starring John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy
screenplay by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
directed by J.J. Abrams
by Walter Chaw My long-held suspicion of J.J. Abrams as a no-trick pony has thawed completely now that after producing the exceptional Cloverfield, he has directed a reboot of Gene Roddenberry's beloved "Star Trek" that walks the fine line between absolute seriousness and absolute cheese and does so in about the exact same, smart, swashbuckling way as the '60s TV show, to which this movie serves not as a prequel, but as a delicious alternate possibility. Abrams's Star Trek is faithful to Roddenberry's vision in every way, including a restoration of the sexiness and spunk that's been largely lost to decades of syndication. It's easy to forget that the first interracial kiss on television belongs to the original series--not to mention all those ripped-shirt fights, tumbles with green girls, and "Bizarro-version" facial hair. The picture is faithful simultaneously to the spirit of this time, joining what looks to be a spate of films with apocalyptic visions of entire planets destroyed by unimaginable calamity. Spry and well-written, Star Trek plays up the idea of individual heroism for the collective good in high Trek fashion and, fascinatingly, works in the clay of deep-set parental issues to give its young characters the psychological framework for evolution in this new reality. If this James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is more of a brawler and a rake than Shatner's rakish brawler, blame it on the premature loss of daddy; if this Spock (Zachary Quinto) has his humanity closer to the skin than the other Spock (Leonard Nimoy, who has a sizeable role), blame it on mommy (Winona Ryder). Yet for all its weighted subtext, it avoids the self-seriousness of Christopher Nolan's Batman films and Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, finding in its material the spirit of discovery and bonhomie that made the franchise in its heyday one of the most affecting bits of popular relational drama on television.
What Star Trek feels like is a reclamation of the franchise from the cult ghetto with a cast that can act and a story that doubles as an honourable maturation of Roddenberry's baby and something alive and fun and topical. It re-establishes Trek as the trailblazer of the miscegenation conversation in American culture at a time when miscegenation has become an afterthought in mainstream film, and it manages messages of stewardship and responsibility without growing tiresome and severe. It's a good war film, a good large-scale action film, a nice homage to the original series, and ambitious in its structure and execution. A scene that could have gone horribly wrong involving a giant snow-crab thing on an ice-planet resolves itself with the giddy hilarity of the brontosaurus stampede from Peter Jackson's King Kong. Every moment that the film threatens to dissolve into the "save the whales" grandstanding self-importance of Star Trek IV, in fact, it pulls through with a healthy dose of self-awareness and just enough taking the piss out of itself to suggest that what George Lucas's Star Wars prequels really needed was Han Solo. Most surprisingly, Star Trek proves to be an emotional picture in which a major plot point hinges on the courage to show weakness, reminding me that as a kid, the death of Spock and his "I have been, and always shall be, your friend" to Kirk in Wrath of Khan was one of the most heartrending things I'd ever encountered in a movie. Abrams has distilled how it feels to be a 9-year-old watching a story about courage and friendship, grief and acceptance--and he's done it with a sense of fun and intelligence. All is right again with the galaxy. Originally published: May 8, 2009.