2009, PG-13, 126 min. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Bruce Greenwood, Winona Ryder, Leonard Nimoy, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 8, 2009
Star Trek: Has there ever been any other television program that so captured the imagination of its (initially modest) fan base? Almost 40 years after NBC pulled the plug a mere three seasons into the USS Enterprise's five-year mission, we're still aching to "boldly go where no man has gone before." Trek creator Gene Roddenberry originally pitched the show as "Wagon Train to the stars," a canny reference to a wildly popular Western that ended its seven-year run almost one year to the day that Trek debuted at 8:30pm EST on Thursday, Sept. 8, 1966. Roddenberry's genius – and the reason we're still eager to be thrilled by the ongoing voyages of the USS Enterprise and her various crews – has everything to do with the franchise's bedrock humanism and mankind's itchy, primal drive to discover what lies beyond the beyond. (The Cold War space race, about which the original Trek spoke so eloquently, is long over but not so the longing for, and fear of, the great unknown.) So does Abrams' back-to-the-future, big-budget reboot measure up to Roddenberry's twin warp drives of high-minded idealism and pop-culture adventuring? Does Spock get all emo-freaky when it comes to the Vulcan mating ritual “pon farr"? Abrams' Star Trek is an immensely satisfying origin story that, narratively, goes all the way back to James Tiberius Kirk's corn-fed and hotheaded Iowa youth before introducing, one by one, the characters we know – before we knew them. Abrams is respectful of Trek, and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are clearly big fans. For all its epically chaotic space battles and Bana's scheming, time-tripping Romulan, Nero, Star Trek is most audacious in such scenes as when the not-yet-Captain Kirk (Pine, getting the Tiberius just right but wisely forsaking the Shatner) beds a green-skinned Orion sex bomb while simultaneously making a play for Saldana's Uhura. In quick succession, the iconic characters enter in ways delightfully unexpected yet cleverly apropos: tippling, proto-curmudgeon medical student "Bones" McCoy (Urban, grimly comic); future helmsman and épée-wielder Hikaru Sulu (Harold & Kumar's Cho); a giddy, gung-ho 17-year-old Pavel Chekov (Yelchin); and in a role that needs to be expanded next time out, Pegg's competently crazed engineer Scotty. And then there is, of course, Spock. Two of them, actually: Quinto's dire, logic-beholden youth, and Nimoy's "Prime Spock," who serves a key narrative role while effortlessly bridging Trek-then and this new, hyperactive, hormonal crew of budding heroes. It's not necessary to be a longtime fan of the Star Trek universe to appreciate the sheer emotional punch and swagger of this rough and randy Enterprise crew. They're unlikely companions – antagonists, even – not yet boldly going wherever it is they're going, but discovering that trial by fire and photon torpedoes is the best, if not the easiest, way to forge both friendships and franchises.