*Star Trek (PG-13)
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After reviving Paramount's Mission: Impossible franchise in 2006 and producing its monster 2008 hit, Cloverfield, director J.J. Abrams was charged with resurrecting the studio's dormant Star Trek series, which needed a literal facelift. Trekkies may find it difficult to accept a U.S.S. Enterprise without William Shatner at the helm, but this isn't Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. In fact, you needn't be familiar with the TV show; Abrams' reboot exists in its own universe, where the next generation of Trek stars proves worth the wait.
After a pulse-pounding prologue in which Capt. George Kirk sacrifices himself to save the U.S.S. Kelvin, including his newborn son, James Tiberius Kirk, the boy as a teen feeds a need for speed on Iowa's open roads. At the same time, on the distant planet of Vulcan, a young Spock fends off classmates who tease him for being half-Vulcan, half-human.
Years later, a cocky Kirk (Chris Pine) is recruited by Capt. Pike (an excellent Bruce Greenwood) to join Starfleet, where a conflicted Spock (Zachary Quinto) thrives after rejecting traditional Vulcan life. The story explores the power struggle between Kirk and Spock as they become leaders and friends and team up to thwart Nero (Eric Bana), who holds Spock responsible for Romulan genocide.
Bana does what he can with the role, but the inherent problem with origin stories is that the stakes are lower since the main characters must survive, making it tough for co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to establish a true threat. The shaky plot also forces Leonard Nimoy to reprise his role as an older Spock introducing a confusing time-travel device that will work to explain deviations from the beloved show.
Though it's near-impossible to re-create the original Star Trek chemistry, Pine's up to carrying the franchise, exhibiting a youthful yet gritty exuberance that makes him hard not to root for as a fearless "act-now-and-ask-questions-later" leader.
The supporting actors all get their hero moments, too. Sulu (John Cho) features prominently in an exhilarating battle sequence that shows off his combat skills. Anton Yelchin captures his moment as Russian navigator Chekov, the boy wonder with pronunciation problems. Zoe Saldana plays Uhura, tempting Spock with romantic emotions he was raised to ignore, while Karl Urban scores accuracy points as the sarcastic doctor Bones. The standout is Simon Pegg as Scotty, a joker who enters the film late, yet just in the nick of time. The only distracting bit of casting involves Winona Ryder as Spock's mother, with the actress conjuring her old-lady voice from Edward Scissorhands.
One of the film's best aspects, besides dazzling visual effects (including an impressive black hole), is its attention to sound. Abrams makes every warp-speed turbo thrust and phaser fight strongly felt, and Michael Giacchino's thunderous score hits the right notes while saving the Trek theme for the final reel.
In bringing his touch to Star Trek, Abrams has returned the pop-culture landmark to relevance. Though he occasionally strays from the course — comic relief is hit-and-miss, and a chase featuring some scary creatures goes nowhere — Abrams delivers a ride that should please old and new fans of the series. Live long and prosper, indeed.
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