Star Trek

JJ Abrams’ comprehensive re-boot of the long-moribund Star Trek science-fiction franchise is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. With an all new cast, a punchy script and a determination to have fun, Abrams blazes his own trail through the dusty mythology of the 40 year old space opera franchise, boldly going where dozens have gone before. This is Star Trek, but not as we know it.

The film gets off to a thunderous start with a long prologue in which the USS Starship Kelvin is attacked by a gigantic, multi-pronged Romulan warship that emerges, suddenly, from a black hole. When the captain is lured to the enemy ship and assassinated by its commander Nero (Eric Bana), first officer George Kirk stays on board to ensure the escaping crew, including his pregnant wife, reach safety. While he dies, selflessly, she gives birth to their son James Tiberius, played as a twentysomething by Chris Pine.

Kirk grows up in a town beside a Federation training base, a rebellious young man who finds focus when he meets an older Starfleet officer (Bruce Greenwood), who knew his father. Meanwhile, on the planet Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has endured his own difficult upbringing, his identity divided by his dual heritage, Vulcan and Human. Certain he will never be accepted as a true Vulcan, he joins Starfleet, leaving behind a privileged life as a government scientist to seek adventure. We are then introduced to the rest of the key cast in a series of quick-fire encounters; the beautiful language expert Uhura (Zoe Saldana), grumpy medical expert Bones (Karl Urban), Russian pilot Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and later, Caledonian engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg). The adventure proper begins when all the cadets are gathered on the bridge of the Enterprise, called out to answer a distress call from the planet Vulcan which bears eerie similarities to the attack that killed Kirk’s father twenty-five years previously.

Abrams’ warp speed storytelling balances the melodrama with invigorating shots of honest humour and eye-catching special effects. A standout sequence, inspired perhaps by Iain M Banks’ novel ‘Matter’, has Kirk, Lt Sulu (John Cho) and an ominously anonymous red-uniformed ensign, sky-dive down through the atmosphere to disable an enormous Romulan drill that is boring an apocalyptic hole through the planet Vulcan. Abrams peppers the shoot-outs and fist-fights with literal cliff-hangers, as characters repeatedly find themselves dangling over the edge of a steep precipice.

Abrams and his long-term writing collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman retell the story from the beginning; wiping clean the old cast’s incarnations of the characters and removing the stale crust of apathy that has built up over the decades. Unlike, say, Christopher Nolan’s re-imagining of Batman, Star Trek doesn’t contain any overt political allegories or moral conundrums; this is the straightforward story or how a group of people came together added to an age-old battle between good and evil. It redefines the characters without betraying them, or the fans who sustain them. Abrams remains true to the legacy of the franchise, taking the time to plant repeated references to key moments from the television series and subsequent films.

The flawless production design creates, from the opening frames, a familiar but far better looking environment. Visually, Abrams overuses his signature shaky-camera technique, further distorting the images with flares of fragmented light bouncing off every shiny surface that delight initially but become distracting. Later, the straightforward story runs slightly flat; having spent too much time establishing all of the good guys and not enough on making Bana’s time-travelling Nero as evil as he could have been.

Abrams’ brave new Star Trek is the first great blockbuster of the summer. It is sure to satisfy existing Trekkers while providing solid entertainment to the uninitiated, and with the promise of more to come.


clom said...

lovely review john,

both myself and the wife loved it.

karl urban's performance really epitomises the assured way the cast negotiate the pitfalls all around them. gruff, funny, sarcastic but never mugging.

ColmB said...

Must See it very soon!
Impressed because on today FM you said u werent a "Trekker"
Lovin The reviews!

Jen said...

Loved this film! It's going to be in my DVD collection as soon as it comes out.

I thought all the cast were well picked. Funny (huge hands). The action was big and bold. For example the first 10 minutes was harrowing. Ok, I'll admit it! I cried at Star Trek film.

Great stuff.