Did somebody just reach through the space-time continuum and pull out a white rabbit?
Even diehard Trekkers might agree that Capt. James Tiberius Kirk’s best days are behind him, but by going boldly back into the past for “Star Trek” — a “reboot” of the famed series — director J.J. Abrams and crew have done more than prove the point. They’ve presented him with a whole new future. This exhilarating blockbuster gets under way at warp speed with a prologue that climaxes with Jim’s birth — under fire from angry Romulans — and the heroic self-sacrifice of his father, who goes down with his Starfleet command. Life, death and special effects! The widow Kirk doesn’t get much of a look. Next thing we know, James T. is an angry teenager hot-rodding in a vintage convertible and nearly throwing himself off a cliff in the process. A few years later, he’s still the impetuous hothead, getting into a barroom brawl with a company of space cadets and then reporting to the Academy himself the next morning. A Cold War hero who doves could dig, Kirk has always been a projection of American “soft power,” a gunboat commander on an intergalactic peacekeeping mission. He’s not perfect, but his flaws are human — and in the Cold War context, American flaws: he’s stubborn (or determined), irrational (independent) and above all, emotional (feeling). He never met an alien of the opposite sex he didn’t like or a problem too complex for his gut. These traits have a youthful, Kennedy-esque character, so it makes sense that they’re accentuated in Chris Pine’s portrait of the captain as a raw Starfleet recruit, bucking the system. No offense to William Shatner, but it’s been a long, long time since Kirk was this sexy. Spock traditionally mitigates Kirk’s hot-blooded excess with a dose of cold, hard logic. In the classic Gene Roddenberry scheme of things, the Enterprise runs most smoothly with both men side by side on the bridge. In this new, young, sometimes angry “Star Trek” — written by Abrams cohorts Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Alias”) — most of the running time they’re banging heads, rubbing each other the wrong way. In the development most likely to dismay “Trek” traditionalists, they even have eyes for the same girl (Zoe Saldana as a prickly Uhura).
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Despite the tension between them, Zachary Quinto’s young Spock is considerably less aloof than Leonard Nimoy’s; Quinto stresses confusion and earnest self-doubt where Nimoy mined cool irony. The performance makes sense, in context, but the balance of the story doesn’t allow the younger actor to step out the of older Vulcan’s shadow in the same way. This is definitively Kirk’s — and Chris Pine’s — movie: brash, confident and affectionate. It’s cleverly cast across the board, from Winona Ryder, quietly effective as Spock’s earthling mom, to Eric Bana, a tattooed and wrathful Romulan. Karl Urban (“Bones” McCoy), John Cho (Sulu), Anton Yelchin (Chekov) and Simon Pegg (Scotty) are physically close enough to evoke their counterparts from the original show, but they’re not the finished article, which is where a lot of humor comes in. Orci and Kurtzmann have crafted brisk, snappy scenes for each of them, playfully bouncing off our shared sense of these men’s future (our past). You’ll notice I haven’t explained the plot, and I don’t propose to try. Whether it will stand the test of time — or even a second viewing — I don’t know. But I do know I watched this movie with a big smile on my face; it’s a film with a near-permanent twinkle in its eye. The new Enterprise is a joy to behold. The movie positively gleams with big-budget production design and deep-space special effects. If the studios are smart, they’ll be lining up to get J.J. Abrams to rejuvenate every other washed-up franchise in town. May his work live long and prosper. “Star Trek” is rated PG-13 and runs 126 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly’s rave review, click here.