated by payback and Bana embraces Nero?sbloodthirsty rage.

There has been muchdiscussion about how this new movie is a chance to give this once-proudfranchise a facelift, a chance to modernize it, energize it. Change it.

But ?Star Trek? succeedsprimarily because it doesn?t change the essence of Trek crafted the franchise's creator GeneRoddenberry - the optimism of deep space exploration, the vision of a brighterfuture for humanity. It?s all there, only now the faces are younger, thegadgets cooler, the pace faster. And Sulu has a ninja sword.

Welcome to the 21stCentury, Star Trek.We?ve been waiting.

 

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