A week after the dismal “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” dragged its sad carcass to the top of the box office heap, the much-anticipated, hyper-publicized “Star Trek” soars to the pinnacle of the charts as a massively entertaining, triumphant spectacle.
J.J. Abrams is no stranger to a rabid fanbase. Yet even the zeal of the “Alias” and “Lost“ devotees wouldn‘t have prepared the director for the onslaught from Trekkies if he‘d gotten it wrong. Trouble with Tribbles, indeed. And because the franchise is considered such a niche, the average filmgoer would have given a new underwhelming flick in the series no more than a passing glance. But Abrams has allayed any fears. He has crafted a film which will captivate a wide swath of folks, from the neophyte — say someone who only knows Avery Brooks from “Spencer for Hire” — to the fluent Klingon linguist.
Abrams has executed a dexterous balancing act. There is a respectful nod to the past, with a wink at times, but the film is clearly modern. The tone found between instances of humor and drama feels right and the pace clicks along briskly. The detailed backstory is understandable as much of the film intercuts across time, locations, and story arcs as the young crew meet and train at Starfleet Academy while an impeding Romulan menace gathers. Ultimately, the forces of the USS Enterprise and the Narada engage in a final, pulsating confrontation. (There’s quite a bit more happening than that but it’s not fair to play the spoiler.) The script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman straddles the lighter moments and the instances of pathos with alacrity.
It doesn’t take long to decipher that “Star Trek“ is a confident prologue to the Star Trek saga. An enthralling opening sequence set on the doomed USS Kelvin which reveals the circumstances of Kirk’s birth and the fate of his father is tight, stirring and heartrending.
Technically, the special effects are stupendous, especially the intricate ships and palpitating space battles. The cinematography from Dan Mindel is equally strong in space and on the ground. And a fight sequence with the newly graduated Kirk and Sulu skydiving onto a floating laser drill is riveting and highlights the stellar editing by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. Costume designer Michael Kaplan creates costumes that are familiar but subtlety updated.
While the film has serious sci-fi chops and dire situations, “Star Trek” doesn’t overlook the comedy inherent in the original inspiration. So along with breezy, witty banter, we find Kirk macking with a green-skinned lady, an exasperated Bones punctuating almost every declaration with “Dammit” and Scotty declaring that he can’t hold it much longer. (It also discloses an unexpected romance.)
With a cast of newcomers and familiar faces, characters are given fresh, valid interpretations. Chris Pine is a blast as the brash James T. Kirk. Zachary Quinto is well known as Sylar on “Heroes,” and he completely nails the part of Spock, which must have been one of the more intimidating attempts in recent years. Quinto’s assured portrayal of the taciturn Vulcan-Human is highlighted in his scenes with Leonard Nimoy, who makes an admirable cameo. Zoe Saldana struts beguilingly as Nyota Uhura while Karl Urban convincingly pouts as Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy. Once aboard the revamped Enterprise, both John Cho of “Harold and Kumar” fame as Hikaru Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov deliver strong personas. The winsome Simon Pegg clearly has the time of his life as Scotty. An almost unrecognizable Eric Bana erupts as the vengeful rogue Romulan, Nero. (It’s a nice touch that an ancillary role like Ayel, Nero’s second in command, is cast with the talented Clifton Collins, Jr.)
“Star Trek” is an impressive feat. It has vanquished all doubts and raised expectations for the next chapter. And it might be difficult to lure Abrams back to a deserted South Pacific island when he can explore strange new worlds across the galaxies.