Like Abrams, I wouldn’t call myself a Trekkie (let alone a “Trekker”). I liked the original show, found the subsequent movies hit-and-miss, and skipped most of the Next Generation. Still, I’m pretty sure the Lost guru has come up with a formula that is going to click with diehard fans and those younger moviegoers who don’t know a Vulcan from a Romulan.
Boldly going back in time and back to basics, Abrams and screenwriters Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Alias) gets things off to a pile-driving start with the birth of James T Kirk mere seconds before the heroic, self-sacrificial death of his father at the brig of an out-gunned Starfleet vessel.
They proceed apace to juvenile delinquency here on earth, Jim hot-rodding in a vintage convertible, boozing in a bar and chatting up sexy space cadet Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), who in a fun running gag refuses to reveal her first name.
These sequences are brisk and snappy, and they run parallel with Spock’s childhood on the distant planet Vulcan. He’s an outsider too, bullied and patronized because of his half-human parentage (his mom is Winona Ryder).
The strands converge when rebellious Starfleet Academy recruit Kirk (Chris Pine) and esteemed faculty member Spock (Zachary Quinto) clash – Kirk has cheated on an impossible test devised by the Vulcan. Kirk’s disciplinary hearing is interrupted by an SOS mission on which the fate of both men will rest.
In classic Star Trek fashion an accommodation between Spock’s cold logic and Kirk’s fiery gut instinct will be the key to saving the Enterprise and both their home planets – or not, as the case may be.
It’s great fun seeing these characters most of us are deeply familiar with in this fledgling state. Abrams has cast it very cleverly. They’re the same but different. Karl Urban (Bones McCoy), John Cho (Sulu), Yelchin (Chekov) and, blimey, Simon Pegg (Scotty) are close enough to evoke their counterparts from the Gene Roddenberry days, but they’re not the finished article, which is where a lot of humour comes in. Not that the movie is a comedy, but Abrams ensures the action flows thick and fast enough that even the lightest comic gestures resonate. This is a movie with a perpetual twinkle in its eye.
Chris Pine – who seemed unremarkable in Bottle Shock and Smokin’ Aces – really knocks it out of the park. He doesn’t posture, but nails that recklessness and authority that allowed William Shatner to boss it before he got old and irredeemably pompous.
Zachary Quinto (from TV’s Heroes) immerses himself in Spock. He certainly doesn’t supplant memories of Leonard Nimoy, a more polished, poised actor who remains the definitive version (as this movie demonstrates), but the notes of self-doubt Quinto finds in the role make sense in this context.
Reservations? I think Orci and Kurtzman have assembled a succession of very nifty scenes and found a clever way to evolve (and devolve) a series that seemed to have gone stale, but I’m not convinced the plot will hold up to a second or third viewing. I’ve been careful not tread into spoiler territory here, but there’s a pivotal exposition scene about two thirds in that’s awfully contrived and laborious (again, a casting stunt allows Abrams to get away with it).
I wouldn’t make great claims for Abrams as an action director, either, though I think it’s fair to assume the repeated man-wrestling scenes are intended as an ironic tip of the hat to the 60s TV show. What he does have is a sure sense of how to build up a sequence, always upping the ante and keeping us on the edge of our seats.
Unlike the original, the movie positively gleams with big budget production design and deep space sfx. The new Enterprise is a joy to behold – it will make you feel young again, and eager to embark on future explorations. If the studios are smart they’ll be lining up to get Abrams to rejuvenate every other washed up franchise in town.
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