Admit it: You’ve harbored mixed emotions about Star Trek for many a moon. You first noticed them when you saw Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and you couldn’t decide if you empathized more with the developmentally arrested tribble fetishists who were blubbering as Spock died or the snickering smartasses in the back row.
Director J.J. Abrams’ completely successful reboot effortlessly exploits the latter impulse in order to reanimate the former. Even before the perennially pissed-off Dr. Leonard McCoy (the hilarious Karl Urban) can bad-mouth all of space as “disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence,” we’ve been sent off on a winking tour through the Roddenberry hall of fame: hotcha green babes! Gratuitous swordplay! And all of it scored with composer Michael Giacchino’s witty reprises of Alexander Courage’s unabashedly stirring refrains. But that affectionate ribbing merely lays the ingratiating groundwork for a story that bravely vindicates its source material’s essential underpinnings of friendship and honor. “Get a life?” This is the redemption Trekkies have been living for.
In the clever quasi-origin story that screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have laid down for Abrams, the entire Trek mythos is rent asunder by Nero (Eric Bana), a vindictive Romulan who pursues a personal vendetta across time and space in a ship that looks something like a malevolent Bloomin’ Onion. The focus of Nero’s undying enmity is our dear Mr. Spock (Heroes’ Zachary Quinto as the young man, Leonard Nimoy as his aged equivalent). But Nero’s genocidal agenda has even deeper implications for the career trajectory of an Iowan upstart by the name of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, in a star-making performance that calls up the best and worst of Shatner without ever succumbing to mere mimicry).
Metaphorically as well as narratively, Star Trek straddles two eras: the snark-choked age in which we now live and the idealistic time of the original TV series, in which hot-blooded adventuring was innocently submitted as the noblest manifest destiny. Such a splice job shouldn’t work, but the movie is smart enough to fix its grandeur in the intimate drama of an eager young crew coming together, rather than in a surfeit of verbal posturing. (Nobody quells alien unrest by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.) It helps immeasurably that the film looks simply fantastic and moves fast enough to set the new platinum standard for popcorn entertainment.
Even more so than other revisionist triumphs like Casino Royale and Batman Begins, Trek uses its timeline-altering conceit to shake off the strictures of canon. The parallel universe that Abrams et al. have concocted is identical in spirit to Roddenberry’s but thrillingly divergent in detail. Fate can land its cruelest blows on almost any character, and if our heroes snatch glory from the jaws of despair, it isn’t because any of that has to happen, but only because – well, because, deep down, we still feel that it kinda should. This is a movie that just doesn’t believe in the no-win scenario. Boldly go … then get right back in line and go again.