You walk out of “Star Trek” feeling giddy, airborne and cleansed, if only for a few minutes, of all mundane worries. This is what summer Hollywood movies are expected to do — or at least what’s been expected of them since 1975, when “Jaws”‘s cavalcade of jolly jolts altered the movies’ economic landscape, for better and worse. “Giddy” and “airborne” aren’t what you recall feeling after, say, last year’s “The Dark Knight” or last week’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” But producer/director J.J. Abrams’ cheeky reboot — or, for those who dare to think long-term, resuscitation — of the 43-year-old science fiction franchise reminds audiences why they fell in love with pop mythology in the first place, while sidestepping the overcooked solemnity that not even the earlier “Star Trek” movies could avoid.
That last kicker aside, I nonetheless pledge abiding allegiance to what’s now officially marketed as “Star Trek: The Original Series,” whose harrowing storylines of intergalactic peace-keeping fed my waking post-adolescent fantasies and sneaked into my nightly dreams as well. But whatever enthusiasm I have toward this newest spin on TOS should be viewed within the following context: I have attended precisely no “Trek” fan conventions; not even on a newspaper’s dime. I do not and have never owned a Klingon-English dictionary. Nor have I worn or been remotely inclined to wear any manner of Starfleet uniform to work — most especially those burgundy, glorified-hotel-doormen get-ups cobbled together for the later “original series” movie spinoffs. Such disclaimers are meant to separate my perspective from those lifelong devotees to all things “Trek,” whose occasionally skewed outlook on life is nonetheless so infused with belief in human possibility that I refuse to diminish their faith with the hoary label of “Trekkies.”
The more fanatical elements of this tribe viewed with advance alarm the prospect of their grail being taken up, if not totally re-invented, by Abrams, who’s got his own phantasmagorical myths simmering as producer of TV’s “Lost” and “Fringe,” as well as last spring’s icky urban nightmare “Cloverfield.” Their qualms will not likely be mollified by the liberties Abrams and his co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have taken with Trek’s canonical back-story. (One hint: Watch the skies, Planet Vulcan!) But giving the extremist fans something to complain about seems to be part of Abrams’ merry scheme to damn the (photon) torpedoes and ram home his re-imagined version of “Trek” with the velocity of a professional’s tennis serve.
And the volleys come at you, high and hard, from the birth of future Enterprise captain James Tiberius Kirk while his newly-widowed mom barely escapes a dying starship to the growth of young Kirk (Chris Pine) into a thrill-seeking delinquent challenged by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to fulfill his martyred father’s legacy by enlisting in Starfleet Academy. Meanwhile, young Spock (Zachary Quinto) makes his own rebellious way into Starfleet as a gesture of defiance to his planet’s elders, who’d rather he stayed home and taught science. The crossing of their paths is depicted here as a rocky one, with Spock 2.0 openly, even fiercely disdainful towards the brash Kirk 2.0.
Along the way, other familiar personages forming the core of TOS slide into view, including prodigal linguist Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who also hates Kirk on sight (but, unaccountably, knows her way into Spock’s heretofore impenetrable heart). Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is even more the callow savant with a thicker accent, while Karl Urban is allowed to show only glimmers of “Bones” McCoy’s spiky humanism and John Cho from the “Harold and Kumar” series literally flips, flops and flies as the new Sulu. The most promising spin on the old personnel comes from Simon Pegg, whose master engineer Scotty is more flamboyantly Puckish than the original.
All these characters’ fates are orchestrated, in typical Trek fashion, by a rip in time’s fabric through which Nero (Eric Bana), an embittered Romulan miner, flies from the future to ruin the past — especially for the man who became Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), whom he blames for destroying his planet. Nero’s vendetta, as with much else in Abrams’ film, seems rented wholesale from 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” but you barely have time to notice the resemblances, thanks to Abrams’ pedal-to-the-metal narrative drive.
Nimoy seems as happy to be on screen as we are to see him blessing this revised edition. But whether you’re a committed fan or not, what you really want to know is how the rebooted Kirk and Spock perform. Pine’s Kirk, a source of some pre-release skepticism, proves to be a welcome surprise, evoking both the peacock swagger and glowering gravitas of William Shatner’s template version. Quinto’s Spock, on the other hand, may take some getting used to. Lots of things come to mind when thinking of the Enterprise’s first First Officer, but petulance and arrogance aren’t the most immediate. Still, as with every other qualm and quirk in this “Star Trek,” things are moving too fast for you to dwell overmuch on them. And as noted earlier, the sheer momentum throws in its wake an invigorating breeze.