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First, a disclaimer: I am not a Trekker. I’m not even a Trekkie. So aside from catching a few minutes of the original series here and there as well as renting films I and III in the name of research, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was my maiden voyage with the U.S.S. Enterprise. I cannot, therefore, critique the movie with the fervor of a devotee, as I could with the Star Wars prequels—which were undeniably bad. I can only pass on what I judged as a new fan, who only a couple weeks ago didn’t know her Romulans from her Klingons. And the verdict is that it’s undeniably good.
It’s also very Cloverfield, which isn’t surprising considering last year’s unexpected monster smash was a pet project of Abrams’. Don’t grab your Dramamine just yet, though: Star Trek’s strength is its story, and it’s only during the action scenes that the editing goes into whiplash mode. The chaos is somewhat unfortunate—Cloverfield’s filmmakers were trying to squeeze every ounce of scary out of their barely-there budget, whereas Trek could afford steady views of its fights, aliens, and destruction—but compared to the cheesetastic effects the franchise has previously suffered from, Abrams has delivered a technical Nirvana.
The script’s sparkle is somewhat unfathomable coming as it does from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writing duo who brought you 2007’s wretched Transformers. Perhaps having more than a toy series as a launching point goosed their skills—though considering the film’s focus rewinds the franchise to its genesis, fleshing out how its beloved characters grew up and met not only each other but their fate, a compelling narrative would seem difficult to mess up.
Star Trek begins with a prologue showing future captain James Kirk’s unfortunate birth—while his mother delivered him alone, his father was dying in an intergalactic battle. Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up a cocky punk whereas Spock (Zachary Quinto) is a book nerd who antagonizes his bullies with lines like, “I presume you prepared new insults today?” When both end up on the Enterprise—despite Kirk’s failure to impress at the Starfleet Academy—to fight a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) who’s bent on destroying the universe, they’re not exactly best friends. But a black hole, some red matter, and multiple close calls later…well, maybe they can work together after all.
What shines brightest in Abrams’ rebooted universe is its stellar cast. Pine and Quinto were excellent choices to channel William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, respectively. (And yes, the latter makes a cameo, his voice as craggly as his face but thrilling nonetheless.) Uhura (Zoe Saldana) got a little sexier (and a first name!) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is actually Russian. John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) as Sulu and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) as Scotty are thrown in for fun, though mercifully the humor is never escalated to un-Trek-like levels. Best, though, even if his presence in this chapter is slight, is Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy. Who is this guy? Doesn’t matter if you know him or not; he’s got DeForest Kelley’s cadence and expressions nailed.
There seems to be a meticulously calibrated blending of old and new here, though fans might be disappointed that the show’s original theme doesn’t play until the end. (And that “Space, the final frontier” speech? Boy, is Shatner going to be pissed when he hears who recites it.) Regardless of your level of devotion, the film is engrossing and fun. There aren’t any teachable moments, such as the series’ continual parallels to the Cold War or lessons on racial harmony. Perhaps, if there is a message, it’s about not judging someone’s competency until he’s tested. Now that Abrams’ interpretation has been tested, it sure looks like Star Trek will once again prosper.