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Rated 3.14 stars
by 518 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Energize & Prosper
by John P. McCarthy

It's difficult to imagine where the storied Star Trek franchise could go, boldly or otherwise, that it hasn't already gone in ten feature films and five television series. And yet, working at the cinematic equivalent of warp speed, director/producer J.J. Abrams manages to transport viewers into genuinely novel and exciting territory. 

In this ingenious prequel, Abrams -- best known for TV's Lost and Alias -- and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman jump back and focus on formative experiences and the early Starfleet careers of James Tiberius Kirk and Spock. We watch the headstrong, wet-behind-the-ears Kirk (Chris Pine) and the more experienced yet still-green Spock (Zachary Quinto) infuriate and school one another.

While this interspecies friendship is the crux of Star Trek, the movie's success can't be attributed to any one factor -- whether clever plotting, strong characters, humorous dialogue, or dazzling special effects. Without being patently innovative, the film excels in multiple areas. Less tangible elements are what set it apart. Abrams and his collaborators don't kowtow to the past, treat their audience like imbeciles, or tarry over non-essentials. They exhilarate, engross and amuse, thereby injecting vitality into Gene Roddenberry's long-in-the-tooth creation, a brand many non-Trekkies at least had left for dead.

Following a riveting, emotional prologue in which Kirk's father, a young officer on the U.S.S. Kelvin, behaves heroically in the line of duty, we witness a few telling moments in Spock's youth. His reaction to being scorned by peers for being the product of a mixed (human and Vulcan) marriage, testify to his grittiness and independent streak. As expected, his intellect will never be at issue during the course of the film, only his hold on his emotions.

Meanwhile, Kirk is raising Cain in Iowa. He doesn't have the benefit of a father's counsel, the way Spock is gently steered by his father Sarek (Ben Cross). But a surrogate materializes in the form of Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood). He knew the elder Kirk and goads James into entering the Starfleet Academy. Soon, Kirk is afforded the chance to prove his mettle on the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Naturally, Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) are aboard. Scotty (Simon Pegg) shows up later in the film.

The test of wills between Kirk and Spock almost scuttles Starfleet's response to Nero (Eric Bana), a vengeful Romulan captain who poses a serious threat to the galaxy. His plot to destroy Vulcan and Earth involves black holes and ruptures in the space-time continuum. There are points at which only the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, i.e. Stephen Hawking, can fully comprehend the science behind the action. Alas, Abrams is so adept at keeping things moving, your faith in the movie's logical coherence never wavers.

It's not necessary to be a physicist or a Trekkie to grasp the thrilling action sequences. When the Enterprise is first in peril, Kirk and Sulu embark on a dangerous mission, hurtling through Vulcan's outer atmosphere wearing parachutes and landing on a gigantic drill the Romulans use to try to extinguish the planet and its inhabitants. Another memorable scene has Kirk being chased by ferocious creatures on the surface of an icy planet where he's marooned.

The movie's plot folds back on itself and Trek history perfectly, incorporating and enhancing the past, including signature lines and gadgets. Longtime fans will admire how it sticks so closely to the franchise's nautical blueprint and should be delighted that Leonard Nimoy is employed so well and for so long. As for the absence of William Shatner, he's not really missed.

Quinto's turn as Spock is the most impressive performance. One can nitpick of course. Chekov's accent sounds a bit belabored; and as Kirk, Pine doesn't convey the combination of machismo and dry, self-mocking wit that Shatner managed. The casting of Winona Ryder and Tyler Perry in small roles is baffling but not harmful.

Star Trek may be the funniest sci-fi flick ever made. This dimension will help reward repeat viewings and is a testimony to the picture's lack of self-seriousness and pretension. No doubt, achieving that brisk, breezy, yet-still-gripping affect required meticulous planning. Trekkies should be ecstatic that Abrams has taken the con of their beloved franchise. And a whole new generation will be won over by Star Trek, a movie that puts entertainment value above all else. 

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content.)

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