Star Trek

Review by Jonathan Crocker @JonathanCrocker

Directed by

JJ Abrams

Starring

Chris Pine Karl Urban Zachary Quinto

Anticipation.

Star Trek meets M:I:III meets Star Wars.

Enjoyment.

Kirk is a bar-fighting boozehound? Spock is getting it on with Uhura? Beam us up!

In Retrospect.

The most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the summer. And we can say that in May.

JJ Abrams’ franchise reboot is the most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the summer.

Corkscrewing past space debris, photon fire and blazing starships, we are sent hurtling headfirst into JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek universe – just minutes before baby James Tiberius Kirk is too. Blasted out of the womb, blasted out of an escape pod, Kirk will never meet his father, who single-handedly crash-courses the decimated USS Kelvin into its Romulan attackers to save his newborn son.

But, briefly and crucially, we do meet Kirk Snr. And it’s surely no accident that Abrams sends a Starfleet captain to an explosive hero-death in the opening scene. It’s more like a symbolic passing. More like a mission statement. More than Bond or Batman, Abrams’ Star Trek is a radical franchise rebirth – as bald as its title. Handsome but lived-in, Pine looks less like a cardboard jock from The Hills than a hotshot who’s grown up hitting the bottle, the books and the guy next to him.

Speed and style is what Abrams pumps into the heart of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi saga. He barely lets the credit sequence cool off before we warp forward a decade to find that Kirk still has battle in his blood. To the soundtrack yawps of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’, tween wild-child Kirk joyrides a sports car across the Iowa desert with a police hoverbike in hot pursuit.

We warp again, past Kirk’s teen years. Because we see them all in Chris Pine’s face. Handsome but lived-in, Pine looks less like a cardboard jock from The Hills than a hotshot who’s grown up hitting the bottle, the books and the guy next to him. He’s been slapped by a lot of women and screwed a lot more. Cocky, impulsive and embarrassingly likeable, Pine’s Kirk is all Good Will Hunting – genius dropout, lost boy, rebel without a cause. Destiny waits for him at Starfleet. His interview involves being dragged drunk and bloodied out of another bar brawl after a fumbled pass at Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Again, Abrams just hits the fast-forward button to assemble the Enterprise crew at Starfleet Academy: Karl Urban’s grumbling ‘Bones’ McCoy, Anton Yelchin’s quizzical Chekov, and John Cho’s sword-slinging Sulu all shine in zippy, colourful intros.

But it’s maverick Kirk’s mirror-twin rivalry with Zachary Quinto’s ice-man Spock that gives Star Trek its gristle. Both are bruised fruit from broken roots, both are played to perfection by Pine and Quinto. Kirk lives in the shadow of a father who was a captain for 12 minutes and saved 800 lives – but was never a part of his son’s life. Spock’s human mother is his only weakness – but maybe his greatest strength. Deadlocked in a silent struggle between his emotional/logical DNA, Quinto’s Spock is another prodigy. He aces the Vulcan Academy, and then snubs them for referring to his human mother as a ‘disadvantage’.

“Who was that pointy-eared bastard?” asks Kirk when they first butt skulls at the Academy. We almost forgot to mention: Star Trek is funny. Very funny. Comedy is Abrams’ big ace card, with Pine’s comic timing bang-on even when the humour is broad as a planet. Bones causes Kirk’s hands to swell to Gondry-esque proportions. Chekov realises he can’t say ‘Wulcan’. Simon Pegg’s Scotty – wonky accent, brilliant line delivery – is accidentally beamed into a grid of Willy Wonka-style water tubes. Even Quinto brandishes a few zingers. “Out of the chair,” he says briskly, as Kirk slump casually in the captain’s seat.

It’s maverick Kirk’s mirror-twin rivalry with Zachary Quinto’s ice-man Spock that gives Star Trek its gristle. Both are bruised fruit from broken roots. That would be the other thing we forgot to mention: in Abrams’ Trek, Spock is captain of the Enterprise. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman shake up the franchise with some fearless redux revelations that will have hardcore Trekkers grating their teeth, while still keeping its grand heritage safely at touching distance.

Don’t worry: the guy in the red suit still gets it bad. Bones and Scotty splutter mantras like “Dammit man! I’m a doctor not a physicist!” Or, “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain!” Vulcan nerve grips, short skirts, spirally teleporters… The in-jokes and nods are all there. But Uhura isn’t Kirk’s babe this time. Cleverly, in just the kind of conceit that was beamed casually into the Trek TV shows on a weekly basis, Orci and Kurtzman work their alternative reality in as a plausible plot point. What they don’t do is come up with much of a story to go with it. Sketching together a flimsy through-line about planet-eating black holes and some MacGuffin ‘red matter’, their script gives Eric Bana’s rogue Romulan thug little to do except sneer and snarl.

Shame, because a great villain would have added depth and drama to the dynamism of Trek’s vibrant young cast. More balls than brains, the film loses its heading on a couple of occasions, chiefly when Kirk is dumped on an ice planet (was that a cough or a ‘Hoth’?) to be chased by B-movie monsters and discovered by a much-talked-about guest from another reality. It’s the one moment where Abrams dares you to call bullshit on his movie. Then, brilliantly, Kirk does it himself. But mostly, there’s no time to notice the space-rifts, no space to argue the time-rifts. Because as much as this is a Star Trek movie, it’s a JJ Abrams movie. Which means it moves. The unbelievable truth is that few moviemakers in Hollywood can direct action scenes. Abrams made his big-screen directorial debut by turning M:I:III into the longest, most lung-busting action scene in modern cinema.

He stacks action sequences, fitting them together like Lego bricks into one giant superstructure glued together with adrenaline. Think Cruise’s Ethan Hunt crashing out of a skyscraper window, struggling with his parachute, smashing through a window several storeys down, coming to rest on a boardroom table in front of a quizzical janitor, being dragged back out by a gust of wind, crash-landing in a busy highway, chasing a stolen capsule as it rolls between speeding traffic.

Amid the space skirmishes and phaser fights, Star Trek’s classic Abrams action-stack arrives as another dazzling base-jump: Kirk and Sulu freefall from outer space, bullet through Vulcan’s orbit, narrowly avoid incineration, go hand-to-hand with Romulan brutes on a drill-platform in the sky, then survive another freefall to the planet surface – this time without ’chutes. Kirk grits his teeth as he falls in a blur towards the ground. Chekov scrabbles at the teleporter controls back on the Enterprise. Spock races to save his home planet from obliteration. Star Trek used to be smarter. But it was never this fast, fresh and exciting.

Published 7 May 2009

Tags: Chris Pine JJ Abrams Karl Urban Simon Pegg Star Trek Zachary Quinto

Anticipation.

Star Trek meets M:I:III meets Star Wars.

Enjoyment.

Kirk is a bar-fighting boozehound? Spock is getting it on with Uhura? Beam us up!

In Retrospect.

The most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the summer. And we can say that in May.

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