4 Stars
Year Released: 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes
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Rebooting a 40-year old franchise that has (to date) spawned five live-action TV shows (and one animated one), ten movies, countless novelizations and games, and legions of – to put it mildly – passionate fans requires supreme confidence. And director J.J. Abrams, the force behind “Alias,” “Lost,” and “Cloverfield,” isn’t lacking in that department. He also isn’t the most subtle of directors, and now he’s taking over a franchise that once tried to teach America about racism with two guys painted black and white. In a sense, he and “Star Trek” were made for each other.

Abrams’ film goes back to the beginning, literally, introducing us to the Kirk family as dad is about to ram the U.S.S. Kelvin into a mysterious Romulan ship and mom is giving birth to the Boy Who Would be Captain on a fleeing medical shuttle. Years pass, and the young James Tiberius has grown into an Angry Young Man who nonetheless “aced his aptitude tests” and would seem the perfect candidate for a career in Starfleet, This according to one Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who more or less double-dog dares him. After some soul-searching (but not too much; there’s Romulan ass to kick after all) Kirk (Chris Pine) signs up and after a few more years pass, finds himself onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Starfleet’s new flagship. Together with a group of fellow rookies, they head out to square off with what might be the same ship that killed his father.

A recent Onion article described how serious Trekkers were annoyed that this new movie was actually fun and lacking any “heavy-handed message of tolerance.” That’s a pretty accurate assessment, because what Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have given us is a seriously entertaining action flick with little in the way of soul-searching or philosophy. They throw in references to the original (the Kobayashi Maru, Chekhov’s pronunciation of the letter “W,” Kirk’s fondness for anything with a pulse) in an attempt to mollify the faithful (there’s even a Red Shirt Guy!) but the only “tolerance” raised was ours: to watching Kirk get the shit beat out of him. And that was already pretty high for most of us anyway.

Those concerned over casting can mostly rest easy. Zachary Quinto brings a nice intensity/occasional rage to Spock, while Karl Urban is outstanding as “Bones,” perfectly capturing the character’s mannerisms and vitriol (even if he boasts a physique DeForest Kelley would’ve given his last case of Saurian brandy for). The new Uhura and Scotty are perfectly functional: Zoe Saldana is definitely more involved than her predecessor and Simon Pegg ups the comedy quotient on a character that was already pretty comic to begin with. Pine’s introduction is a little rougher, but by the end he very much reminds us of the Kirk we know and love. Assuming you’re not one of those misguided pro-Picard losers.

I saw the movie with an avowed Trek fanatic. When the lights went up, I asked her what she thought. Her response was that it was good, but it “wasn’t Trek.” Not having paid much attention to the Roddenberryverse since “TNG,” I didn’t have much of a response. But then as I left the theater I thought: “Not Trek? The movie has gaping plotholes, a skirt-chasing Kirk, time travel, and a bullshit pseudo-scientific resolution to a life-threatening situation…who are you kidding? It’s totally fucking Trek!” The biggest complaint I can see is an unwillingness to slow things down at all, leading to the unfortunate interlude on ice planet Hoth Delta Vega, and an attack (by a mini-Cloverfield monster) that would have fit right in with the “Star Wars” prequels.

But aside from that and some other minor nitpicks (apparently they even have product placement where no man has gone before), “Star Trek” is pretty damn enjoyable. By resetting the franchise to what is essentially Year One, Abrams has the luxury of…gently reshaping the core characters: Kirk is recognizably hornier, Spock even more ill at ease with his warring halves, Sulu more swashbuckling, and McCoy has youthful vigor to put behind his barbs. Even better – from Abrams’ standpoint – the timeworn Trek “temporal anomaly” plot device lays the foundation for an entirely new continuity. Frankly, he could’ve done a lot worse, for die-hard Trekkers will have their familiar characters with their familiar catchphrases and mannerisms, and audience members of the Ritalin generation unfamiliar with 40+ years of Starfleet history will be readily drawn in by the fast pace and easy humor. Fine, maybe it “isn’t Trek,” but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Maybe set the brain to one-quarter impulse power just to be sure, though.

Posted on May 12, 2009 in Reviews by

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