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Star Trek Review – A Trekkie Treat for the Masses

Star Trek Review – A Trekkie Treat for the Masses” width=”560″/>

In a sense, it’s all been leading up to this. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek honors history while launching the long-lived, beleaguered franchise into the 21st Century. It lives up to the highest calling of the Prequel, retroactively enriching the Original Series and the six movies it spawned. Whether it is a successful “reboot” remains to be seen — this weekend’s box-office will likely have the answer — but while Star Trek is certainly accessible to non-Trekkies, I suspect it will only be special to the already initiated. Those who have journeyed with Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Uhura before will be delighted.

Among this Trek‘s biggest contributions to franchise canon is contextualizing Captain Kirk’s reckless bravery. What bothers me about William Shatner’s Kirk is his
fearlessness, leaping into the jaws of danger without so much as a thought. (To me, bravery is Captain Picard in Star Trek: First Contact : Terrified of the Borg, but willing to do what’s necessary.) As played by Chris Pine, Kirk isn’t merely a rogue but an angry, volatile screw-up, goaded into joining Starfleet Academy by an old-timer Captain (Bruce Greenwood) who idolizes his father.

As we learn in the movie’s thrilling opening sequence, George Kirk sacrificed himself to save his shipmates — including his pregnant wife — as First Officer on the U.S.S. Kelvin. This painful history haunts young James, and at first his bravado seems more suicidal than anything else: We see him rush headlong into a bar fight against three bigger guys, and sense that he fully expects to emerge the worse for the wear. Over the course of the movie, this self-destructive impulse becomes brash indifference before settling into the Shatner-esque determination with which we are already familiar. It’s an impressively deep character arc.

Pine does a nice job with the role, making subtle nods toward Shatner’s portrayal while staking his own claim to the character. But the movie’s highest acting honors unquestionably belong to Zachary Quinto, whose interpretation of Spock as a twentysomething Starfleet whiz kid with a chip on his shoulder is stone-cold genius. The half-Vulcan Spock has always struggled to reconcile his vaunted Vulcan logic with the human emotion he has never quite been able to suppress, and Quinto sublimates that conflict beautifully: Young Spock is fiery and confident, his resolute insistence on cold, hard reason often boiling over into very human anger. The background the movie gives the character — a genius child tormented by his pureblooded peers and driven to Starfleet by Vulcan elders’ contempt for his human mother — makes him richer still.

The rest of the cast is a pleasure too. Real-life Russian Anton Yelchin brings some much-needed Russianness to Chekov, mercifully replacing Walter Koenig’s bizarre mangling of the accent. (It’s one deviation from tradition I’ll gladly tolerate.) The usually stoic Karl Urban is surprisingly loose and funny as Bones. John Cho and Simon Pegg don’t have much to do as Sulu and Scotty, but they do the old stalwarts justice. And the movie finds creative ways for Zoe Saldana’s Uhura to be less of a glorified receptionist than the Nichelle Nichols version.

I haven’t said much about the plot, because it is easily Star Trek‘s weakest link: An overcooked, time-travel-heavy concoction that gives us a banal villain in the form of an angry Romulan played by Eric Bana, and undergoes painful contortions to allow Leonard Nimoy significant screen time as Old Spock (or, as the end credits put it, “Spock Prime”). But I was mostly content to ignore the nuts-and-bolts of the story. For me, this was about seeing the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise take its first voyage, and this sort of reverse nostalgia is where the movie excels. When we finally heard the classic voiceover and saw the Enterprise triumphantly zoom off into the distance, I was beaming at the screen. Yes, this is how it happened.

Where does that leave the non-Trekkies that Paramount hopes desperately to attract? They can enjoy the movie’s brisk pace, lively humor, and J.J. Abrams’s lucid, artful direction. (Abrams sends the camera swooping and diving through his mostly-CGI universe, somehow managing to stylize Trek without betraying it.) But the greatest pleasures here are reserved for those with at least some background. Here is the highest compliment Abrams and company could have hoped for: They leave Star Trek better than they found it.

To get an alternate movie review of Star Trek, go to AMC Filmcritic.com

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