Lately I’ve been wanting a film that comes out punching, that doesn’t dally, that just drops the audience into the middle of intense action and lets us swim for our ever-loving lives. I’m talking about a movie that knows how to open a movie. The last one was “The Dark Knight.” Finally I get my wish with JJ Abrams’ re-booted “Star Trek.”
A tentacled spaceship with overwhelming firepower. A Star Fleet vessel limping and crumbling to pieces. Dozens of evacuating shuttles. And a baby being born. It’s the Odessa Steps at warp speed. And we instantly know that this one is set for stun.
And that’s just the beginning, because what we get is an exhilarating string of these things. What Abrams accomplishes is to rival Steven Spielberg’s capacity to stage wide-canvas action scenes, dotting the screen with multiple thrillers taking place in multiple locations simultaneously. We shift among them with swiftness, smoothness and ferocity.
So we go from a starship to high-speed parachuting, to a swordfight on top of a mile-high drilling platform. We move from a single cockpit to a starship bridge to watching the battle in slow motion from a million miles away, with spacecraft and torpedoes slowly charging across the eternal night.It’s awe-inspiring. I can’t say enough.
So let’s shower Abrams with praise. After an overhyped transition to the big screen, the “Lost” impresario finally delivers, re-charging what appeared to be a dead franchise. Returning us to the iconic characters, times, and spirit of the original television series of the sixties, the film invigorates the earliest adventure of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and the rest of the crew of the Starship Enterprise.
The geek favorites meet at Star Fleet Academy, but their friendships begin as petty rivalries. As cadets they are dispatched on a humanitarian mission to Vulcan aboard the newly minted Enterprise. The humanitarian mission becomes a military emergency when they meet a heavily armed Romulan mining ship that has traveled from the future through, yes, a temporal anomaly (which happen to be ideal for re-booting). It has come with a nasty captain (Eric Bana) and a destructive plan. As the crew loses its veteran captain (the always steady Bruce Greenwood), the Enterprise bridge dissolves into back-and-forth mutiny as the young officers squabble over what to do.
We can watch the generations roll by through Star Trek. The original series operated with the Silent Generation’s enlightened bureaucracy. In the spiritually sensitive Boomer era, the crew saved whales and sought peace, while the Next Generation provided an oligarchy run by Up With People and the idea that humans are evolving into gods.
It took a while to dip into 90s style sci-fi paranoia, à la “Babylon 5” or “The X-Files.” It didn’t connect with Star Trek’s historically earnest outlook. Star Trek really isn’t Star Trek without Star Fleet officers hiding dark conspiracies and evil motives. The series had becomes moorless and passé.
Rebooted and reloaded, we now have a Star Trek updated to modern action conventions, a crew of orphaned rebel-heroes whose wounded pasts shadow their idealism. In this version, Kirk is the talented but unorthodox son of a dead space hero. Chris Pine, with the toughest measure-up as the embryonic Captain Kirk, cruises with the cocky hamminess inherent in the role. Or inherent in William Shatner. Take your pick.
To call the performers unknown is an understatement. The only really famous person is Winona Ryder, in a small part. But for once Abrams’ don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful casting doesn’t betray him. Only Karl Urban’s portrayal of Bones flips disturbingly between imitation and parody. Scotty is a parody deftly steered into comic relief by Simon Pegg, who steals all of his scenes. Zoe Soldana gets to play Uhura as saucy, savvy and semi-relevant.
Yet the bravest risk, and the greatest reward, comes from the nearly unthinkable decision to put the film’s emotional center on the legendarily emotionless character. What started as a one-episode gag forty years ago –-that Spock is half-human-–fully fleshes to its completion. This Spock is prideful, ambitious, shy, vulnerable, orderly, rebellious, an enigma to both of his worlds. The Spock we are given here is a human wanting to be a Vulcan. Wholly and admirably, Quinto re-builds the Vulcan from the inside out. Is it too early to say that Quinto is a better Spock than Leonard Nimoy?
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Leonard Nimoy, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Andrei Yeltchin, Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Tyler Perry. Directed by JJ Abrams