In rebooting “Star Trek” entirely, director/producer J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III”) understands the franchise played too much to its own cult, at the exclusion of everyone else. His movie does not require one to have seen all the episodes or memorized decades of continuity and arcane references.
Hell, he’s even told the purists to stay home, with a curt “Don’ t waste your time.”
He can get away with it, because his “Star Trek” is what you call a crowd-pleaser: a big-budget work of studio gloss that not only seeks to wow the sci-fi fanboys, but those who generally dislike the genre. Don’t know a Klingon from a Romulan? Good! All are welcome aboard this voyage; all will be rewarded.
Faithful yet general, this prequel focuses on how the Enterprise crew first came to be, starting with their days at the Starfleet Academy. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, “Smokin’ Aces”) is a speed-demon hothead into boozing and womanizing, until Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”) gives him a chance to become a space cadet. Pike admires Kirk ‘s father, who briefly captained a spaceship until his death at the hands of the Romulan alien race “ a sacrifice that saved hundreds of innocent lives.
Kirk accepts, albeit rather smugly, and runs afoul of many fellow students who take an immediate dislike to him. The logical Vulcan known as Spock (Zachary Quinto, TV’s “Heroes”) accuses Kirk of cheating, while the lovely Uhura (Zoe Saldana, “Vantage Point”) tires of his sexual advances. Only Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, “Pathfinder”) is on Kirk’s side — perhaps “tolerates” is a better description.
He’s the cockiest sonofabitch in this or any other galaxy. It’s not until the Enterprise’s maiden voyage — on which he’s merely an unwanted stowaway — is interrupted by Romulan baddie Nero (Eric Bana, “The Other Boleyn Girl”) that he’s forced to quash his frat-boy ways and step up to show some leadership.
Understandably, “Star Trek” arrives on a warp-speed wave of hype, much of that stemming from the simple fact that Abrams didn’t screw it up. That acknowledged and out of the way, the “best movie ever” bandying is exaggerated. Yes, the flick is a blast, in sheer, summer-movie terms. No, it is not end-all-be-all perfect.
Somewhat ironically, its biggest draw to the built-in fan base is its greatest liability, and that’s the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy as the old Spock, in a time-travel subplot that seems shoehorned in. Certainly, his extended cameo works on a level of nostalgia and homage, but complicates an otherwise straightforward story. This alternate-reality detour raises more questions than it answers, detracting one’s attention.
Forward momentum carries “Trek” through much of its journey, but its sense of humor is what’s most refreshing — a dogged determination to not take itself seriously, thereby distinguishing itself from pictures before it. Let’s put it this way: I never thought I’d see Kirk running around with puffy hands from an allergic reaction. It’s the stuff of slapstick, but helps lift “Trek” from its non-nerds-need-not-apply past to entertainment that invites everybody to join the club. —Rod Lott