Now these days when your franchise runs out of gas the big trend is to reboot and “go dark,” (and let’s be honest, Trek has been running on dilithium crystal fumes since First Contact). Thankfully though Abrams resisted the urge to go with the flow that gave us a brooding Batman and a boring Bond. Instead the MI:3 helmer turns the phasers to 11, brings back the wow, and sets course for the spectacular. Where did it all go so right?
Having been the subject of much fanboy voodoo, the little known Chris Pine completely vindicates himself as a reckless, tearaway Kirk, raging over the father he never knew. More established stars the like of Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, and Simon Pegg co-star in the roles of Spock, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and Scotty for the maiden voyage of NCC-1701. Eric Bana provides the villainy as Nero, a time travelling Romulan with a grudge against history.
According to Abrams, there was many a sleepless night spent pondering just how exactly he would go about making tricorders seem cool to the Internet generation. Well consider that one hurdled. With a cast as fresh faced as this, a ship that looks like a cross between an oxygen bar and an Apple store, and a script as infallible as the prime directive, the fun factor is just overwhelming. This isn’t kitsch, it’s vintage!
As enjoyable as Picard and the gang might have been, a barrel of laughs they most certainly were not, and Abrams biggest kudos surely gets awarded for making space exciting in a way it hasn’t been since the moon landing (ever watched a shuttle launch? Anti-climax doesn’t begin to describe it). From the moment Bones sits down next to Kirk on the shuttle and introduces himself with a hilariously grim soliloquy, the film never dips below maximum warp. With a slick, polished look and an assured, retro-vibe cooking, long-time Abrams cohorts Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci have delivered a script that expertly incorporates established Trek lore while at the same time crafting a little of their own.
Firstly, and wisely, they give us a little context for our captain. By making Kirk senior a fabled hero to the Federation, suddenly James Tiberius (the man whose shadow every starship captain found themselves standing in since) suddenly has a mythic figure of his own to live up to. While green skinned alien chicks are still a staple, this is a Trek where Kirk doesn’t get the girl. Spock’s trademark catchphrase now serves as something of a kiss-my-ass. Ever wondered how Bones got his nickname? Get ready to find out. This picture is positively bursting with references, in-jokes, and trivia, but never once does it laud itself over the uninitiated or distract from the larger story at hand.
With the cast somewhat shackled into doing what’s tantamount to impersonations (and my God are they good) of the now legendary original actors, there is obviously little room for character development. Thankfully from Sulu’s swashbuckling escapades to Chekov’s transporter wizardry, every player gets their chance to demonstrate why they’re crewing the flagship. And while Scotty may be somewhat late to the party, his comic relief is well worth the wait. Bana’s Nero is certainly no Kahn Singh, but that’s like railing an NFL coach for not being John Madden.
Wrath of Kahn taught us that the Kobayashi Maru scenario defines Kirk, but Abrams goes one further showing it to also define Kirk’s friendship with Spock as the foundation of their relationship. He also cleverly sidesteps fanboy wrath over continuity by establishing that this is a wholly separate timeline where anything goes. As for the story, it’s refreshingly simple and much like his previous directorial efforts, Abrams only knows one way to direct – hanging out of the window while going like a bat out of Hell. Like all Trek’s best tales, it’s a simple story of revenge and how you need to kill your demons before they kill you. Traditionalists will likely complain that there is nothing approaching the high-minded idealism of the Rick Berman era, but with every film these days seemingly intent on shoving war on terror allegory down our throat, this is a film completely devoid of politicking.
Frankly when you consider the pressure Abrams was under in re-tooling such reverential pre-existing material; it’s amazing how much he ends up giving back to the Star Trek legacy. Science Fiction hasn’t been this much of a blast since the original Star Wars trilogy and Paramount owes Abrams a planet-sized fruit basket for saving their beloved franchise from its own decadence.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana
Director: J.J. Abrams
Runtime: 126 Minutes