Star Trek

Director    JJ Abrams
Starring    Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Karl Urban
Release    8 MAY (US) 8 MAY (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


9th May 2009

Let's play a little game of word association. If I said 'majestic', 'enjoyable' and 'meaningful', you wouldn't think Star Trek, right? No. But if I said 'lazy', 'predictable' and 'dull'.... well, that's Star Trek down to a tee - at least, that's how it's been for the past decade and a half.

Of late, Star Trek has been a potentially winsome child abused by hapless, artless idiots. Predictable plots (deranged egomaniac trying to destroy a planet etc), bland humour and drearily average production design all combined to piss on the chips of something that could have been brilliant. Like, early Star Wars brilliant. However, I haven't bothered seeing a Star Trek film at the cinema since 1996. I haven't seen a good one since Thatcher was in power.

Maybe then, it's that your average movie-goer has been trained, like an abused wife or husband, to just put up with the crud shovelled towards them. And they keep going back. Maybe this time, it'll change. Star Trek won't hit me any more.

This time around? Well, it's Star Trek, but not as you know it. That lazy, predictable, dull Star Trek of old? It's dead, Jim. Star Trek 2009 is smart and suitably dumb, quiet and savagely loud, sensitive and a thrilling action movie. It's a goddamn, awesome triumph.

Director JJ Abrams drives a tank through all the old detritus and sewage and completely changes Star Trek, utterly and forever, from the very moment of Kirk's birth. This is the first time, in a very long time, anyone has used time travel as anything other than a cheap gimmick. Here, time travel has consequences that change the entire fabric of the universe. Fans of Abrams' Lost, pay heed.

As for Chris Pine's take on James Tiberius Kirk? He's a bastard: a glorious, roguish bastard. A loveable, charming, stupid, immature bastard who thinks with his dick. Think a rougher, incompetent James Bond; Han Solo reborn. He's young and makes mistakes, cheats and rides the rollercoaster of duty and life to start the film a boy and end it almost a man. Almost. He's still got a lot to learn, and I bet that the inevitable sequels will beat him black and blue.

Zachary Quinto's Spock absolutely dominates the movie: very much the quiet Yin to Kirk's raging Yang. Karl Urban as Leonard 'Bones' McCoy is brilliant, an absolute embodiment of everything the character always was. He and Simon Pegg as Scotty are the most human of characters; cocksure, flawed but fascinating. More surprising is Zoe Saldana as Uhura; her tender scenes with a devastated Spock remind you that for all their experience, these characters are still young and yet to be moulded. The only girl on the bridge makes Star Trek sexy for perhaps the first time ever.

What's more, the effects, audio and verisimilitude of the whole universe feel real, and not merely fireworks and explosions to please the itchy bums of people with low attention spans. The visuals and action are a ballet of imagery; space battles haven't been so adeptly handled (outside of George Lucas' world) in an age. It truly is a spectacle.

Yes, the plot is mildly predictable, but all plots are a impossible combination of coincidence and conceit. That's what makes a story worth telling. Eric Bana grapples his villainous role with relish and chews the scenery like a hungry horse. Bad guys are the most interesting roles, after all - there's even a smidgen of self-parody, as he smiles and responds to Captain Pike's (Bruce Greenwood) formal introduction with the simple: "Hello Christopher, I'm Nero." He's no Khan, but he's no Khan't, either.

Though Trekkies/Trekkers will claim it is, Abrams' Star Trek is not perfect by any measure. It has an ending too far, ill-timed moments of comedy and a couple of sub-Cloverfield monsters that jar the viewer out the movie. But crucially, Star Trek is not about monsters, effects, or guff like that - it's about human beings and aliens grappling with the dramas of living in their world and how to live together in a shared universe. It just happens to be viewed through the medium of explosions, black holes and space battles.

Overall, Star Trek is an exciting, emotional, and brilliant - but necessary - reinvention of the most disgraced franchise in cinema history. It's the perfect version of Gene Roddenberry's original idea: you suspect he would have loved it.

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