STAR TREK (Mania.com)

By:Rob Vaux
Review Date: Wednesday, May 06, 2009

 

If you're going to break continuity, break it in half. Shatter it into a million pieces. Smash it so badly that no one can ever repair it again. It's a bold move--cutting away the calcified remains of four decades' worth of back-story in a single stroke--and one that Star Trek would never dare consider before now. The franchise needed to be pushed to the brink of extinction first. Make no mistake: without such drastic action, it was done. Finished. Kaput. Yet at the same time, it was uniquely positioned to undergo a complete regeneration without destroying what came before.
 
After all, what's technobabble for if not to leverage something so inconceivable? All the tools were right there--quantum mechanics, parallel universes, scientific concepts so thought-numbingly bizarre they made Stephen Hawking go "hang on, you've lost me"--just waiting to be used as a cosmic reset button. No one had the guts to push it until J.J. Abrams showed up.
 
The relative merits and flaws of his decision will doubtless be debated for some time: he really shakes the Trek universe to the fundaments with this new film. Someone dies who isn't supposed to--a distressingly large number of someones, in fact--and more than a few hard-core Trekkies are apt to be screaming for blood. I still can't decide whether I like such developments or not. But I also believe it was absolutely necessary if this film series were to continue. The energized results onscreen--the terrific entertainment this new Star Trek embodies--would not have been possible were Abrams shackled to the minute details of five TV shows, ten movies, and countless novels, fan films and Internet slash porn.
 
Discussing the specifics gives away too many of the movie's surprises, and love them or hate them, they're well worth experiencing directly. In simplest terms, a cranky Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) has taken a page out of the Terminator's playbook. He's come from the future to destroy the past, running smack dab into the untested crew of the starship Enterprise in the process. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is Starfleet's resident bad boy: still bedding space chicks by the dozen and challenging authority largely because it amuses him to do so. His buddy Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) hasn't yet warmed to his antics, and indeed considers the man a menace… feelings fueled by ambivalence towards his own human/Vulcan heritage.
 
They're joined by the usual gang sporting fresh new faces--McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Skipper, Gilligan and the rest--and aided by a screenplay which cuts through the pop culture detritus to remind us what was so fun about Star Trek in the first place. Clever dialogue abounds (and when was the last time Trek could say that?), along with a number of cool references to Gene Roddenberry's original series. Abrams attains an impressive balance between state-of-the-art special effects and tips of the cap to the first show's endearing clunkiness (the simple, almost crude make-up of an Orion cadet, for example, or the subtle appearance of 60s-era haircuts.) The space battles and attendant action pieces demonstrate a similar flair for detail, though Abrams still needs to work on the BSG-style shaky cam he's chosen to adopt, and the editing struggles for coherence during the film's most intense sequences.
 
The truly remarkable accomplishment lies with the cast, who must evoke their legendary predecessors without resorting to parodic imitation. Urban and Quinto have the best of it… and since I've been shit-hammering Quinto's Sylar for the last three months, it behooves me to emphasize just how well he nails Mr. Spock. The two roles possess surprising similarities--conflict over heritage, clinical detachment masking turbulent emotions, etc.--yet Quinto crafts them into a irresistibly compelling character here while Sylar stumbled through a contrived grab-bag of disconnected quirks. Leonard Nimoy can rest easy knowing his beloved icon is in good hands.  
 

The remainder of the cast does their job effectively, with Pine wisely avoiding any undue Shatnerisms and Simon Pegg providing great comic relief without compromising the soul of chief engineer Montgomery Scott. Abrams takes special care to remind us that they're characters first and sci-fi sacred cows second (though his knack of introducing them and then pausing for the inevitable cheers is exasperating). Indeed, in many ways that's the film's primary purpose. Yes, it's a popcorn flick--and a first-rate one at that--but it also grants these figures a freshness they haven't possessed in a long time. The means it uses to get there may not sit well with everyone, but to quote an earlier entry in this franchise, it does turn death into a fighting chance to live. That carries with it a unique excitement, brought about by the new, the unknown and the unexpected. Yet it's still quintessentially Star Trek, brimming with optimism and that good, cheesy fun which made so many of us fall in love with it in the first place. It's nice remembering how great that experience felt… and nicer to know that we can still feel that way again.



Mania Grade: B+
Movie: Star Trek
Rating: PG-13
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, and Leonard Nimoy
Written By: Roberto Ori and Alex Kurtzman
Directed By: J.J. Abrams
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Series: Star Trek