To be honest, I'm not a huge Star Trek fan. Obviously as a member of the human race who was raised in the United States, I've been exposed to the original television show and many of its different iterations. I've even seen some of the movies including Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (responsible for my lifelong fear of earwigs) and the movie I commonly refer to as "the one with the whales," aka Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
So, getting me to be excited for anything Star Trek related is a bit of an uphill battle. Given that, it's a pretty amazing thing director J.J. Abrams and his team have accomplished with this reboot. The movie successfully turns back the clock on a franchise four decades old and brings it back to life with an adrenaline shock to the system that will leave you breathless. And in pure Abrams fashion, the story and characterization do not suffer. The result is popcorn cinema at its best. Despite not being a Trekkie (or Trekker, or whatever you call megafans these days), I can't stop thinking about this movie. To see why,
The question I had going into this movie was: How does one reimagine Star Trek for today's audience without completely alienating hardcore fans? The answer, it turns out, was to simply start over. In a clever twist, the opening sequence sets into motion events that alter the space/time continuum. Yes — and this will come as no surprise to Lost fans — Abrams uses time travel that bends around certain facts. Rather than disregard Trek lore, the filmmakers simply figured out an acceptable way to start fresh with the characters.
Because of these time-bending events, James T. Kirk, the future captain of the USS Enterprise, grows up fatherless in Iowa. He's brilliant but extremely self-destructive. Meanwhile, on Vulcan, a young Spock is teased and discriminated against for having a human mother (Winona Ryder). We know the two young men are destined to meet but when they finally do it's different than what you might imagine. When Kirk (played by Chris Pine with a wink and nod to the original performance) meets Spock (Zachary Quinto) at the Starfleet Academy they do not get along. Kirk is all swagger and machismo. Spock is, of course, logical but Quinto plays him with a smug know-it-all edge that hints at the human emotions beneath the surface.
However, when the movie's villain Nero (Eric Bana) declares war on Vulcan and then Earth, it's all-hands-on-deck time and the two must work together. A bunch of green, yet familiar, cadets — Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and eventually Scotty (Simon Pegg) — suddenly find themselves in charge of a brand-new ship. There are moments when seeing these good-looking youngsters in such a well-known uniform feels a little bit like the Trek version of Muppet Babies. But that feeling is fleeting and for the most part the performances are heartfelt and quite funny.
In the midst of chaos and war, Kirk and Spock become friends — but not before Spock violently pins Kirk's cocky butt to the floor. In Abrams's universe, Spock aims for logic but often succumbs to his emotions, messy though they may be. Pine charges through the film with all the charisma needed in a golden-haired leading man, but in a lot of ways this is Quinto's movie and he actually turns Spock into something of a sex symbol. Some fans might find these changes to the characters' personalities sacrilegious, but I just appreciate the fact that their friendship provides the movie with an emotional center.
In the end, the experience is completely satisfying. There are in-jokes galore that even a Trek philistine like myself found thrilling and there are action sequences that had me on the edge of my seat. It's thoughtful, it looks great, and it's completely absorbing. In terms of epic action-adventures, it doesn't get much better than this.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures