Directed by JJ Abrams
Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Eric Bana
I'm going to start by saying that you don't have to know who Kirk, Spock, and Bones are to enjoy this film. You don't need any background on the origins or inner workings of the United Federation of Planets. If you are hearing about the Kobayashi Maru for the first time you will be okay. You might wonder why half the audience laughs when the guy in the red suit dies fairly early in the mission, but that's as inside as the references get in this remake of the popular series.
I have always been a casual admirer of the Star Trek universe. I respect the mythology, themes, and characters but I find the Star Wars universe is more relatable. It always felt like the Star Trek universe was keep me at arm's length. This version, directed by JJ Abrams walked right up to me, gave me a hearty handshake, put it's arm around my shoulder, and led me right into the party.
Excitement, humor, drama, action, great performances, and even heartbreak are the key ingredients of this film. These elements are on display and vividly felt in the first five minutes of the film. The joy of the film is that they only expand in the next two hours.
In the hands of JJ Abrams the ingredients are added so masterfully that they only enhance one another and the experience as a whole. Abrams has gone on the record as saying that he was never a Trek fan because he felt disconnected from the characters. He deliberately sets out to remedy that problem by fleshing out the characters by giving them history, emotions, and personality.
Of course a great deal of credit for making the characters real goes to the cast. This talented assemble is led by Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoë Saldana while being anchored by Bruce Greenwood, Eric Bana, and...wait for it...Leonard Nimroy. There is not a weak link in this cast. Even supporting roles that are filled by Simon Pegg, Johnny Cho, and Karl Urban are both rich and engaging.
Remember, these actors are playing iconic characters and it would have been easy for them to give into the temptation to simply do an impression of what we have already seen. Instead, Abrams gives his cast permission to make the characters their own. They play the classic characters they don't play the actors who did the role before them.
Of course, I can't help but "gush" over director JJ Abrams. With his second feature film he is proving that he is a master of his craft. He really demonstrates a clear vision for this film. He never tries to illicit a shallow "wow" moment from his audience. Instead of using gimmicks he uses all the tools at his disposal to create a fully realized world. He introduces the audience to dozens of alien creatures but never as a spectacle. In the Star Trek universe humans and aliens live and work together side by side. The characters don't marvel at their neighbors so why should the audience? Instead, they are simply inserted into the scenes. The one exception being when Kirk is being chased by two alien creatures, but they are the focus of that scene.
From what I understand the film doesn't follow Star Trek cannon to the letter. Evidently, there are a few departures. However, Abrams gives a reason for them. This is just another example of the depth of his vision. He introduces the reason in the story and the universe he created supports it. He leaves it up to the audience and the true Trek fans to decide whether or not they want to accept it. The important thing is that he gives you the choice.
Obviously, I'm a huge fan of this film. Popular theory suggests that the even numbered Star Trek films are good and the odds are well, bad. This is the eleventh Star Trek film and it proves that theory false.
As a side note this entire film felt like it was from another time. It felt like it was from the early Spielberg, Lucas, and Donner days of the late seventies/early eighties. Those are the films of my childhood and they always fill me with a sense of wonder. Films like Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of The Lost Ark, ET, and Superman were full of spectacle but also heart. It feels like there is a crop of directors coming up who were also raised on those films, and Abrams is one of them. Hopefully, our contemporary blockbusters films will continue to feel like these classic ones.