The new ‘Star Trek’ is actually kind of cool (Movie review)

Director J.J. Abrams makes “Star Trek” respectable again with this origin tale that sets up everything we’ve seen in six TV series — I’m including the underappreciated cartoon — and 10 movies. (Well, “Enterprise” takes place before this, but who’s counting?) He also makes “Star Trek” cool for the first time.

I smiled a lot during this movie, and I suspect serious Trekkies will like all the insider humor (but it’s not too inside; general “Trek” knowledge will get you by). Vulcan bullies, anyone?

Abrams didn’t know much about “Star Trek” when he tackled this project, which isn’t a bad thing; Bryan Singer didn’t hadn’t read “X-Men” until he got that directing job, either. But Abrams, the creator of “Lost” and “Fringe,” gets the tone right, from those soft pinging noises on the Enterprise bridge to the near-perfect casting.

On-the-rise actors from various ethnicities play the young versions of our old favorites, starting with Chris Pine as all-American Kirk, who joy-rides across corn country in an antique car. Is this Heaven? No, that’s in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”; this is Iowa.

There’s also Karl Urban as gruff Southerner McCoy, Zoe Saldana as sexy Uhura, Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”) as Scottish Scotty, John Cho (“Harold and Kumar”) as Asian Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Russian Chekov.

In the scene-stealing role, Zachary Quinto plays Spock. He always seemed a bit Vulcan as Sylar on “Heroes,” and it’s nice to see him have less-silly material to work with.

Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, also pops up, spouting familiar lessons about the value of his friendship with Kirk, which is decidedly strained when they first meet. Dumping Kirk on a dangerous ice planet? That’s a bit harsh, even for a half-Vulcan. Kirk almost died.

Abrams approaches this as a “Star Wars”-ish good vs. evil story (if you’re keeping score at home, it’s a nutso Romulan villain) rather than an intellectual “Star Trek” lesson. And while the phaser fights and space battles aren’t memorable — even on an UltraScreen; sorry I’m jaded — the action approach is OK for this relaunch. Just so long as Abrams’ next “Trek” outing is nerdier. Yes, I think a movie can be cool while also having something to say.

Escapism is all well and good, but the world is in rough shape right now, and I wouldn’t be opposed to a “Star Trek” movie taking us to task; that’s what Gene Roddenberry created the franchise for 43 years ago. But Abrams & Co. get the style right, so I’ll give them a pass on the substance this time.

What did you think of this “Star Trek” relaunch? Was I the only one who didn’t realize Winona Ryder was in it until I saw the end credits? And did anyone else think Uhura’s green roommate was kind of hot? Discuss these important issues below.

Shaune's GravatarI think the the ‘re-inventing’ of the characters was genious. (For those who don’t know, time travel is involved) This way, there is no criticism as to a character acts or doesn’t act a certain way. It opens up the story to be told again and be fresh to all fans, all while keeping the likeable characters in place.
Great movie.
Oh, and no.. the green girl wasn’t hot. I was actually waiting for her to say “hulk mad!” and tear off someones arm or something.
# Posted By Shaune | 5/11/09 2:09 PM

John Hansen's GravatarI looked it up and the green girl is played by Rachel Nichols (not the ESPN reporter, but an actress who I enjoyed watching on “The Inside”). Look her up on IMDB and I think you’ll agree she’s decent looking.

Even though it’s an alternate timeline now, the actors still have to stay true to the characters. But the great thing is that they all do that, or if they take liberties, they are interesting liberties (like Uhura having a personality; black women weren’t allowed to have personalities on 1960s TV).

Quinto is getting all the hype as Spock, but Pine is also a darn good Kirk. He doesn’t have Shatner’s halting-speech mannerisms (that would devolve into parody), but he is a likable womanizer/reluctant hero, and to me that’s Kirk.

When I first heard about this movie, I figured I wouldn’t go see it, but the reviews have all been positive and everyone I’ve talked to likes it. I never realized “Star Trek” could have such broad appeal among non-geeks. J.J. Abrams is a smart guy.

# Posted By John Hansen | 5/11/09 2:21 PM
Shaune's GravatarI agree about Kirk. Had he had the ‘halted speech’ patterns it would have been bad.
I use for a lot of reviews and an idea of what a movie will be like. Last I checked Star Trek still had a 96% out of 100% – which is unheard of.Also, a comment on casting – your right, it was superb! They did great! From the ‘damnit! I’m a doctor’ to the hard to pronounce ‘V’ in the russian language. Excellent job.
# Posted By Shaune | 5/11/09 2:54 PM