Before the iconic title ever rolls onto the screen, the new Star Trek (directed by J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost) establishes what kind of film it’s going to be. The USS Kelvin is being attacked. A gigantic, black, spider-like ship has appeared mysteriously out of an immense cloud of lightning. The USS Kelvin is undersized, and under-gunned. The anonymous ship looms over the Federation ship like a tarantula about to strike at a helpless bug. The crew has to evacuate. One man stays behind to captain the ship – George Kirk.
This sets the stage for a brand new Star Trek universe. This mysterious ship has somehow altered the events of the original Star Trek universe, creating a new line of events. How the ship alters those events will not be divulged in this review, but suffice it to say that it is a genius way to reboot a franchise, and just about the only way to give it a fresh start.
We witness the birth of James T. Kirk. He grows up to be a sassy teenager who steals vintage cars and then into a self-absorbed, cocky young man who, as one character points out, is the smartest repeat offender on the planet.
After a bar fight with a bunch of Star Fleet trainees, Kirk is asked to join by Captain Pike, who knew Kirk’s late father. It’s no surprise to us that Kirk joins the fleet and soon finds himself whisked away on an adventure. The true surprise is where that adventure will take us.
Other beloved characters play starring roles here. Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Spock is a perfect choice. Half man, half Vulcan, Spock from a young age has always had trouble reining in his emotions. The young Vulcans try and illicit anger and frustrations from the young Spock because of his part-human heritage. Quinto plays Spock with a quiet, reserved reverence, without the hint of just trying to impersonate Leonard Nimoy.
"Bones" McCoy, played by Karl Urban (The Bourne Supremacy), steals every scene he’s in. This part could have ended up being extremely over-the-top, but Urban nails it. While he’s mostly there to interject some humor into an otherwise complex plot, McCoy still has his moments of heroism and isn’t just there for comic relief. The main comic relief comes when Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) is introduced as Scotty, but he’s the perfect man for the job. Every line Pegg has is genuinely funny and timed perfectly.
As we all know, the Star Trek franchise is one of the most storied and beloved of all time. Abrams could have made a film that catered to the die-hard followers, or dumbed it way down for the masses who haven’t ever watched a Star Trek episode in their life. The genius of this film is that Abrams has found that thin dividing line. All that is needed is a minimal knowledge of the characters to understand most of the film and even the inside jokes that pop up. Kirk and Spock are such iconic characters, and have so ingrained their place in pop culture, that it will be hard to find someone out there who won’t know just a little bit about them, and that little bit is enough to enjoy the film.
If there is a fault with the movie it has to be laid at the feet of the villain, Nero. Played by Eric Bana (Munich), we never get a real understanding of who he is or why his ship is so amazingly superior to any other starship out there. Bana seems a little bored as Nero. It’s hard to fear him as the ultimate bad guy. The weapon he possesses is ultimate in nature, that’s for sure, but he is more of a pushover.
The film also suffers a little from the 'shaky-cam' syndrome. While it's not as nauseating as some other films that employ this technique, there are times where the action is fairly muddled as a result.
Geeks and non-geeks alike will be able to enjoy this film. Its 126-minute running time feels more like ninety. There are some holes in the plot, sure, but no one has ever questioned Star Trek science, so why do it now? Thinking too much about the plot may induce a migraine.
While this version of Star Trek relies heavily on amazingly rendered special effects, there is a story with some depth and substance here. It isn’t just a glossy veneer of CGI held up so we don’t discover that the film really has no depth. Spock and Kirk must find themselves, and build a lasting relationship if anything is going to work out in this new universe. We care about these characters, because we cared about the old characters, but also because these new people have embodied these roles and made them their own.