It took decades of increasingly mediocre TV series and Data-dull movies to beat Star Trek to death. But J.J. Abrams brings it all back to basics, and back to life, with a rousing prequel about how the intrepid crew of the Enterprise became shipmates. Abrams has delivered a not-too-reverent space opera that follows the Trek canon even as it reinvents what made generations fall in love with this saga.
In an opening torn from most of the earlier movies, we're hurled into battle. A prickly, artichoke-shaped vessel destroys a Federation starship and we have grim, silent death, sacrifice and heroism, all within the first five minutes. The story jumps ahead to the adolescence of the future Captain Kirk and someday Mr. Spock — rebels, both of them, each in their own way. It's when they reach Starfleet Academy that others join in — the too-hot Uhura (Zoe Saldana), whom the womanizing Kirk (Chris Pine) can't resist; the eager-to-overachieve navigator Sulu (John Cho); the cranky doctor (Karl Urban) who lost everything in his divorce "but my bones." The half-human, half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) is an instructor at the Academy who takes a dim view of somebody cheating on the Kobayashi Maru simulation.
Kirk and Spock meet and don't get along, something their mentor, Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood, seriously classing up the joint) tries to smooth over. Rookies all, they're tossed into action against a Romulan (Eric Bana) intent on revenge for some time-travel grievance.
The filmmakers recycle incidents, set pieces and story structure from earlier Treks, and a few action beats from Star Wars. They back-engineer the characters, making Spock an occasionally passionate (and sexual) hothead, Scotty (Simon Pegg, hilarious) a know-it-all misfit, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) a fresh-faced babe with a thick accent and mad video game skillz.
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You don't have to be deep into Trek to enjoy the generic plot and sharply cut space battles. But for Trekkies and Trekkers, there's a giggle a minute in this voyage — the first time Bones says, "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a ..."; that first raised Vulcan eyebrow; that first "I'm givin' all she's got, Cap'n" from Scotty; or the first time Kirk utters "I don't believe in no-win scenarios."
Of the new cast, Lord of the Rings vet Urban stands out — dry as Kentucky bourbon and droll as a Kentucky colonel who has his issues with the Vulcan, that "green-blooded hobgoblin." Pine is brash enough. Quinto grows on you, but Bana makes a pretty bland villain.
To this Trekker, this enterprise has the feel of a lost romance rekindled. Maybe they'll do more films and spoil it all over again. But kudos to Abrams for proving that the fat lady still hasn't sung on the oldest space opera of them all.