REVIEW: “Star Trek” (****)

Posted by · 9:32 am · May 4th, 2009

Star TrekFrom pulse-pounding beginning to edge-of-your-seat end, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” moves at a break-neck pace that never lets up, never misses a beat and shockingly, never loses itself in its labyrinthine story.  It is a near-perfect action thrill ride that ticks off every box on the ultimate movie experience checklist and perhaps adds a few more.

Fans of Gene Roddenberry’s series may or may not be impressed by Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman’s re-imagining of a sacred geek mythos, but they’ll do well to understand that their beloved universe is in tact.

Despite the expectation that Gen-Y casting across the board would make for a moan-inducing CW-style prequel, the filmmakers have smartly devised a way to launch their own “B” timeline in a series that could go a million different directions from here.  That their brilliant scheme makes for a stand-alone classic with something for everyone is unexpected to say the least, and exhilarating as a result.

Chris Pine stars as famed Federation Captain James Tiberius Kirk, though particulars of the story (which I dare not spoil here) put him on a different universal plane than William Shatner’s incarnation that has delighted audiences for decades.  A wildcat that seemingly breaks the hell-raiser mold, Kirk is born under chaotic circumstances in the film’s initial sequence.  We soon catch up to him as a youth racing through the fields of Iowa to the sounds of a then centuries-old Beastie Boys track before zipping ahead to encounter his bar-hopping mid-20s self in the form of Pine’s cock-sure stud.

Intercut with the Kirk story is the equally brief introduction of the Vulcan Spock who, as a result of being half-Vulcan, half-human, is seen as disadvantaged by a society that demands a sense of perfection.  Zachary Quinto (television’s “Heroes”) takes the reins of the character, who enlists in the United Federation of Planets as one of the top minds in the corps before meeting Kirk and developing a relationship that will ultimately rest at the heart of the film.

Without going into too much detail, a distress signal from Vulcan sparks the meat of the plot.  The planet is under attack by Romulans headed by the vengeance-seeking Nero (Eric Bana), and so the Federation sends out one of its flagship vessels, the U.S.S. Enterprise (in its maiden voyage), under the helm of Captain Christopher Pike (a solid-as-always Bruce Greenwood).

(from left) Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and John Cho in Star TrekThe reasons for Nero’s revenge are undoubtedly better left for unspoiled discovery, but from there the story takes off on a time-bending, mind-blowing journey that couldn’t have been more satisfying if it tried.

Abrams and company cracked a tough nut with this, the likely jewel of the 2009 summer movie season.  Spinning an intriguing web that brings some of the most enchanting (and not properly cinema-tested) elements of cosmic theory to the forefront, the filmmakers have created a thinking-man’s tale that creatively spares over 40 years of fan-invested yarns.

As well as a healthy dose of action, the film brings an arsenal of entertainment value to the table.  Most striking is the commanding and never-quite-over-the-top comedy that works even when it seems to go against the grain of the film’s goings-on.  Pine deserves praise on this front for both properly capturing the essence of Shatner’s trademark humor and making the character very much his own in the process.

Quinto, meanwhile, steadily guides the character of Spock with a zen-like confidence that plays into his admittedly limited strengths as an actor.  The rest of the cast (a familiar array of characters) sticks the landing across the board, from Karl Urban’s Leonard McCoy to Zoe Saldana’s Nyota Uhura to, most amusing, Simon Pegg’s “beam me up” Scotty and everyone in between.  Bana, it must be said, conveys a sinister tension as the blood-thirsty Nero that never announces an ounce of effort.

Additionally, Leonard Nimoy’s cameo appearance, though (perhaps necessarily) over-powered by an extended expository sequence, brings a sort of weathered calmness to the narrative that couldn’t have been better placed.  He offers a wise, assured and enlightening performance that reminds of his capacity to make the most bizarre feel comfortingly conventional.

Eric Bana in Star TrekWhere “Star Trek” really lights up, however, is in the technical achievement of every below-the-line player involved.  The cinematography and visual effects are serviceable and not necessarily innovative by any means, but “Trek” offers up the most impressive soundscape of any film, perhaps ever.  Mixers Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Paul Massey, as well as effects editor Ben Burtt, deserve to walk away with Oscars for their work.  See it on the loudest screen you can find.

Similarly, Michael Giacchino’s diverse score is both delicate (in keys that remind of his work on television’s “Lost”) and bombastic, rolling with ominous brass in certain sequences that plays like Stravinsky in hell.  Also commendable are the makeup effects, which aren’t game-changing but are properly utilized throughout, especially on Bana’s Romulan antagonist.

With “Transformers,” “Terminator” and “G.I. Joe” still to come, the summer seems over-stuffed with an abundance of high-concept action extravaganzas at multiplexes this year.  The season might have gotten off to a bumpy start with the highly disappointing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” but “Star Trek” leaves a rather high mark for the year’s upcoming blockbusters, and that’s saying it lightly.  Fans old and new will find something to love.  Not much more could be asked of a rebooted franchise.

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32 responses so far

  • 1 5-04-2009 at 9:41 am

    Daniel said...

    Beastie Boys?


    I’ll save my money, thanks.

  • 2 5-04-2009 at 9:45 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s what you took from this? One throwaway line about a meaningless music cue (that actually works in an adrenaline-pumping sort of way). Oy.

    It’s the best movie of the year so far. Your loss, kiddo.

  • 3 5-04-2009 at 9:57 am

    Matt T said...

    Kris, how would this movie be for someone who isn’t really a fan of Star Trek? I know the basic characters, but that’s about it.

  • 4 5-04-2009 at 9:59 am

    Mike_M said...

    Great review, not being a Trek fan at all, I am still looking forward to this movie, especially after this review.

  • 5 5-04-2009 at 10:01 am

    Daniel said...

    It’s points against it, definitely. This sort of film does nothing to peak my cinematic interest; riddled with teenage angst coupled with pop music to simply date the film.

    Better than Two Lovers? Tokyo Sonata? Sin Nombre? Sita Sings the Blues? Adventureland? I sincerely doubt that.

  • 6 5-04-2009 at 10:09 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s not “riddled with teenage angst.” Haven’t made it to Sin Nombre yet, but the rest…yeah, better.

    The word is “pique,” by the way.

    Matt T: I’m not Star Trek fan at ALL. I literally know next to nothing about the series. So I would say it works just fine for the unfamiliar (perhaps better, since I know there are some die-hard Trekkies that take umbrage with the film’s plot structure.)

  • 7 5-04-2009 at 10:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Also, Daniel, the pop music doesn’t “date” the film. It’s a song from the 90s blasted over a vintage car radio centuries from now and it’s used to build character in a small way. You assume too much.

  • 8 5-04-2009 at 10:30 am

    Daniel said...

    I don’t know Kris, but I’m getting an overzealous fanboy vibe coming off your review in the same way I read your TDK review a while back. Trek just doesn’t look like my cup of tea, and since our taste in cinema obviously doesn’t match up, I’ll hold off on watching it until a more worthwhile critic makes their opinion known on it (or I’ll just skip it all together, which looks more than likely at this point).

  • 9 5-04-2009 at 10:40 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    My TDK review was quite level-headed, I thought. Three-and-a-half stars, after all, with plenty of copy dedicated to the film’s troubles while everyone else was calling it the second coming.

    I was most intrigued by the ideas of physics being bandied about in this film. I have no knowledge of Star Trek that could paint me as a blindly loyal “fanboy,” so honestly, Daniel, you’re reaching.

    Anyway, fair enough on our taste not often matching up. That’s a more valid reason to feel cautious. Good luck on the “more worthwhile” critics (which I expect to love the film by and large).

  • 10 5-04-2009 at 10:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Damn you, Kris — now I have to see this. And I’ve always HATED Star Trek.

    Seriously, though, when I first saw the trailer in the theatre a while back, I was completely bowled over in a way no blockbuster trailer has done for me in some time. It looks gorgeous.

    I am looking forward to “Star Trek.” Along the lines of “I am voting Tory” or “I love Mariah Carey,” there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. These are confusing times.

  • 11 5-04-2009 at 11:04 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ah yes, you were a Boris guy I recall.

  • 12 5-04-2009 at 11:15 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Ha, you caught me. Actually, I was the ultimate cop-out — a Liberal Democrat. But yeah, Boris was my second choice in that particular context.

    (And I should clarify that the third sentence remains defiantly unsaid.)

  • 13 5-04-2009 at 11:50 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    so kris, you find this a better movie then the dark knight? and aplogies, im getting pretty annoyed of the negative talk on here towards you, if people dont like what you say they should stay off your sight. But ya, where exactly do you think its oscar chances are?

  • 14 5-04-2009 at 11:58 am

    MJ said...

    Yet another ridiculously fantastic review. In response to what you said at the end, it would kind of suck if the summer movie season peaked so early, though. Can’t wait to see this.

  • 15 5-04-2009 at 12:32 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Requiem: Yeah, I’d say so. For all it’s brilliance, The Dark Knight suffers from a sense of bloat. I’ve always felt that. Star Trek knows when to get out of dodge and there’s a lot to say for that.

    Regarding the negative talk, it’s no big deal. People are welcome to criticize and argue, as always. I just prefer the correct perspective, and the idea that I was a blind fanboy following TDK and am the same in the case of Star Trek is simply inaccurate.

  • 16 5-04-2009 at 1:08 pm

    Joel said...

    I am freaking stoked for this movie, and your review just piques my interest (ha! right usage there! pwnage for Daniel) even more, if that’s possible.

    I’ve enjoyed the movies I’ve seen somewhat and was practically obsessed with Star Trek: TNG for a while, but I’m not a “fanboy,” either. Abrams looks to have made the definitive Star Trek experience, and a damn good sci-fi flick. That’s all I’m asking for.

  • 17 5-04-2009 at 1:13 pm

    Cameron said...

    I’ve never seen an entire episode of any spinoff of Star Trek, but I’ve just been completely convinced to see this one. Thanks for the review Kris

  • 18 5-04-2009 at 1:13 pm

    Joel said...

    Oh and quick question, Kris: should we expect a possible win for Nimoy in your Best Cameo category come December? Or at least a consideration? You speak VERY highly of him, so that’s why I asked.

  • 19 5-04-2009 at 1:24 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nah, I think that’s reserved for another actor featured in a review from last week.

  • 20 5-04-2009 at 1:28 pm

    John said...

    How is it for possible nominations (of any kind)?

  • 21 5-04-2009 at 1:37 pm

    Bill said...

    “another actor featured in a review from last week”

    Aziz Ansari in Observe and Report?

  • 22 5-04-2009 at 1:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bill: Nevah!

    John: Guaranteed in both sound categories, likely in visual effects, probably in makeup, possible in film editing, longshot for score. Nothing else, though.

  • 23 5-04-2009 at 1:52 pm

    Bill said...

    Kris: I knew you were referring to Glenn Kenny but I thought I throw that out there.

  • 24 5-04-2009 at 1:59 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I actually really, really, REALLY dislike Aziz. Can’t put my finger on why. Too stale.

  • 25 5-04-2009 at 2:01 pm

    Bill said...

    Wait till you see him in Funny People. I’ve seen some of his stand up in character. It’s incredible.

  • 26 5-04-2009 at 2:27 pm

    chad said...

    The best part of Observe and Report is when Rogen and Aziz trade fuck you’s back and forth until they are whispering and then mouthing it. Incredible.

  • 27 5-04-2009 at 7:48 pm

    N8 said...

    I’m willing to take your word for it that the sound work is impressive, but the best of any film perhaps EVER? I dunno… it’ll have to be pretty damn good to top entries like “Star Wars”, Apocalypse Now”, and “Das Boot” in my books.

  • 28 5-05-2009 at 8:47 am

    Kokushi said...

    Great review, cant wait to see it (and i have never seen a Star Strek episode or movie in my life) and i doubt or maybe im wrong that anyone in this gave a better performance than Heath so that give some extra points to the TDK.

  • 29 5-05-2009 at 11:23 am

    actionman said...

    observe and report is the best film I’ve seen this year so far. Trek looks like a total blast. I am not a Trekkie at all, but it just looks like an awesome ride.

  • 30 5-05-2009 at 5:17 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    i know this is a really dumb question kris, but is that 4 stars out of 5 or 4 out of 4

  • 31 5-05-2009 at 5:35 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    out of four

  • 32 5-09-2009 at 10:38 am

    Chad said...

    Just saw it. Can’t believe you thought it was this good.