"Star Trek" didn't burst into the public consciousness when the show first aired in 1966. The show ended after a modest 3 year run due to low ratings but developed a cult following that spawned several series' spun off the original show and 11 feature films. The cast of the original show has had the most enduring following and over 25 years to develop the personalities of their characters and gel as a group.
The new Star Trek has an unusual challenge. They have to take a cast and story that has evolved over a very long time on the small and big screen. They have to take the reins of a beloved saga and not only carry on a well established tradition, but they also have to make it accessible to a new generation that has been weaned on PG-13 action films that fit the "Transformers" mold. Additionally, the director, J.J. Abrams, only has two hours to present a story that introduces multiple characters, establishes their personalities and presents it in a action-packed way. Whew! That's a tall order.
"Star Trek" opens with a a big action sequence and doesn't let up for the duration of the film. --I don't want to offer any spoilers, so I will be as general as possible in breaking everything down-- Like other movies of the same type, such as "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men," "Star Trek" is basically a foundation film. It's main job is to introduce us to the characters, show us some personality quirks and set the stage for future installments. There is a pretty big cast here, all beloved characters with certain personality traits that many loyalists are going to feel are set in stone, and very little time to fuse the new faces with the well known quirks. Because of that the story focuses primarily on Kirk and Spock, giving us their personal histories, while only giving us the sketchiest outlines of the rest of the group.
Right from the start we see how events unfold that set the stage for Kirk's impulsiveness and Spock's determination to mold himself into the quintessential Vulcan. Chris Pine has the biggest shoes to fill as a young James T. Kirk. He doesn't show up as Captain Kirk, but begins life as a reckless young man growing up in Iowa. Smart but not challenged he is encouraged to channel his energy into the Star Fleet Academy, and like everything else he does, he jumps in with both feet and his brain in neutral. Certain aspects of military life come naturally to Kirk, but he still spends most of his time breaking the rules. There is a fecklessness to Pine's portrayal of Kirk that will rub many the wrong way. I don't know if it's a mistake of casting or a problem with the script, but Pine's Kirk jumps from situation to situation in a way that makes him seem like a highly unlikely candidate to make it to the Captain's chair. He also spends far too much time getting beat up and seems less like a tough guy and more like a farm boy who's out of his league; like he's trying to be Han Solo but doesn't have the goods. The most egregious demonstration of the sometimes ham-handed handling of Kirk's character is the Kobayashi Maru sequence which sets up the relationship that develops between Kirk and Spock.
Spock by comparison is handled very well by Zachary Quinto, known for his role as Sylar in the TV show "Heroes." Quinto does an admirable job of conveying the gravity with which Spock approaches every situation. He even manages to make a fairly absurd sequence (I need only say 'ice planet' and those who have seen the film will know what I'm talking about), one that is introduced as nothing more than a means to introduce certain characters into the film, somewhat credible.
The rest of the cast isn't given as much screen time so they have little more than a line here or there to set their individual tones. Karl Urban is probably my favorite of the extended cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He's older than most of the crew, with the exception of Simon Pegg (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott) and he hits the right notes with his sardonic humor and asides toward Spock when he refers to him as green blooded hobgoblin. John Cho (Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) also do well with their limited time on screen. The most complaints I hear are directed at the casting of Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) but truly she suffers the most from a limited opportunity to develop the role. I will say, without adding any spoilers, that she is involved in a romance that is in no way credible, and that does detract from the character.
This "Star Trek" is an unabashed action film. There is no time spent setting up the mission of the Enterprise which is a glaring omission. At the same time there is no benefit in making a genre film too preachy as has been a problem with "Star Trek" films in the past. Genre films fund the pocketbooks of the production companies. "The Dark Knight" is proof that no matter how good a comic book movie is, no matter how well developed, casted and produced, it is not going to get Academy Award recognition. Director Christopher Nolan has proven that depth can be found in any storyline and that it can be sold to wide audience, and perhaps that is why he was snubbed at award time. An award winning vehicle is not supposed to have so big an audience. This is not an excuse for the developmental gaps in Abrams' version of "Star Trek," but it does offer an explanation. And maybe I'm cynical but I can live with being pandered to in this case. Yes, I would have liked to see Kirk have more depth and I would have appreciated it if the underlying mission of the Star Fleet had been included-- it is rather essential to the story.
But "Star Trek" managed to do something unexpected. It brought life back to a tired franchise; something Stephen Spielberg wishes he could have done with the dreadful "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
"Star Trek" also does a far better job that most movies of its kind. I like "X-Men" a great deal, but there are times when too much time is spent on developing the politics of the story vs. getting to the action. It's a delicate balance and not many movies do it well. Movies like "Iron Man" and "Batman Begins" have the luxury of only needing to focus on the background of one main character, so they're given the time to be given more depth than can be spared for an ensemble cast while still having plenty of action. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Bones and Scotty-- that's a lot of territory to cover and not each one is endowed with the characteristics we've come to expect. But there are moments in which we see a glimmer of what you hope to see when you go to a "Star Trek" movie. Spock's logic, Bones' cynicism or Kirk's impetuousness-- it's there and it's fun to revisit.
The Enterprise looks different but the uniforms recall old times. There are little bits of continuity that let long-time fans like myself relate to the new version.
Logically I know there were gaps in the movie. Yes, Kirk was thrown off of an awful lot of cliffs. Yet the movie entertains. It hits all the right emotional chords. It brings back the feelings I had when I watched the original show. No, the new cast doesn't have the gravity of the previous one, but how could they? As far as I'm concerned, "Star Trek" does what it's supposed to do. It takes you away for a couple of hours and it brings a well-loved show to a new generation.
By the end of the movie I began to have faith that it could also bring a new appreciation the space opera and while most spin-offs aren't likely to rise to a high level of sophistication, if one "Blade Runner" or "Alien" came out of it, I would be satisfied. I also, surprisingly, began to believe that Chris Pine could pull off the role of Captain Kirk despite the slightly hyperactive performance. There next movie will have to have some real development put into it to make this attempt worthwhile, but I think there's a real chance it can, and will, be done. So, bottom line, put me in the category of someone who really liked this movie. I would go see it again tomorrow and feel it was money well spent.