The final frontier has been breached anew and JJ Abrams, the visionary behind television phenomena like Lost and Alias (he also produced the underrated, but effective, Cloverfield) is the man at the helm of the latest reboot of a beloved franchise.
Though the names of the key players will sound the same and they will also remain of similar nationalities (and skin colour), this is not your father's Star Trek.
In the new Trek, James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious child (and then youth) who never quite came to terms with the circumstances of his birth. On distant Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has to endure peer ridicule for being half-Vulcan and half-human. Though we catch episodes from their respective childhoods, the two encounter each other only as grown-ups at Starfleet Academy where they immediately assume adversarial positions.
As the plot unfolds we are introduced to familiar characters in new avatars -- Uhura (Zoe Saldana) has a closer than expected relationship with one of her mates aboard the Enterprise; Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is all of seventeen years old; Sulu (John Cho) has hand-to-hand combat training; Scotty (Simon Pegg) doesn't appear until fairly late in the movie and McCoy (Karl Urban) is older than the rest of the cast and played as a character with a strong pessimistic streak. The villain of the piece is the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana) who seeks to wreak havoc and destruction to avenge a wrong that was done to him. In undertaking his various machinations to ensure the death or destruction of everything the Federation tries to protect, Nero proves to be the lynchpin in a key set of moves that will define the life of this franchise going forward.
In toying with the conventions and seeking to rebuild a franchise with a brave new origin story, the people responsible for making this movie have boldly gone where other men have ventured before, but only few have returned unscathed. Nothing gets fan blood boiling as quickly as an 'update' to a beloved franchise that does not honour existing canon. Fans of long-running franchises (like the legion of Star Wars devotees) are known to be extremely picky about each and every detail pertaining to even minor characters and they can work themselves into quite a froth if even a single little element proves itself out of synch with the rest of the storyline.
Imagine what could have happened if Mr Abrams and his team had got anything horribly wrong in their attempt to reanimate the Star Trek franchise. To their credit, they do enough things right to inspire a new generation to join the tribe of the Trekkies. And they do it with style.
The film looks great. Glossy and colourful with a palette that shies away from the muted tones that characterise more serious science fiction films, this is a motion picture clearly designed to draw the masses in. Fronted by Chris Pine, a chiseled (almost) newcomer with enough facial recall to wear the mantle of new Kirk and ably aided by the already familiar face of Zachary Quinto (from television's Heroes), their odd couple pairing exhibits enough on-screen chemistry to offer great promise for the future battles they will fight side-by-side in the inevitable sequels to come.
While keeping Spock and Kirk front and centre in this tale, the writers and director have also provided the supporting characters with enough background to render them readily acceptable in future offerings, where one or more may be called upon to play a more significant role. Even the redevelopment of Uhura's character could render her an effective wedge/balance in the equations aboard the Enterprise on future missions.
Origin stories are supposed to be about the heroes and this one does a good job of placing its young protagonists front-and-centre for most of the running time. As the series develops, one supposes there will be room for the development of antagonists who will serve as worthy opponents.
As performances go, Quinto looks like he was born to play Spock, from the way he carries himself to the emotionless way in which he goes about his business. Pine appears willing, and able, to the live up to Kirk's reinvention as a Lothario with a chip on his shoulder and an enduring desire to thumb his nose at authority. Some of the chases through space as well as the action sequences involving the drill and the Romulan spaceship are exciting enough to cause you to dig your nails into your own palms in excitement.
There is a fine line between being respectful to source material and turning in such a slavish representation that it turns off everyone from the neophytes to the die-hard fans. Ultra fidelity led to the demise of Zach Snyder's Watchmen whereas clever audacity has helped Abrams' Star Trek to soar. So what are you waiting for? Get in there and experience what a true blockbuster feels like.