J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” redux is a true cinematic rarity. It is an epic adventure that deftly captures the spirit of the original series, while succeeding utterly in charting a new course. Characters that have become pop icons are reborn in a film worthy of the hype and early accolades. This is no easy feat considering the sheer volume and love for the previous material. Trekkies and neophytes alike will be equally satisfied. The filmmakers deserve credit for making what may be the best prequel ever.
I will keep this review completely spoiler free. Nero (played superbly by Eric Bana) is a Romulan from the future hell-bent on exacting vengeance on Spock (Leonard Nimoy). He travels back in time and destroys the U.S.S. Kelvin in an opening scene of spectacular magnitude. Instead of seeing his son grow into the Federation’s finest captain, Lt. George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) sacrifices himself to save his newborn son and the rest of the crew. This event changes the timeline and an alternate universe is established. James Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up a rebel, longing to know his father. Worlds away on Vulcan, the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) faces constant ridicule for his half-human heritage. He feels anger, but buries his emotions deep. Kirk and Spock cross paths at Starfleet Academy. They are bitter rivals at first, but an alert that Vulcan is under attack throws these men into combat. There they will face Nero and forge a friendship that is the lynchpin of Star Trek.
While Star Trek has an astonishingly high production value, the character work and casting are its greatest merits. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are absolutely brilliant as Kirk and Spock. Love, loss, betrayal, heroism, intelligence, they display these virtues admirably. For all the swagger of Kirk, there are the bottled emotions of Spock. For all the courage of Spock, we get the quick-thinking and natural leadership of Kirk. The plot is a textbook course in character development. The characters we see in the beginning have grown extraordinarily at the conclusion. Praise goes to the supporting cast as well. A surprise relationship in particular will stun you, but is so expertly exposed; you only realize its significance in the end.
The production design, editing, costumes, and special effects are some of the best we’ve seen in science fiction. Abram’s uses quick edits to fuel the frenetic pace of the action, but was smart enough to cut back and let the characters linger in key dramatic moments. He was smart enough to know that Star Trek is not only an action film, but an absorbing character study as well. So in the middle of grand action scenes, we cut back to the human element facing the crisis. I bitch and moan constantly in my reviews of how the spectacle destroys the theatrical value of a movie if the characters are weak and poorly written. Here we have that perfect melding of the two.
Star Trek fans who expect to see nods to every little quibble of the old Trek need to drop those expectations. This film is not an homage to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. It is a new vision of a franchise that had become stale and inaccessible to the average filmgoer. We now have a youthful and dynamic storyline to capture our imaginations. I would be very surprised to see another film as good this summer. Grab your seats early because this one is a hit.