J.J. Abrams’ enormously entertaining new “Star Trek” movie will prove the highest-grossing Trek movie BY A MILE, for 12 reasons.
1) IT’S A REPEATER. Things move so fast, and the film is so dense with imaginative plot and imagery, even people who aren’t sure they liked it could find themselves compelled revisit it, and revisit it with a cinema audience. As with “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” amazing things fly by at such a furious clip it demands to be seen more than once.
2) IT’S FOR DILETTANTES. And dilettantes drive worldwide boxoffice. Moviegoers need bring no prior love for Kirk, Spock, McCoy or Orion slave girls to the cinema; “Star Trek” will make moviegoers love them all on its own. This is first great big-screen effort from J.J. Abrams, a guy I’ve been calling a genius since the “Felicity” pilot.
3) IT’S FUNNIER. The new movie is likely the funniest Star Trek project to date, and certainly the funniest since the whale-centric “Star Trek IV.” Abrams’ name is not on the screenplay, but his sophisticated comic acumen suffuses the enterprise. If you will. I laughed more during this movie than I laughed during any non-Apatow movie released last year.
4) IT’S ROYALE. The new “Star Trek” is a corker for the same reason “Casino Royale” is: it had to be. Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Cho, Pegg, Yelchin and Greenwood look, sound and act little like Shatner, Nimoy, Nichols, Takei, Doohan, Koenig and Hunter, and it does not matter. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, Chekhov and Pike are reborn here as rich and compelling new characters played by new and, in some cases, more accomplished actors.
5) URBAN OFFERS REAL McCOY. Every Trekkie will single out New Zealander Karl Urban’s beguiling performance as the medical officer in large part because he’s the only actor in the movie who succeeds in honoring not only his character but the actor who played his character 40 years ago. Urban takes a tough actor to impersonate, DeForest Kelley, and embodies him spectacularly. And because McCoy masterminds Kirk’s assignment to the Enterprise at a crucial moment, Urban is given a role that’s not only entertaining, but could not prove more pivotal to the Federation’s survival.
6) KIRK’S COOL. That scene that introduces us to Preteen Kirk – the one with the convertible and the robocop we’ve been watching for the last six months – is much more fun in its entirety, thanks largely to a completely unanticipated piece of music – utilized in a manner that filled me with a rare spasm of GLEE! GLEE!!! It is the perfect introduction to two-fisted supergenius James Tiberius Kirk and worth the price of admission in itself.
7) SPOCK’S HEART. The minute we’re done with Preteen Kirk, we jump to tiny Preteen Spock as he navigates a Vulcan teaching machine hugely evocative of the one he navigated at the start of the whale movie. An adorable sequence, it makes you fall in love with this new Spock instantly. Which is key, because Spock is the movie’s heart.
8) BANA OUTPERFORMS. Star Trek villains for some reason almost always indulge an agreeable theatricality, but Australian Eric Bana surprises with a performance that is not only unusually naturalistic but also startlingly American. Heath Ledger died early during principal photography on “Trek,” and I’d wager a sack of cash that Ledger’s performance in the “Dark Knight” trailers brought to bear some influence on Bana’s approach to the Romulan. (I’m also pleased to see the forehead appliances are gone and that the Romulans look like Vulcans again.)
9) ZOE SALDANA’S HOTITUDE. Gene Roddenberry may have boned up for Nichelle Nichols, but she never did a lot for me. Of the second-tier crew, Uhura gets the juiciest upgrade and the gorgeous Saldana makes a lot of it. A far hotter Nichols, lanky Rachel Nichols (“Alias,” “The Inside”), makes a memorable cameo as Uhura’s green, half-naked (and presumably Orion) academy roommate. (Oh, and much love to whoever decided to bring back those fabulous, sexist, objectifying Starfleet minidresses!)
10) BONUS NIMOY. Ever see “The Third Man”? You’re so absorbed in all the intrigue and suspense and comedy surrounding Joseph Cotton’s character that you kind of forget big-deal movie star Orson Welles is in the movie too – but boy is it cool when Welles finally turns up! Spock Prime is the Harry Lime of Abrams’ “Star Trek.” The most iconic thespianic element of the piece, he improbably kicks a perfectly splendid movie into a higher gear.
11) THE GUTSY PREMISE. The ambitious story, which spans centuries and allows the movie to exist as a sequel and a prequel, is dark and inspired. “Star Trek: First Contact” and the prequel series “Star Trek: Enterprise” also make use of warring factions from the future who alter events preceding Kirk’s birth – but Abrams’ “Trek” pushes the conceit well beyond the reach of an episode-ending undo button and into the realm of catastrophic system error and reboot. (It is monstrously cool that Captain Pike is in the movie, but insanely cool what’s done with him.)
12) WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE? The film has flaws, but they are fleeting and don’t diminish overall enjoyment. I will speak of these flaws only in spoiler-cloaking Romulan Invisotext.
* Nero’s quarter-century disappearance is a puzzlement! I have a vision of the Romulan first officer, 19 years into the watch for Spock’s 25-years-later emergence from the wormhole, leaning over to Nero and muttering, “I don’t think he’s coming.” Followed by a beheading and the creation of a new first officer. (A written and shot but deleted sequence depicting Nero’s escape from Klingon prison might have remedied somewhat my confusion.)
* I don’t know how many square miles comprised the surface area of that ice planet, but I’m guessing it’s a pretty mammoth coincidence that Young Kirk and Spock Prime would find themselves situated just a few minutes distance from each other.
* Spock Prime concealing his presence and risking the annihilation of Earth and the other Federation planets just to foster a Young-Kirk/Young-Spock teaming struck me as a wildly unnecessary risk.
* Whatever it looks like in the commercials, the Cloverfield Monster sequence on the ice planet seamlesslessly marries the “bigger fish” scene from “Phantom Menace” to the Space Yeti sequence from “The Empire Strikes Back” without really adding anything. I get why it’s there, but its flashiness doesn’t disguise a flaccid action beat.
* Montgomery Scott’s introduction to the Enterprise probably sounded funny on paper (the engineer gets stuck in the ship’s plumbing!), but the finished product feels like something out of a Harry Potter movie; the sequence works as neither comedy or suspense.
* While poor Pavel Chekhov had to spend two years as ensign in the original series, Kirk is assigned the captaincy of a Constitution-class starship the minute he graduates from the academy. No stints of any length as ensign, lieutenant or commander required. While Kirk’s restoration to the captaincy gives fans serious closure, his meteoric ascension also seems wildly improbable. (It would have been hilarious to get a reaction shot of a certain bald Enterprise security officer as Kirk takes the center seat.) But it’s a movie-ending lapse with mammoth positive emotional resonance, and one audiences will be more than happy to indulge.
The original TV theme plays over the closing credits, which look like the covers of James Blish’s old “Trek” novelizations. Abrams may not be a Trekkie, but he made a movie that makes my Trekkie heart sing.
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