May 7, 2009


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Star Trek (PG-13)
J.J. Abrams takes us back to the time and characters of original Trek in Star Trek, a thoroughly delightful reboot of the classic sci-fi series.

Post-Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation seems sweet but it doesn’t age so well. Get past the off-putting theme song of Enterprise, and that most recent iteration of the Trek universe isn’t so bad. But it’s been a long time since one of the Star Trek series or movies captured real “cool, space!” excitement and adventure.

Star Trek takes us back to the Enterprise of the 1960s TV show and brings along the whole gang — McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and even Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). But the real stars in this constellation are, of course, James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Both are bad asses in their own way. We meet them here as children — a delinquent young Kirk is joy riding (to the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” no less) in a stolen car around Iowa and an otherwise rational Spock is in school on Vulcan where he responds to “yo mama is so human” insults by pummeling a fellow student. (The half-human, half-Vulcan Spock may tend to follow the Vulcan suppression of emotion but he doesn’t like it when people pick on his mom, played by Winona Ryder). Eventually, both make it to Starfleet — Spock because he doesn’t like the condescension of the staff at the Vulcan science academy and Kirk because after he gets into a bar fight with some Starfleet cadets, Capt. Pike scrapes him off the floor and tells him to do something with his life.

When Spock and Kirk do finally meet, it’s dislike at first site (“Who is that pointy-eared bastard,” says Kirk) as their egos clash. Eventually, they both wind up on the Enterprise, where the logic- and protocol-loving Spock and the yee-haw!-ish Kirk remain at odds. They must work together, however, if they hope to defeat Nero (Eric Bana), this movie’s Romulan big bad.

I realize it totally blows the appearance of film critic objectivity to squeal with glee at a movie but I must admit that the first time McCoy said something to the effect of “damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor not a physicist” I made a squeaky noise most people reserve for puppies and babies. This movie inspires a lot of that kind of giddy excitement — the first time we meet too-cool-for-Kirk Uhura, the appearance of the nerdy young Chekov, the realization by young pilot Sulu that he has, essentially, forgotten to remove the Enterprise’s parking brake, listening to Bones complain about how space is nothing but a sea of disease. It’s the old gang back again — young and mostly sans irony even if they do wave at the fans a bit. And, in fact, even though Spock and Kirk are the leaders, all these characters get to be bad asses in their own way — pushing people around, breaking protocol, doing things with the equipment that shouldn’t be possible, sword fighting. They behave exactly how a smart group of cocky young space explorers should behave.

But the thrill of seeing these favorite characters revived and given new youth isn’t the only thing — or even the main thing — that gives the movie its energy. Star Trek is a-buzz with electric, fast-paced action. It’s high on the adventure of boldly going. It has a fun good-guys-vs.-bad-guys plot and even takes care of the “but in episode 47…”-type problems of continuity between it and all previous Treks. And its young actors are absolutely winning, particularly Pine, who rewinds Kirk back from elder statesman into cocky young cowboy, and Quinto, who perfectly captures the mix of internal turmoil and external calm that is Spock. And finally, the movie looks great — thrilling space fights, awe-inspiring ships, lovely little special effects that somehow make the transporter look both retro and futuristic at the same time.

Star Trek is exactly what the franchise needed to breathe new life into the stories and capture the old sense of adventure and discovery. It is also a fully charming, genuinely end-of-your-seat exciting popcorn movie in the very best sense of the genre. This is why we go to the movies in the summer and this is why we keep coming back to the Gene Roddenberry-created universe of Star Trek. A

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence and brief sexual content. Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (from the characters and stories created by Gene Roddenberry), Star Trek is two hours and seven minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, May 8. It is distributed by Paramount Pictures.