star-trekFor once you can believe the hype…JJ Abrams’ new Star Trek movie sets its phasers for stunning and delivers a whole starshipload of pure entertainment at top warp. I wouldn’t ever consider myself to be a Trekker, though I have followed all incarnations of the show over the years and know enough of the in-jokes to pick up the references in this new film, but the great thing is that anyone can plug into Kirk and company’s new adventures and enjoy them without having to clue up on any of the franchise’s heavy baggage.

Is it a perfect Trek movie? No, I have a feeling that might be the next one, but this comes mighty close. Chief among the failures, for me, is a jump “three years later” after Kirk has joined Starfleet Academy, and the slightly old feel of a worn out franchise. This was apparently supposed to be a movie about Kirk and Spock’s formative days in the Academy, but all we get is their intro and a jump to their first adventure.

Call me feeling cheated, but I could have done with a whole lot more Starfleet and less of the pretty routine second half. Eric Bana is actually very effective as the Romulan villain, but the scenes set in his ship are very Next Generation and don’t seem to match the rest of the movie’s fresh faced ideals.

Likewise with Michael Giacchino’s score, which is by turns a very nice nod back to 1960s adventure but sometimes lumbered with a 2000s blockbuster sledgehammer feel. I didn’t mind the rock soundtrack song used to intro young Kirk, and actually admired the decision to force the score to the fore during the very dramatic moments – a choice that very much worked for me – but for someone who is otherwise very adept at weaving in others’ themes (such as his excellent work for Speed Racer), I was surprised that Giacchino didn’t draw upon more of Alexander Courage’s famous theme apart from the final moments, which felt tacked on and oddly out of place. I also missed some of James Horner’s later movie themes too, but that’s just me.

I thought the casting was great for the most part, though I kept thinking that, had this been set a little earlier, the guy playing Chekov would have made a great young Kirk. In the role proper, Chris Pine has the real guts of a young William Shatner, and that’s where the film really succeeds; not in providing a carbon copy of before, but offering something new, but familiar, with all the correct spirit of the original.

The next generation: the new crew
prepares to go where no man has gone before
I didn’t even mind the Enterprise redesign – how do we know, in this alternate reality, that this is not how it was always supposed to look!? It was spooky how Spock-like Heroes’ bad guy Zachary Quinto is, even if I didn’t think he captured the vocal just right, a tougher comparison to have to make seeing that old Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, is also in the film.

And very well done that concept was, too. I loved how established Trek lore was undone by the twisting of time, how Kirk was born under extreme circumstances, and how the Enterprise’s first helmer, Captain Pike, is included in a very nice nod back to the original series. Nimoy is pitch perfect as an older Spock resigned to his fate, and I do hope we see more continuity from him in the already being written Star Trek: Phase II (or whatever they call it, though you must admit that would be a very cool title for various reasons).

John Cho, as Sulu, also got his moment to shine, and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura was more Uhroooga if you ask me, though I wasn’t too sure about Karl Urban’s Bones, not quite right and coming off a little like a copy of the real thing, while Simon Pegg’s Mr Scott was played too much for broad comedy. Scotty is perhaps the most parodied of the characters, but he’s not a comic creation, though here almost every scene that ended with him then threw in an extra comic aside just after the scene should have cut.

All in all, these are non-too bad criticisms for a film that had a lot riding on it and could have gone either way. But it can be said that the positive sides of Star Trek genuinely deserve the kudos they are drawing, and I may even go back to see it again. Though some cynics may see the Star Wars similarities (farm boy joins the fight against a villain with a big planet-destroying ship), Nimoy’s participation lends a seal of authenticity to the whole endeavor, his final “these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise” putting the emphasis just on the right word and soothing any fears that this might be “fake Trek“. Far more consistent than any of the Star Wars, Superman or Indiana Jones revamps we’ve had to endure recently, this certainly is Star Trek, Jim, but perhaps not quite as we know it!

Star Trek
Paramount Pictures/Bad Robot
127 minutes
Rated PG-13
directed by JJ Abrams