“There are always possibilities,” Spock said. And if the Star Trek franchise reboot is indeed life from death, we must return to this place again.
That, if you’ll pardon the allusion to 1982’s The Wrath of Khan (and of course you will), is the eminently logical thinking behind director J.J. Abrams’ audaciously entertaining outing, which remains just aware enough of the mythology’s most cherished moments to move on without dishonoring them. Abrams’ appropriately funny, silly and exciting new take on Trek clearly understands its original mission objectives, and puts extra emphasis on the boldly going.
And on the coming together. Abrams shows us the formative years (or, well, the formative brief moments) of the headstrong, thrill-seeking, frequently precipice-dangling James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the half-human, half-Vulcan logician scientist Spock (Zachary Quinto). They’re at odds at first, but friendship takes root in the rich soil of common destiny as they board the starship Enterprise and accumulate her most familiar crew: Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg).
It doesn’t happen as has been told before. But the movie justifies its alterations to this ensemble origin story very cleverly, twisting causality in a manner most consistent with the Trek ethos. Let’s just say it involves a genocidal, time-warping renegade Romulan (Eric Bana), with a major axe to grind against young Mr. Spock.
Not to mention significant screen time for old Mr. Spock, as portrayed with warmth and evident joy by the actor who originated him, Leonard Nimoy. That means real pressure for Quinto, but the newcomer comports himself with vigorous dignity.
And then there’s our new Captain Kirk. All told, the performance probably could not have been better. In archetypal terms, Pine seems as the mid-sixties William Shatner must have, with the cheeky spunk and all-purpose good looks of a small-screen swashbuckler coming into his own. For fun, Pine delivers a Shatnerian gesture here and there, and one classic line reading near the movie’s end, but he doesn’t get daunted or distracted, and makes the part his own.
The carefully chosen creative team also includes screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, alumni of Abrams’ Alias, and composer Michael Giacchino, an alumnus of Abrams’ Lost. These folks have done worse, and better, respectively — Orci and Kurtzman also wrote the Transformers movies, and Giacchino also scored The Incredibles — but the prevailing mentality, of a TV-serial with an expansive sense of adventure, is just what anything called Star Trek needs.
The presentation, as much to Abrams’ credit as to his writers, is a marvel of polished panache. It finds the right time and place for familiar catchphrases — your “fascinatings” and “dammit Jims” and “I’m givin’ her all she’s gots” — and even ventures some character-consistent new ones, like when cranky ship’s physician Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) caps off a harangue at young Kirk with the admonishment that “space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence!”
Arguably, there isn’t enough darkness or silence in Star Trek. Cinematographer Dan Mindel goes a little overboard with the cool but eventually distracting halation effects to remind us how bright and shiny this future world is, and the urgently adventurous pace of the story, though thrilling, seems just a wee bit afraid of time to think and room to breathe. One reason the second Trek film can’t be topped but can be referenced is that it was, in its soul, such a quietly ruminative movie — with ships lumbering among hazy nebulae stalking each other like submarines, and characters sealing their bonds of friendship by confronting their mortality.
But as Kirk wisely suggested in that film, “galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young.” And here they are.