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Reviving a franchise with a history as long and familiar as Star Trek's is a gamble for any up-and-coming director. Stay too true to the precepts of the original and audiences have little reason to re-engage; take the well-established narrative in too new a direction and loyal fans will feel alienated. Thankfully, writer/director J.J. Abrams, best known for creating successful television shows like Lost, Fringe, and Alias, has struck the perfect balance, reintroducing Captain Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew in such a way that they're still recognizable but not the least bit boring.
As the most recent Batman and James Bond films did, Star Trek returns to an earlier time in the characters' lives. All the way back to the beginning, in fact, in something of an alternate reality. Thanks to a black hole, homicidal Romulan villain Nero (Eric Bana) is able to travel back in time to reset the course of a newborn James T. Kirk's life. Now growing up without a father, the stalwart, noble captain we've come to know becomes more of an irreverent flyboy.
He still enlists in Star Fleet, of course, and still winds up on the Enterprise, but his route for getting there is as fun as it is fresh. Spock's script receives less of a rewrite, but by exploring the upbringing of the logical Vulcan, Abrams gives the character more depth. Turns out Spock was not as in control of his emotions as a boy as he is as a man, and his reliance on cold calculation isn't as ingrained as it looks. By the time a couple of surprising personal revelations about Spock come out, we've started seeing him in a whole new light.
Taking the series' two leads back to their roots also allows Abrams to catch a new generation up on the dynamic between Kirk and his dearest friend, educating them on how and why the friendship works without having to revisit old territory. The story of how the pair meet and overcome the threat posed by Nero, who has targeted both Earth and Vulcan for annihilation, has something of the feel of the first Star Wars. Not only does it offer great action and great special effects, it offers great humor as well.
As impressive as the action sequences are (and several are truly dazzling), Abrams' greatest achievement with Star Trek is his wise casting choices. No matter how well-paced the story or how spectacular the science fiction elements, any production based on a series as beloved as Star Trek will crumble without actors up to carrying such a heavy load. Chris Pine, who will no doubt become a breakout star after this film, proves more than up to the task, bringing Kirk to life better than Shatner did. Pine has the same swagger and confidence, but his acting choices are considerably more varied.
For his part, Heroes' Zachary Quintos performs the neat trick of playing Spock with the same mannerisms as his predecessor, Leonard Nimoy, without ever seeming like he's doing an impersonation. His Spock is at once his own and Nimoy's, which is as it should be considering the veteran actor plays an important though small role in the film. When the two finally meet, the older and younger Spock are ideal reflections of one another. Karl Urban as Leonard "Bones" McCoy and the always-hilarious Simon Pegg as Scotty are icing on the cake with the back stories full of great insider humor.
One love scene and a smattering of mild obscenities earn the film its PG-13 rating and keep it from being an ideal pick, but overall this is one summer blockbuster that's worth the crowds you'll be fighting at the theater.