© 2009 Ray Wong
After Nemesis seven long years ago, the general consensus is that Paramount has ruined the Star Trek franchise for good. It's not a surprise that the fans met J.J. Abrams' "reboot" with extreme skepticism and scrutiny. I believe Abrams has proved them all wrong -- and that's a great thing.
Born without a father, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a drifter, despite his great skills and intellect. But Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) sees through the facade and convinces Kirk to enter the Starfleet Academy, where the gregarious Kirk makes friends with fellow cadets Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Cockily Kirk promises Pike, who held the record of making officer in four years, that he will be able to do the same in three.
Meanwhile on the planet Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto) succeeds in controlling his emotions and decides to join the Starfleet despite his "disadvantage" of being a half-human. Quickly, Spock rises to become a commander. The headstrong Kirk comes into conflict with the logical Spock when Kirk reprograms Spock's famous Kobayashi Maru test and breaks the Starfleet's rules and regulations. Kirk is suspended.
Then the Starfleet receives a distress call and the cadets are sent on a rescue mission. McCoy manages to get Kirk on the Enterprise, commandeered by Captain Pike with the help of Lieutenant Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin). The distress call turns out to be a trap set by a Romulan mining ship captained by Nero (Eric Bana). Despite their differences, Kirk and Spock really compliment each other, and they are called to duty to help save the galaxy for the very first time.
Chris Pine (Bottle Shock), a relatively unknown actor, rises to the occasion and gives us a spirited and likable James T. Kirk. He manages to subtly imitate William Shatner, who has personified Kirk since the '60s, while injecting his own personality into the role. He's cocky, charming, infuriating, and vulnerable at the same time. As his counterpart, Zachary Quinto (Heroes) is superb as Spock, the logical creature struggling with his emotions as a half-human. Quinto's portrayal is precise and affecting. He and Pine make a great team and totally make us believe they can become great friends despite their tremendous differences.
Leonard Nimoy is the only original Star Trek cast involved in this film (and you will see how that makes sense in the story). Of course, Nimoy is Spock. The fact that he and Quinto share the role without the audience questioning the authenticity says a lot about the actors as well as the screenwriters. Eric Bana (The Time Traveler's Wife) is quite good as Nero, and he gives the villainous role a "human" side. Bruce Greenwood (National Treasure: Book of Secrets) is excellently stoic as Captain Pike.
The rest of the cast is outstanding as they tackle the difficult task of playing well-known and well-liked characters without sacrificing their own personalities. They can't be too much younger than the original cast in the '60s, but they're all believable. Karl Urban (Pathfinder) is especially good as McCoy. Zoe Saldana (Vantage Point) is spunky and lovely as Uhura. John Cho (Harold & Kumar) is sharp as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin (Charlie Barlett) is fun as Chekov. Simon Pegg (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) is hilarious and awesome as Scotty. Ben Cross (War, Inc.) and Winona Ryder (The Informers) are also excellent as Spock's parents.
Written by Roberto Orci (Transformers) and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers), the screenplay is tight with a great plot that reinvigorates the canon without sacrificing it. Without giving out any spoilers, suffice it to say this is not really a prequel. The high-concept plot works beautifully. There are great tension, action, and lots of humor that plays well to the characters' personalities. The banters among the characters are great. And there's just enough character development that even if you are not familiar with Star Trek, you won't feel left out or confused. The dialogue is sharp and there are many references to the series without, again, confusing those who are not familiar with the Star Trek universe.
It is a great relief that the writers pay so much attention to the plot and character development to make it an exceptional screenplay. They also manage to embrace the old canon while creating a new direction. They also satisfy the fans without alienating the mainstream audiences. In fact, this may be the first Star Trek film that has a truly broad appeal.
It helps that director J.J. Abrams (Cloverfield) has a knack for creating believable characters and exciting storytelling. Abrams' pace never falters. It keeps the plot moving along without sacrificing characters. There are suspense, intrigues, and tension. Good drama and plenty of humor as well. Abrams also knows when to quit and move on, without bogging us down to exhausting action sequences or expositions. At the same time, he manages to streamline the story -- it is easy to follow even with multiple plot threads and a huge cast of characters.
When everyone has just about written Star Trek off, Abrams and his team manage to not only resurrect the franchise, but also give it new excitement filled with pathos and humor, drama and action, and a tremendous sense of wonder and adventure. Star Trek is a triumph in every sense of the word.
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder
Director: JJ Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (based on Gene Roddenberry's series)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and some sexual content
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 9
Cinematography – 9
Editing – 9
Production – 10
Total – 8.2 out of 10