On the one hand, when a studio bankrolls a remake or a 'reboot' in this case, I feel the need to lament the lack of creativity, the lack of original thought at work in the Hollywood studio system. Can't anyone come up with anything new and original? But when the 'reboot' is as good as "Star Trek", I kind of wish J.J. Abrams was at the helm of them all. His new film adds richness and depth to a once ailing mythology bringing it back to life by going back to the beginning.
"Star Trek" introduces us to Kirk (Chris Pine, "Bottle Shock"), Spock (Zachary Quinto, TV's "Heroes"), Bones (Karl Urban), McCoy (Simon Pegg, "Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz", "Run, Fatboy, Run"), Sulu (John Cho, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle"), Chekhov (Anton Yelchin, "Alpha Dog") and Uhuru (Zoe Saldana, "Drumline) on the first voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise. As this is "Star Trek: Origins", if you will, writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzmann ("Transformers", "Cloverfield") and director J.J. Abrams (TV's "Lost" and "Alias", "Mission Impossible III", "Cloverfield") have taken some liberties with the timeline and stayed true to other parts of the mythology. What this mix accomplishes is to give us a fresh take on these characters, allowing us to see how they got started and how they would become what they would become.
A rebellious kid, Jim Kirk (Pine) likes to race vehicles he doesn't own in his Iowa hometown. One day, he enters a bar filled with Starfleet Cadets and starts hitting on a beautiful woman. But Uhuru (Saldana) isn’t interested and asks him to leave. A fight quickly develops and Kirk gets a bloody nose before Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) puts and end to the bar brawl. He sits Kirk down and explains he knows about him, about his father and challenges Kirk to join Starfleet and do better than his dad did. His dad died trying to save as many lives as possible when the U.S.S. Kelvin was under attack. The next morning, Kirk takes up the challenge and meets McCoy (Urban) a doctor who is also headed to Starfleet for training. Three years later, Kirk is taking the infamous Kobayashi Morou test again. And passes. Much to the astonishment of the test's creator, Commander Spock (Quinto), causing the two to become, at best, rivals. Just as an academic tribunal is called to investigate the charges against Kirk, Starfleet receives a distress signal from Vulcan. They quickly dispatch the recruits to new ships and eventually, everyone ends up on the Enterprise under Captain Pike's leadership. As they head out to assist the other star ships, Kirk becomes convinced they are about to enter an ambush and proves to be right. A Romulan mining vessel, led by Nero (Eric Bana, "Hulk", the upcoming "Funny People") is drilling into the core of Vulcan, causing seismic activity and he has just blown up the rest of the ships. The Enterprise takes evasive action, but Pike is soon summoned to the enemy vessel leaving Commander Spock in charge. He appoints Kirk his First Officer. The first order of business is to stop the drill and then save the Captain. But Nero proves a persistent villain and when he reveals what he really wants, everyone kicks into overdrive and start working together, becoming the team we all remember. Will Kirk and Spock learn to work together? Will everyone find their place on the Enterprise? Will this vessel staffed largely by new recruits be able to fight off the bent-on-revenge Nero?
Abrams has achieved the right balance of reverence to the characters and universe of these people while taking them to new and exciting places, bringing them alive for a new generation. It's really quite remarkable work when you think about all of the other needless remakes and reboots littering the Hollywood landscape.
All of the characters seem to have the trademark mannerisms of the television cast. Pine develops a telling swagger and bravado, very similar to William Shatner's portrayal of the role. More importantly, he doesn't display these mannerisms from the beginning; he grows into them as he develops the courage and bravery he will become known for. A friend saw a copy of Entertainment Weekly with Quinto as Spock on the cover sitting on my desk. "How do you feel about them using a CGI character in this film?" After a brief conversation, I learned he felt the character had to be CGI because he looked so similar to Leonard Nimoy's Spock, only a lot younger. I explained that an actor was playing the role and he was just amazed. Quinto was, reportedly, the first person hired for the film and he does an excellent job of making the character his own, while paying homage to Nimoy. Karl Urban seems to have a lot of fun paying the perpetually cross Dr. Bones McCoy, again adopting and paying homage to many of the character quirks DeForest Kelly used in his portrayal. Zoe Saldana is good as Uhuru. She and Kirk meet in the bar the night before they leave to join Starfleet and he continues to pine for her throughout the film. Her Uhuru is a little more fully integrated into the plot, a little more active, involving herself with Kirk and Spock. Anton Yelchin has some fun moments as the very young Chekhov. And John Cho. Well known for silly, raunchy comedies shows he may have some action chops on him. Sulu is also new to the Enterprise and has some growing pains. When Captain Pine picks Kirk and Sulu to lead a mission to stop a Romulan drilling device, they team up on a pretty terrifying and thrilling mission. And Sulu's unique skill set quickly comes in to play.
And that, is your crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Wait! Who am I forgetting? Ah yes, Scotty. Scotty is played by Simon Pegg, a British comedian who stars in a series of memorable films he co-wrote and co-directed (the best is "Shaun of the Dead") and he is clearly having a lot of fun playing the role. At one point, he shouts James Doohan's trademark phrase "I'm giving her all she's got" and it's nice to hear it even if it seems drowned out by the cacophony surrounding their battle. It is also interesting to see how Scotty joins the crew as he isn't on the ship when it leaves Starfleet.
Bruce Greenwood plays Captain Pine, the original commander of the new U.S.S. Enterprise. He does a good job displaying the right mixture of knowledge, leadership and mentoring to his young crew. More importantly, this is Abrams way of giving a little wink and a nod to the fact the original television series pilot was filmed with Captain Pine, not Kirk. The network didn't like it and Gene Rodenberry recast the role making William Shatner Captain Kirk. This pilot episode would eventually become the basis for a later two-part episode reusing much of the footage in flashback. An interesting move on both Rodenberry and Abrams' part.
Eric Bana plays Nero, once a simple miner trying to make a life for he and his expectant wife, who is now so hell-bent on revenge, he will destroy entire planets to achieve his goal. He is good, surprisingly, and displays both the right level of menace and humanity as displayed through his reasons for wanting to extract revenge. Bana was once the next big thing and starred in a series of films, none of which ever achieved much critical praise or box office clout. He is more interesting as the villain in this film than he was as the "Hulk" in the version directed by Ang Lee. He is following this film with a role in "Funny People", the new film from Judd Apatow starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann and Jonah Hill.
And I don't think I'm spoiling anything for anyone by mentioning that Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance as Spock. It is sort of thrilling to see him return to such an iconic role. Better yet, rather than a quick cameo, his appearance plays an integral role in the plot and he has a significant amount of screen time.
Perhaps best of all, none of the characters goes without creating at least one moment of levity. It is nice to see that while the material is taken very seriously, they also recognize we can have a bit of humor, to lighten up the serious nature of the story. Just a little.
Abrams has created a plot involving black holes, time travel (allowing him to include Nimoy) and revenge. It is an involving, complicated story that makes good use of the characters, their mythology and their backgrounds. It's a great ride and an almost perfect film.
I read an article about the making of this film and Abrams noted that when he was researching the material and watching the episodes of the television series, he noticed a lot of scenes had lens flares in front of the character's faces. This is yet another aspect Abrams chose to pay tribute to. And it is an interesting visual device the first dozen times or so. But when this continues throughout the entire film, sometimes more than once in a scene, it becomes distracting and annoying. In almost every scene, a bright light or a lens flare partially obscures at least one character's face for a few seconds before disappearing or lowering to return again. A few times, this is used as a transitional device, but more often than not, it simply becomes distracting.
Despite this one annoying (and constant) distraction, Abrams and his writing team have done an amazing job of bringing life back to familiar characters and a familiar mythology that we don't have to give up just yet. I can't wait to see what they come up with for the two sequels. Can Khan be far away?