After releasing ten films under the banner of ‘Star Trek’, along with four television spin-offs, the novelty of this once proud brand name appeared to be wearing off. This in light of the fact that the latest entries for both mediums met with less than stellar critical and commercial success (“Star Trek: Nemesis” and TV’s “Star Trek: Enterprise” respectively). It seemed that perhaps the franchise and its audience needed a break, and possibly a fresh, new approach if it was to ever find success again. Which brings us to the here and now, the summer of 2009, seven years after the last feature film and four years since the last TV spin-off aired its final episode, and we finally have a new “Star Trek” film once more boldly going where no man has gone before. Under the care of wunderkind producer, writer and director J.J. Abrams (TV’s “Lost” and “Mission: Impossible 3”), along with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Transformers”), the dormant franchise has been resurrected, returning it to bask in the glory of critical praise and commercial success, an achievement that has been absent from the franchise for quite some time.
“Star Trek” focuses, once again, on the Federation starship Enterprise and its original crew of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Sulu (John Cho), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and more. When a deadly new Romulan menace, led by a vengeful despot named Nero (Eric Bana), threatens the entirety of the Federation, Starfleet must rally its forces, including the recently completed Enterprise, to combat this alien danger before it’s too late.
As a fan of the majority of the “Star Trek” films (aside from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”), and generally enjoying the direction the latter films had been taking (“Star Trek: Nemesis” being my favorite entry thus far), I was a little unsure about the prospect of essentially restarting the franchise from scratch. However, since this approach has proven successful over the last few years with other franchises that I enjoy, for example the Batman and James Bond series’, I thought that if in fact the well had run dry in regards to further adventures set beyond the events of the tenth film, then perhaps this decision may work out alright after all. Of course that success would all depend on who was going to be responsible for taking the series back to its roots, so to speak.
Let me say that any lingering doubts or concerns I had in regards to this film and its chances for success were quickly laid to rest when word was released that writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams would be helming this installment. Abrams had proven himself quite the capable writer and producer with his various television projects and screenplays, so I knew that he would most likely not sit idly by if the story was lacking in any way. Yet, it was his work helming the very entertaining, third “Mission: Impossible” film that gave me even greater faith in his ability to guide the Enterprise back into the spotlight once more.
On top of the fact that such a multi-talented person of J.J. Abrams’ caliber would be directing the eleventh entry into the venerable series, was the announcement that the series would not only serve as a reboot of sorts, but it would still recognize the films that have come before it; instead of just ignoring them altogether which is what most of the reboots have done. Crafting this epic story was the writing duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Orci and Kurtzman, along with Abrams, were sensible enough to not only cater to the hardcore fans of the show and its subsequent movies and television spin-offs, but also make the story accessible to a whole new generation of moviegoers that may not have been previously interested in anything related to ‘Star Trek’.
The plot of “Star Trek” meets all the necessary criteria for the making of a massive summer blockbuster. Featuring plenty of drama, intensity, humor, incredible action and visual effects, and even a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure, this film has a little something for virtually every possible member of the audience. For the newcomers to the series, the story doesn’t require you to have seen, or have any previous knowledge of the other films in the series. The film takes an appropriate amount of time to introduce you to all of the primary players in the film, giving them each their moment or two to shine. So, if you are unfamiliar with these iconic characters you soon won’t be, once the incredibly fast-paced two hours of this film are through with you.
Now, don’t fret any of you die hard fans out there that may not have seen this film yet, although I doubt there are all that many of you left that this statement could apply to at this point. There are plenty of insider references to previous events or famous quotes from your favorite characters for you to latch onto. Even though this film was made in a way that it could appeal to a much broader spectrum of the audience, it never faltered from supplying the core fan base with plenty of sci-fi goodness for them to embrace along the way. So, make no mistake, this entry into the ever-expanding Star Trek universe is a film that is completely deserving of carrying on the legacy of this epic series, and it never once loses sight of that responsibility.
Speaking of responsibility to the series’ legacy, keeping these iconic characters alive is an all-new bunch of actors chosen to embody them in their younger years. This is no small feat when considering these roles were made famous many years ago by a talented and beloved cast of actors and actresses. Winning over the hearts and minds of new fans of the series shouldn’t be all that hard for this cast; however, proving to the longtime fans of the franchise, some dating all the way back to the original series, may prove much harder to accomplish.
Leading the cast are two talented actors, Chris Pine (“Smokin’ Aces”) and Zachary Quinto (TV’s “Heroes”), portraying the coveted roles of Kirk and Spock respectively. Chris Pine brings a normal speech pattern to Kirk, opting not to emulate William Shatner’s pause-ridden pattern of speech; however, Chris did retain Kirk’s sense of humor, arrogance, and no-quit attitude. His performance provides audiences with a new interpretation to the character while remaining true to the heart and soul of Kirk. For Zachary Quinto his portrayal of Spock was partially achieved before he ever read a single line of dialogue because he bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Leonard Nimoy (who had portrayed the character in the previous incarnation). Out of the entire ensemble cast, Quinto is probably the brightest spot in the group, as his performance is absolutely perfect for the character. Even though his performance so closely resembles that of his predecessor’s, he never once ventures into the realm of imitation as so many other actors may have been tempted to do.
Supporting the two leads, is quite the gifted ensemble of actors and actresses ranging from Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”), Karl Urban (“The Bourne Supremacy”), John Cho (Harold from the ‘Harold and Kumar’ films), Zoe Saldana (“Vantage Point”), and Anton Yelchin (“Teminator: Salvation”). Simon Pegg brings a much more hilarious approach to the brilliant engineer known as Montgomery Scott, best known as Scotty, that some may find distracting due to his character being more stoic in previous appearances. However, since this film takes place at a time in the character’s life that hasn’t been explored, I for one view this as an acceptable revision. Karl Urban, much like Zachary Quinto, gives an almost pitch-perfect portrayal of Dr. McCoy. I found it interesting to see that as brilliant a doctor as McCoy was in the previous films, we get to see a slightly inexperienced version of him here, while he’s still incredibly smart, he does make mistakes and isn’t nearly as sure of his decisions as he is later on. John Cho and Zoe Saldana don’t really get to break all that much new ground with their characters, Sulu and Uhura, yet the two young talents do get a few moments to shine within the film. Most notably for fans of the original series, the various hints to Sulu’s sword fighting abilities are finally showcased allowing a new, more action-oriented side of the character to emerge. The only slight problem that I have with the casting is that perhaps Anton Yelchin was slightly mis-cast as Pavel Chekov. While he brings the character’s trademark substitution of w’s for v’s out in almost every line of dialogue he has, he doesn’t strike me as a good fit for the character. Even with that complaint, Anton did do a good job as Chekov; I just don’t see him ever becoming the man we all know.
Rounding out the cast is veteran character actor Bruce Greenwood (“I, Robot”) and Eric Bana (“Hulk”). Bruce Greenwood portrays the original captain of this starship Enterprise named Christopher Pike. He’s a seasoned veteran of Starfleet, who expects nothing but excellence from all who serve under his command. Greenwood’s portrayal of Pike reminds me of Captain Kirk in the previous films, where he was much more reserved and in control of every situation, never willing to sacrifice others for a mission that he wasn’t willing to undertake himself. As for Eric Bana who plays the vengeful Romulan known as Nero, he wasn’t given a whole lot to do with the character other than appear menacing and bark orders. There were a few flashes of character development for him, but nothing so substantial as to make him appear any more or less dangerous than any other villain you would find in a ‘Star Trek’ movie. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t make any mention of his presence in the film; Leonard Nimoy reprises his role of Spock once again. Surprisingly, Nimoy’s appearance in the film isn’t relegated to being a bit of stunt casting for a glorified cameo; instead, the presence of the much older Spock is integral to the movie’s central plotline and provides some very fun moments within the film.
Over 40 years since the original series first introduced us to this enduring franchise, and despite a few rough patches of waning popularity over the last several years, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” restores the series to its former magnificence. With a great story, a terrific cast, and visual effects that are nothing short of incredible, “Star Trek” has become my new favorite entry into this series, removing “Star Trek: Nemesis” from the coveted position.
“Star Trek” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and sexuality.