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Star Trek (Paramount Pictures, PG-13)

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film_star-trek_sm.jpgDamned if J.J. Abrams hasn't worked his unstoppable magic once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There's a kind of genius that is characterized by fearlessness, panache and a confidence in one's own creative instincts that consistently pays off for audiences. J.J. Abrams is this kind of genius. He's taken labyrinthine storylines and fresh ensemble casts to giddy heights on the TV hits Alias and Lost, dared to one-up Tom Cruise for sheer bravado and control in the third Mission: Impossible movie, and exec-produced numerous other worthy television series such as Felicity and the recent cult hit Fringe. Abrams apparently never sleeps, but he sure knows how to grab audiences, and he's done it again with his innovative reboot of the Star Trek franchise.

No easy task, that. The Trek world had become moribund in the past decade with the comparative failure of Enterprise on the small screen and the unsatisfying Star Trek: Nemesis on the big screen—a farewell to the Next Generation cast's cinematic adventures. Well, damned if our boy J.J. hasn't worked his unstoppable magic once again; he's reinvented Star Trek by taking a charismatic, stellar young cast and using them to power an origins tale, the story of how one James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) meets brilliant, half-Vulcan science officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) and emotive, opinionated medical student Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) at Star Fleet Academy. Careful attention is paid to personality traits already long established in these iconic characters: Kirk is cocky, brash and womanizing; McCoy is loyal but doesn't suffer fools gladly; the Russian cadet Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is quietly confident but can't pronounce his "V"s and so on.

The success of bringing these characters so vividly to life as youthful versions of what most fans already know gives Abrams license to dispense with excessive Trek minutiae and concentrate on an exciting, action-packed story. That he does in spades. Seems a vengeful Romulan commander named Nero (Eric Bana), whom we see attacking a Federation starship piloted by Kirk's father George (Chris Hemsworth) in the movie's early scenes, is really pissed off about something Spock did in another time, another place, and has one hell of an advanced battleship with which to wreak havoc. This ship is an ominous, striking visual element, gripping your attention every moment it's on screen, as does Bana's tense performance. Nero directs his ship's full power, capable of punching a sort of black hole in the middle of a planet, on Spock's home planet of Vulcan, with plans to head for Earth after that. Since he's traveled through time to do this, an alternate timeline is created in the Star Trek universe, something Trekkies are likely to have animated discussions about. The resulting destruction interrupts a training mission for the far from united Trek crew, headed by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood in a splendidly dignified, knowing performance). Spock becomes acting Captain, while Kirk is steaming from being disciplined for cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test that Spock designed, setting up the necessary initial conflict between the two. This ragtag bunch of young cadets is thus thrown together to try to save the universe from a determined madman.

That's pretty much the basic plot, and everything else is a fun ride through space and comic interplay between the familiar characters. There is plenty of action, one hell of a scary beastie on an ice-laden planet where Kirk is stranded for a spell, an unexpected bit of romance, and a consistently invigorating script by writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Oh, and as everyone surely knows by now, the legendary Leonard Nimoy turns up from the original cast in a few memorable scenes. But mostly what makes this movie work is the utterly flawless casting. Primary attention is focused on Kirk and Spock, of course, and both Pine and Quinto thoroughly inhabit these characters, giving you renewed affection for them. But Urban steals a few scenes as McCoy—there was delighted laughter in the audience as he deliverered legendary bits of dialogue such as "My God, man!" and "I'm a doctor, not a ..." He also looks uncannily like a young "Bones." Simon Pegg turns up halfway through the movie as Montgomery Scott, or "Scotty," the legendary Chief Engineer who could never quite get enough power in crucial situations but was always quite pleased with himself when he did. Pegg delivers every line with glee. So, with a sharp, thoroughly engaging cast and a terrific visual feast on the menu, Abrams has done the impossible: made the aging Trek franchise accessible to a new audience, and a real kick for fans of the original series who aren't too caught up in the overstuffed Trek handbook. Success is assured, and Paramount is already zooming at Warp Factor 6 toward a sequel. "Fascinating," as Spock would say. | Kevin Renick

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