Cheerfully bucking the trend for dark, miserablist blockbusters, ‘Lost’ creator JJ Abrams has updated the ‘Star Trek’ franchise for the twenty-first century without resorting to political allegory, moral wrangling or the sadistic violence that characterised similar reinventions like ‘The Dark Knight’. It’s true that an entire planet gets blown up, but the characters swiftly recover on their way to another round of phaser-firing, evasive-manouevring, quip-trading action.
The script details the early years of captain-to-be James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and his taciturn Vulcan sidekick Spock (Zachary Quinto) and is deceptively clever: it works both as affectionate fanboy nostalgia and as a neophyte’s introduction to the ‘Trek’-verse. By employing a time-distorting narrative, complete with mind-mangling multi-dimensional techspeak, Abrams and his writers allow themselves to refit this fictional future completely, keeping the good stuff (beaming up, warp drives, that inimitable ship design) while jettisoning most of the increasingly convoluted mythology.
It doesn’t all work: Eric Bana’s Romulan villain feels too familiar, just another plasticine-headed psychopath with a grudge against the universe. The climax, too, is undercooked: ten minutes of noisy ship-to-ship combat with very little emotional investment.
But these are minor complaints when stacked against Abrams’s many successes. The flawless design wittily updates the ’60s series’ sleek art deco interiors and throws in a few Lycra miniskirts for good measure. The cast are equally strong: Quinto brings wry charm to an otherwise calculating character, while Pine powers through his performance in bullish, if not quite Shatner-esque fashion. The only sore thumb is Karl Urban’s McCoy, whose ‘Damn it, Jim!’ impersonation feels a little too close to pastiche.
The overall impression is one of unbridled enthusiasm on the part of the film’s makers, both for its predecessors and for the brave new universe Abrams and his crew are exploring. Perhaps the best summary of the film comes from Captain Kirk himself, dying on the side of a distant interstellar rock many decades later: ‘It was… fun.’