In Theaters: Star Trek
Franchise fanboys may have no problem nitpicking J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot, but I must confess that the experience leaves me feeling a little guilty. This is a bright, gleaming piece of solid studio pop in the Iron Man tradition, and it's so damn eager to please that it might as well send baby Tribbles into the theater to lap at the faces of the unconverted. I've got no doubt that the film had the vision, the budget, and the time to nail every one of Abrams's intentions. It's just that some of those intentions take a little bit of a trek to get over.
Since the film frontloads some of its iffiest material before getting to what works, so too will I address those missteps first in this review. I have no objections with the opening sequence, which elegantly tells the story of James T. Kirk's birth -- rendered far more exciting than usual thanks to a time-traveling intruder (the skull-painted Eric Bana). After that, though, you're asked to endure the film's most facepalm-inducing scene: the "young Kirk joyriding" sequence that raised eyebrows in the film's first trailer. In the context of the movie, I'd hoped it would make more sense -- but it's even worse, cluttered up with Nokia ringtone product placement (!) and a Beastie Boys soundtrack (because you know how ten-year-olds from the future love their oldies). And then, there's the first of this film's many, many, many action sequences that end with someone hanging off a ledge. Even Cliffhanger didn't have this many of its titular stunts.
From that point onward, every time I almost gave myself over to the humming Trek machine, a wrench was inevitably thrown into the works. Sometimes, it was the dialogue, where writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman rarely bothered to craft any lines more interesting than "I knew I should have killed you when I had the chance!" Sometimes, it was the makeup, which marred what should have been a fun moment (Kirk's seduction of the series's iconic green-skinned girl) with its jarringly discordant hues. And sometimes, it was the frenetic camera work. Abrams may know how to shoot a muscular action sequence (and with his peripatetic, swooping camera, you'd better believe that every conversation on the Enterprise bridge is shot like it's a car commercial), but when the action moves into close-quarters fighting, it becomes near-impossible to spatially follow.
That said? I still had a good time. As the Enterprise got further in its voyage, I encountered less turbulence, and the impeccably recast stars had more time to work their magic. Chris Pine as Kirk is a fine anchor, abetted by Karl Urban's eye-popping brio as Bones and a cast of nimble comedians in the Enterprise's crew (most especially the latecoming Simon Pegg as Scotty). Zachary Quinto as Spock makes the biggest impression (literally: his striking profile and Magic Marker brows command attention amidst this cast of smooth, feminine beauties) and is invaluably aided by the unexpected, moving gravitas of Leonard Nimoy himself, appearing briefly as the aged, future Spock. Though William Shatner's jocularity seems a better tonal fit for this production, Nimoy's effortless underplaying of the film's most resonant material is emotionally galvanizing, and it deepens Quinto's portrayal by giving his incipient journey a rich endpoint to work toward.
Now that the Enterprise is built and some of the more questionable choices can recede into the distance, it's time to give her all she's got. Abrams & Co. make canny use of Bana's time traveler to set up what Uhura assures is an alternate universe -- one that leaves her free to make goo-goo eyes at Spock (among the movie's most unlikely but intriguing developments). Without being shackled by mythology, there's plenty of room for Trek sequels to play. Let's just hope the Beastie Boys aren't on the soundtrack.
SCORE: (Out of 10) 7.5