Space. The final frontier. These are the beginning voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Bodly going where no one has dared go before, JJ Abrams takes the bridge and helms this much anticipated “prequel” to one of the most successful franchises in film and tv history (not to mention the most dedicated and rabid fan base) and brings us the eleventh film in the sci-fi series – STAR TREK. Walking a dangerous line between the 21st century, the 1960’s when the show was originally created, socio-political and stereotypical gender mores of the earlier time, and always cognizant of and faithful to creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision in every fashion, not to mention casting younger versions of some of the most iconic characters in history (yes, history – not just film/tv, but history), Abrams could only go one of two ways – a glowing success or get stalled in space dock. Fortunately, Abrams has more than lived up the legend known as STAR TREK and goes full ahead at warp speed with a swashbuckling, smart and sexy film at its high tech sensational best.
Cornfed and bred, Iowa boy James Tiberius Kirk lost his father at a very young age. Feeling the need to protect his mother and defend himself (and also a bit of a discipline problem for his poor mother) Kirk, a brilliant child, began using his brawn rather than his brain. Spock, the product of an inter-species marriage between and Earth woman and Vulcan man, has long sought to find a balance between the emotions of being human and the logic of being a Vulcan. Under the tutelage of his mother, his tendencies are more human, but that is something that doesn’t sit quite right within him. With these different backgrounds and for their own personal reasons, both Spock and Kirk join Starfleet Academy. Kirk even gets a leg up with admission thanks to his father’s old friend Captain Christopher Pike. And while in later years, as we all know, they are the best of friends, such is not th case now. At the Academy, an antagonistic rivalry ensues where the two are constantly battling for one upsmanship and who is the better man (and both are more alike than either cares to admit). This rivalry only intensifies once they both find themselves on the USS Enterprise for its maiden mission. Joining Kirk and Spock is a hot shot young doctor named Leonard McCoy, linguist Uhura and some other notable crew, including Captain Christopher Pike.
Anxious to see what the universe holds for them, it doesn’t take long for our young crew to fall into their first adventure. A distress call is received from Vulcan, drawing the Federation into battle with the Romulans, well, at least one Romulan – a lunatic named Nero who wants to destroy the Earth and is hunting Spock. Spock? What would this madman want with a young man? That my friends, is the answer you will find in the film and time travel (remember the Nexxus?) holds the key as the USS Enterprise must travel back in time to, of course, change the course of events.
In what could be described as a no-win situation, Chris Pine takes on the daunting role of James T. Kirk and sad to say, I am disappointed in the performance. Kirk is an iconic, well defined character and persona. William Shatner, the legend who created the role some 40+ years ago, is equally iconic and defined as Kirk. For anyone to master this role at this juncture requires either a complete recreation and mastery of the role so as to make it one’s own with such power and distinction to eradicate any comparison to Shatner or, emulate Shatner. Pine does neither. A brash brawler, he brings an intensity to the role that likens to that of Shatner’s early days, but throughout the film it feels like Pine is on the edge, holding something back and the essence of the character is never quite fully achieved or embodied. But I give Pine much credit for making this his Kobayashi Maru moment. He is extremely charismatic and handsome and brings a level of arrogance, confidence and 1960’s sexism to Kirk that makes Kirk likeable, flawed and human. He does excel when showcasing some of Kirk’s most infamous traits – like bedding a green-skinned maiden from Orion while making a play for co-worker Uhura. Besides his make-up, Zachary Quinto will have you doing a double take with his portrayal of young Spock. Logical and methodical, although not quite on point with the rhythmic cadence of a Vulcan’s speech patterns, Quinto is a dead ringer for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock – a fact which you can all judge for yourself as Nimoy himself is key to this film (as he and Shatner were in “Star Trek: Generations ushering in the “Next Generation” crew to the big screen). Dead ringer, right on performances that will have your mouth dropping, eyes open wide and a sense of deja vu at every turn, come from Karl Urban as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, Anton Yelchin (the next star of tomorrow) as a hyper Anton Chekov, Zoe Saldana as the sultry and sexy Uhura [who gets a much expanded role than that ever given our original Uhura, Nichelle Nichols] and last but not least, Simon Pegg who steals every scene “givin’ us more power” as everyone’s favorite engineer, Scotty. Each is pitch perfect with their performances, individualizing and updating them for the present but retaining the look and essence of the actors that created them. Impressive is Eric Bana as the evil Nero who wields a commanding presence physically and narratively. Winona Ryder is at her human best as Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson, bringing an unexpected grace and elegance to the role.
Written by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the story is true STAR TREK. Extremely satisfying, Orci and Kurtzman not only uphold Roddenberry’s ideals, but create the previously unseen and essentially untold backstories of some legendary characters, taking them a natural progression into space, adventure and battles that are the defining moments for each. The attention to detail is impressive as is the use of humor and one-liners that evidence not only Orci and Kurtzman’s love and knowledge of the characters and franchise, but that will to old fans and new friends alike. Sulu fences. Scotty is, as always, a miracle worker. Bones is, well, Bones – frustrated and exasperated. But it is the Kirk-Spock relationship [“you are, and always shall be, my friend”] that rejoices and celebrates and embodies this film. Smartly written and fun, quite frankly, this story is the most human of them all.
With an edgy, trendy style, director JJ Abrams gives the film a very retro look without making it look dated. And while there are some questionable moments which come to the surface, when the action slows so you can catch your breath, one can easily overlook the minor faux pas’ when viewed in the totality of the film. Technically, the film is polished and intense. When viewed in IMAX, you are on the bridge. You are in the battle. You are in for the ride of your life.
There are no holds barred. From the opening montage, Abrams has you hooked; taking you an emotional roller coaster (which, be warned, may include some tears) that will have your head spinning and heart pounding with excitement. While one may initially fear CGI overload, it becomes evident quickly evident that Abrams achieves a balance between technology, humanity and inter-personal relationships. The action and battle sequences are perfection and should be viewed in the best possible circumstance – IMAX!
STAR TREK equals, and in some instances, surpasses, its mythological cultural presence and boldly goes where no film has gone before. May it live long and prosper in the hands of JJ Abrams and this brave new crew of actors.
Chris Pine – James T. Kirk
Zachary Quinto – Spock
Karl Urban – Leonard “Bones” McCoy”
Simon Pegg – Scotty
Anton Yelchin – Pavel Chekov
John Cho – Hukaro Sulu
Zoe Saldana – Uhura
Eric Bana – Nero
Leonard Nimoy – Spock Prime
Directed by JJ Abrams. Written by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman.