I can’t imagine being a Trekkie and not liking the earnest new Star Trek.
I also can’t imagine being a Trekkie—but I’ll get to that later.
In the meantime, if you want Star Trek, well, that’s absolutely what director J. J. Abrams gives you. It’s the best Trek since Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and it works in almost the same way but more so—it feels like it could be a two-part series episode that the network somehow granted an enormous budget.
In fact, I’d wager that Eric Bana, as a vengeful Romulan named Nero who has it in for Spock (Zachary Quinto), has almost as much fun frothing at the mouth as Ricardo Montalban did as Khan (I said almost: Montalban’s a tough act to top—even his cleavage was having a grand old time). Bana’s a good villain, although please don’t ask me to tell you what he’s on about because Abrams and his team toy with the kind of time-travel/alternate realities stuff that often gets me lost on Lost (both of this movie’s writers are veterans of Abrams’s TV shows Fringe and Alias). I believe Nero mistakenly blames Spock for the decimation of his planet and has been hunting him down…in the past. Or something. And there’s lots of talk about "the Red Serum" and "the Black Hole device" and, oh, the suspense.
In the meantime, the movie gleefully introduces us to the world of what might best be called Star Trek Babies or Star Trek 90210. Everybody’s really cute—especially Kirk (Chris Pine), of course, though he’s a little plastic—and we get to learn how, for instance, Spock struggled with prejudice as the biracial child of a Vulcan and Winona Ryder. (I’m not joking. And who wouldn’t struggle? That’s got to be rough on a kid.) Kirk’s the rebel son of a single mother and starts screwing a green woman the second he gets to basic training. Bones (Karl Urban) says "dammit" a lot. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is a hottie who is very smart about all that technical space stuff (though it’d be nice if she had a little more meat on her bones like the original Trek‘s bodacious Nichelle Nichols). Scotty (Simon Pegg) is a real live-wire. Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) look like they’re still in diapers (and, to its credit, the film scores a few points off of that).
Abrams obviously didn’t have a rehearsal in which he told his cast which acting style would best suit his take on the Enterprise, so they all just have at it: Quinto does a Method actor’s Spock—he was on Letterman recently and told Dave, in all seriousness, that the character has "a lot going on there"—which is exactly what Spock deserves; Urban, usually just a nice piece of beef in movies like The Chronicles of Riddick, showcases a dead-on DeForest Kelley imitation (he’s definitely having as much fun as Ricardo Montalban); Saldana plays the cool professional who just happens to apply lipstick and eye shadow exceptionally well; Pine just thinks he’s the pretty boy playing Kirk (can’t argue that). It all comes out okay in the wash because, if you think about it, wild variables in ability and approach fueled the series—there was always a deep divide between what William Shatner thought he was doing and what Leonard Nimoy never worried about attempting (SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO’S HAD A RECENT HEAD INJURY…Nimoy and his dentures play key roles in the movie, too. It’s shentimental and kind of shweet, as he would shay).
So far, so Star Trek. Now here are my two main problems as a non-Trekkie: 1) Star Trek, at its core, is a lot of corny talk and no action on the big and small screens. It’s true. People fall down when the Enterprise takes a hit, Kirk asks for more power, Scotty says "I’m givin’ it all she’s got!" (happens in the movie, don’t worry), then someone pushes a button and the "excitement" is over. This film has one decent sequence involving a sky dive but can’t manage more than a minute or two with a hungry monster on an alien planet; and 2) Star Trek has never truly reinvented itself. Abrams does a bang-up of job of heightening (and even slightly spoofing) all that anybody could love about the show but aren’t there other possibilities? Are Trekkies really that incapable of dealing with change? What made the recent James Bond reboot so successful is that it wiped the slate clean and let Daniel Craig snap at the ridiculousness of, say, a waiter bothering to ask him whether he’d like his martini shaken or stirred. What if Kirk couldn’t get laid? The best Abrams can offer is some nice chuckles over Chekov’s impenetrable accent and a lot of in-jokes.
This Star Trek knows what it is and enjoys that. It feels fresh because almost everybody in it is twelve years old and watching kids at play can be sort of fun. But anyone hoping that it might boldly go where no Trek has gone before is asking for too much.