WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
After six different TV series and 10 feature films, director J.J. Abrams (MI:3, Lost, Alias) takes the Star Trek franchise back to the beginning to tell how James T. Kirk, a brash, hot-rod-loving kid from Iowa, and Spock, a thoughtful and logical half-human/half-Vulcan, meet and compete at the Starfleet Academy and are chosen by Captain Pike to join the maiden voyage of the Starship Enterprise. Unlike other Treks, Abrams' film develops credible backstories for the two characters as they join several other newcomers, including fresh-faced cadets Leonard "Bones" McCoy, Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, Uhura, Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov. The story focuses on the clash between Kirk and Spock as the young crew faces a major first test in battling Nero, an unrelentingly evil Romulan who has designs on destroying Earth, Vulcan and the rest of the Federated planets.
WHO'S IN IT?
Smartly stitching together an attractive and talented young cast to take this series back to the future (and hoped-for sequels), Abrams wisely is not looking for actors doing impressions of a young William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy. In Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Heroes) as Spock, he found two talented stars who uncannily suggest and interpret these iconic characters at the beginning of their life voyage together. With the trademark haircut and ears, Quinto nails the essence of what we might imagine Spock was like as a youth. Pine is rugged and cocky but not over-the-top as Kirk. As the reigning Captain Pike, Bruce Greenwood is solid and commanding. The rest of the crew is perfectly cast, with Karl Urban's Bones, Zoe Saldana's "take-no-prisoners" Uhura and John Cho's Sulu fitting their roles like a glove. Anton Yelchin's super-thick Russian accent as Chekov is grating at times, but it's a minor quibble. The best performance of all comes later in the picture, when British star Simon Pegg turns up as Scotty and steals every scene he's in with choice one-liners and a sassy attitude. A tattoo-faced Eric Bana is perfect as the main villain Nero, who operates out of the eerily dark and stunning vessel, dubbed the Narada. His cunning and reserve help make him far more complex than your father's Trek villains. And look for a substantial and inspiring visit from Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock), who has been ingeniously woven into the proceedings.
Let's face it: Star Trek was getting tired, with diminishing box-office returns and falling TV ratings. By going back to the beginning and introducing a whole new youthful vibe past Treks never had, Abrams has given a new lease on life to a legendary 40-year-old adventure that now can go on to live long(er) and (fortunately for Paramount) prosper all over again. The updated casting is joined by state-of-the-art visual effects and action set pieces that outdo any previous incarnations, and the whip-smart screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman does creator Gene Roddenberry's original vision proud while introducing it to a new generation. Key to successfully accomplishing this mission was to create a new take that would bring in new devotees but not turn off the faithful Trekkies who've kept this thing going for so long. Done.
Other than Yelchin's accent, only the overriding feeling that any potential sequels can never match the joy of seeing the genesis of Star Trek portrayed like it is here. But bring 'em on anyway.
There are many thrilling moments, including Kirk's terrifying encounter with a deadly beast on the bone-chilling ice planet Delta Vega and the battle between the Narada and Enterprise. But the early Starfleet Academy scenes involving Kirk and Spock, whose sharp exchanges showcase their youthful rivalry, really set the stage for a fascinating and complicated relationship, forming the heart and soul of not only this prequel but the entire basis of the Star Trek concept.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX:
Are you crazy? See it on a big screen IMAX if you can. This is what the motion-picture experience is all about.
Hollywood.com rated this film 4 stars.