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Star Trek: A bold new direction

by Glen Baity

We’re only a few weeks into blockbuster season, and we’ve already had more than our fair share of origin stories. Last week we learned what Wolverine was up to before he joined the X-Men (the answer: nothing interesting). But things are looking up this week as we join James T. Kirk and Co. for a series reboot of Star Trek. It might be the most fun you have this summer, at the movies or elsewhere. Never having been much of a “Star Trek” fan myself, I’m either — depending on your perspective — the worst or the best person to comment on this film. If you want to know how faithful this Star Trek is to the original series, seek advice elsewhere. My Trek knowledge begins and ends with Ricardo Montalban. But director JJ Abrams purposefully made this Trek accessible to non-fans, so you don’t need a lifetime of Original Series vs. Next Generation arguments under your belt to appreciate what he’s done here. This is the chronological beginning of the Starship Enterprise story: Kirk (Chris Pine) is a young hotshot living in the shadow of his father’s short, brilliant career as a Starfleet Captain. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is a young half-Vulcan trying to quell his human emotions and fit in with his full-blooded peers. They’re thrown together when a Romulan ship helmed by Captain Nero (Eric Bana) launches a devastating assault on planet Vulcan. The ensuing battle takes the crew of the USS Enterprise through space, time, and to every corner of the galaxy. If only Star Wars could’ve had an Episode One this good. Abrams’ love of the series shines through in every brilliant frame, every corny joke and every massive, thrilling action sequence. 

He also elicits fine performances from what turns out to be a perfect ensemble. Pine, a largely unknown quantity before this big break, is perfect as Kirk, a cocky ensign who essentially talks his way into the command post. He has plenty of chemistry with Quinto, who is great fun to watch as a young logician struggling against his hotheaded impulses. The central story is theirs, but there’s a lot to love about the supporting cast of Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Bones (Karl Urban), among others. The most surprising element is Leonard Nimoy’s appearance, not in a cheeky cameo, but as a central character whose actions affect the outcome in a fundamental way. It’s an interesting, and yes, bold decision by Abrams. Without saying too much: There’s an inherent paradox directly related to Nimoy’s character that is never satisfactorily addressed by the script. It’s the only part of the movie that might bug you after viewing. But it’s easy enough to forgive when the rest of the package is so attractive. Abrams (co-creator of ABC’s “Lost”) brings a distinctive visual style to his film. Everything, from the bridge of the Enterprise to the costume design has been updated with one eye on the rearview mirror. Old fans should recognize what they’re looking at, and new fans will marvel at the creativity of both the original vision and its new set of duds. It’s not all gloss, though: There’s some real substance to the film, even if, at times, the exposition seems rushed. Abrams is refreshingly conscious of how much gravitas his audience needs. Consequently, the heavier parts of Star Trek — particularly its heart-wrenching opening — are cut with wildly entertaining action sequences that make the film’s two hours zoom by. Trek is this year’s Iron Man, an unabashed crowd-pleaser that is consistently exhilarating. Will everyone love it? Maybe not. But it’s the season for eye-popping space battles and nostalgia, and Star Trek has both in spades. To comment on this story, e-mail Glen Baity at glen.baity@gmail.com

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