A reboot in a similar vein to Casino Royale and Batman Begins, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek represents a dynamic resurrection of the iconic franchise of the same name. To effectively revivify the series, this Star Trek is a whole new beginning, starting the timeline again from scratch and introducing fresh faces on both sides of the camera. To the credit of Abrams and his crew, they’ve managed to achieve the impossible, creating a blistering sci-fi action-adventure that should retain all long-time Trekkies while simultaneously making the Trek universe accessible to a whole new generation of movie-goers. Although the film suffers from average-at-best scripting, Abrams’ visual treatment of the flick is absolutely glorious, making this one of the most handsome and involving blockbusters of the 2009 summer season.
A young rebel whose heroic father died aboard the USS Kelvin, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) spends his time indulging in booze and getting into trouble. But Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) senses great leadership qualities in Kirk, encouraging him to enlist in Starfleet to fulfil his potential. Kirk follows through, heading to the Starfleet academy where he meets medical officer “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and embittered science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), among others. A threat soon emerges in the form of rogue Romulan Captain Nero (Eric Bana), who threatens peaceful planets with a doomsday device. A crew is assembled on-board the newly christened USS Enterprise for protection, and Kirk is forced to assume a leadership role to find a way to defeat the enemy.
Star Trek is held back from excellence by its mediocre script, which was penned by Transformers writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. A number of narrative elements are actually reminiscent of Top Gun for whatever reason, and it’s too “cute” for all the requisite characters to meet through a series of increasing unbelievable coincidences. Added to this, the plot is a total mess, requiring a substantial amount of exposition to keep it barely comprehensible. Moreover, the story is hindered by the constraints of the “origin” format; the bigger picture of the narrative plays second fiddle to the tale of how these characters meet, which seems unnecessary. Did we really need to see Kirk’s first meeting with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in a bar, when he tries to flirt? It’s also bothersome that Kirk rises from cadet to captain in such an expedited fashion. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Star Trek is that it’s hardly a cerebral blockbuster. The Gene Roddenberry years were more high-minded, whereas Abrams’ film is less sophisticated. Another gaping flaw is the lack of peril and edge-of-your-seat tension; there is never a sense that the crew are actually in danger, which is probably because Nero’s plans are too vague.
Fortunately, Star Trek succeeds on account of Abrams’ direction and the competent filmmaking in practically every aspect. The pace is mercifully brisk, and the film barely feels its two-hour length as it works through the eye candy and character interaction. Abrams expertly orchestrates multiple space battles, chases, shootouts, and all the other staples one expects from a blockbuster, and it’s all hugely exhilarating in Abrams’ hands. Plus, Star Trek has never looked better. While prior Trek pictures suffered from budgetary constrictions, this is no longer an issue. Abrams had a massive budget to play with, facilitating spectacular special effects. There are a number of expansive interior sets as well, which give the picture a lived-in feeling. Michael Giacchino’s score is also suitably zippy, melancholy and grand, perfectly complementing the visuals. The heroic main theme is very memorable indeed. However, Abrams relies too much on lens flares and hyper-polished photography at times, which can be obnoxious to the point of distraction.
Although Star Trek is an action-oriented blockbuster, Abrams and his writers had the good sense to establish the ensemble of characters properly before sending them into action. As a result, you’ll never mistake Bones for some interchangeable supporting character. The franchise’s heart and soul is the duo of Kirk and Spock, and this Star Trek excels in the casting of Pine and Quinto. This is both actor’s first big movie, yet they’re engaging and natural. Pine did not set out to mimic William Shatner, instead embodying the essence of Kirk’s character, combining charm, cocky arrogance and welcome humanity. Quinto is even better – his thoughtful performance effortlessly conveys the dichotomy that makes Spock such a fascinating character: his frustratingly logical surface persona concealing a barely suppressed well of emotion. Abrams fortunately allots ample time for Kirk and Spock to engage in verbal battles, and we get to watch as they build their friendship with a glue of muted aggravation and burgeoning respect.
An interesting angle of Star Trek is that it’s not strictly a reboot, arguably existing in the same continuity as the original movies and the television show. See, a time travel angle is built into the plot, establishing an alternate universe that merely sets the Enterprise crew on a new path. To solidify this, Leonard Nimoy cameos as an aging Mr. Spock, known as Spock Prime. It’s a treat for Trekkies to see Nimoy back in his iconic role, and it’s even better that Nimoy still commands the screen whenever he appears. Fortunately, the supporting cast is just as good, with Simon Pegg and Anton Yelchin most notable as Scotty and Chekov, respectively. Other actors include Bruce Greenwood, John Cho, Winona Ryder and Chris Hemsworth, all of whom hit their marks. Bana is an underwhelming villain, though.
To be fair, Star Trek has never been great from the first movie. After all, Star Trek: The Motion Picture is often regarded as dated, stilted and underwhelming; it wasn’t until The Wrath of Khan that the series took off. Ultimately, Star Trek leaves us with the sense that this is merely a good beginning for what can become greatness. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun time, and it’s absolutely worth watching for its best moments.