Yes, the genie is back out of the bottle.
As one of the few survivors of an unprovoked ambush upon the USS Kelvin over twenty years earlier, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has the right stuff for Starfleet but the wrong idea about signing up. Meanwhile, fate has set six others on a collision course with destiny: a young woman (Zoe Saldana) gifted in language and communication, a grumbling but brilliant doctor (Karl Urban), a helmsman with a penchant for fencing (John Cho), a weapons officer with a heavy Russian accent (Anton Yelchin), an engineer (Simon Pegg) with some very big ideas, and a man of science born of two worlds (Zachary Quinto).
Leave it to producer/director J.J. Abrams to reinvigorate a franchise that had become so predictably formulaic that non-studio fan films looked more inspired. Abrams gleefully plays with all the elements of Star Trek like a giant kid making it all up as he goes, and even when the film missteps or repeatedly plays the coincidence card, a giddy sense of new and wonder seems to gloss over everything. Each character is given opportunity to define themselves and what their contribution is to this iconic bridge crew is, but the new actors all bring their own interpretation to the performance, and it’s a welcome re-introduction.
Please understand that this isn’t a perfect movie. Abrams seemed more intent on character and fun than any continuity. Example: the computer having trouble recognizing Mr. Chekov’s accent when he audibly gives his access code. Of course, he could have keyed it in (like Kirk does from his command chair), use a code that doesn’t include consonants that are unique to Chekov’s accent, or perhaps even program a computer to recognize Earth accents the same way it knows alien languages. Instead, we get the cheap chuckle as the computer requests another attempt, but it’s endearing to the character the same way all of the other character bits are.
Likewise, Abrams only touches on explanations for why this isn’t “our father’s Star Trek,” but he doesn’t dwell on them. Like James T. Kirk, each scene dives head first into the action, answering the super hero question, “Do you act based on what you know now, or do you wait to see if anything else develops?” There’s no right answer, of course, but Chris Pine’s Kirk doesn’t like to wait around. What you won’t see are any heartfelt Captain Kirk speeches, not even when offering an olive branch. When one bad guy spurns a helping hand by saying he’d rather die first, Kirk doesn’t blink an eye before adding, “You got it;” cowboy diplomacy at its finest.
It can also be argued that, being this crew’s first adventure and maiden voyage, lessons about “looking before you leap” are pushed aside to rear their ugly head’s another film. In fact, there’s an interesting subtext here that’s missing from your modern Hollywood war film, a thought summed up in an early speech about “men of action” missing from Starfleet. While the villain (Eric Bana) gets his moment to explain his motives and chew the scenery, no one argues that he IS the villain or that he doesn’t deserve to be put down. Likewise, the scene where each of the bridge officers individually shared their feelings with a councilor over how terrible the attack was and the brutality of their commanding officer seems to have been left out of the final cut.
Well acted, expertly edited, and brilliantly watchable even if not perfect. And above all, it doesn’t suck.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)