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Ain't nothing in this world more ossified than a serial drama that spans four decades, six television series, 10 movies and Lord only knows how many books, comics, and gay fantasy fan stories. That much writing about one thing is bound to become more stopped-up than pre-poop-yogurt Jamie Lee Curtis. “Star Trek” was, before last Friday, pretty well played out, and had been for years.
Whatever your opinion of the practice in general, a reboot is the only way to keep something that long (and, mostly, mediocre to bad) still going. And after the wild success of Christopher Nolan's Batman do-overs, you knew this one was only a matter of time.
J.J. Abrams went a different route with “Trek,” though, not wanting so much to gritty up the storyline as to reshuffle things a bit and see if anything interesting shakes out, while still remaining faithful to the spirit and tone of the original series. Lucky for him he had the chops to pull it off.
Even better, he manages to restart the entire story without scrapping what came before, using an old classic “Trek” formula: time travel + changing history = alternate universe. In this case, it's a time-traveling Romulan named Nero (I know, I know), who goes back to the day of Kirk's birth and kills his father. By coincidence, mind you — Nero has no idea Kirk's father is on the ship he destroys, this is just one of those one-in-a-quadrillion chance things that happen every Tuesday for the Federation.
This one event kicks off most of the ripple-effect changes for this new reality. Kirk's now something of a suicidal adrenaline junkie who gets a late start joining the academy, Spock is his superior officer and can't stand the sight of him, and Uhura's knickers are the main place where Kirk would like to boldly go.
On the surface, these changes seem like superficial attempts to sex up the series a bit, and they certainly do that, but they also give the characters' relationships more depth. Kirk needs to find a way to get out of his own way and learn to lead. Spock is actually half-human in more than name, fighting to control emotions that everyone but his mother has trained him to loathe. Uhura is a gorgeous woman demanding to be taken seriously and judged on her abilities. And they are all forced by extreme circumstances to overcome mutual dislike and distrust to prevent the end of worlds.
Along the way are numerous salutes and winks to the old series. Kirk has sex with a green lady. Bones demands to know if Spock is out of his Vulcan mind. At some point Scotty will in fact be givin' ‘er all she's got. Redshirts will die.
It works, it really does. Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock are true to the characters and maintain that old Shatner/Nimoy chemistry. Quinto couldn't be more perfect as Spock, in fact, and neither could Simon Pegg as Scotty. Karl Urban as Bones seemed to be trying a bit hard to channel DeForest Kelley, but then at times so did DeForest Kelley.
Abrams is into the “Jason Bourne” school of action editing that's all the rage these days, I'm sad to report. It's all split second cuts that disorient and confuse, and this is the film's greatest weakness. I would have liked to see more than just glimpses of these spaceships in battle. You've spent millions on it: Now give me something pretty. But hey, at least there wasn't all the navel-gazing and speechifying that normally dogs this universe.
So if you're wanting the more philosophical, less action-y “Trek,” well, prepare to be pissed off. Go rent “Wrath of Khan.” But if you're open to things being different, exciting, and fun, then you need to go see this. Just don't waste the money on IMAX — for this movie, it's a scam.