Star Trek was dead.
Just let that settle in your head for a bit – after first being broadcast in 1966 and doggedly remaining vital in the face of cancellation or William Shatner directed movies, the franchise took a fatal photon torpedo to the warp drive thanks to non-performance of the tenth movie Star Trek: Nemesis which saw Picard involve himself in a battle of the slapheads with his equally bald clone.
Sent into exile like Kahn Noonien Singh, the franchise languished in limbo until television wunderkind JJ Abrams, fresh off his jump to movies with Mission: Impossible III, was enlisted to beam the original crew back into the public consciousness.
What we got was arguably the greatest Trek since 1981’s Wrath Of Kahn, a breezy action adventure that not only gave the franchise a swift kick in the dilithium crystals, but made it a viable franchise once again.
After a space anomaly disgorges a huge Romulan mining ship into the path of the U.S.S. Kelvin, things will never be the same again. You see, the ship of the vengeful Captain Nero has traveled into the past to take terrible revenge on both Earth and Vulcan with a weapon of unimaginable power but instead unleashes his fury on the Federation craft. Making the ultimate sacrifice so his pregnant wife and his crew can escape, heroic First Officer pilots the Kelvin manually into the enemy craft as his son is born into the universe. That child is James Tiberius Kirk.
Years later, the grown Kirk is a fiercely intelligent but rebellious young man who is a one man HR risk with an ego the size of a Borg Cube, but after being convinced to join Star Fleet by the supportive Captain Pike, he rises through the ranks until his unique attempt at a certain exam puts him in the sights of the flinty and tormented half-Vulcan, Commander Spock. However, the mounting tensions between the two are only heightened by the reappearance of Nero who has been waiting twenty five years to make to make his move and begin his assault on the planets that he feels have wronged him. But what exactky is Nero’s deal, is he really from the future like he claims and what is his connection with Spock? As this inexperienced crew of the Enterprise struggle to overcome insurmountable odds, Kirk and Spock’s animosity toward one another threaten to derail anything and even lead to mutiny – but a further visitor from the future may be able to set them on a path that may ultimately save everything.
Can Kirk and Spock overcome their overwhelming dislike of each other to become the friends they were always destined to be before Earth is sucked into it’s own core?
There were a lot of jokes made at the expense of J.J. Abrams’ super shiny reworking of the beloved TV series (endless and retina searing use of lens flare being the most noticable) but the simple fact that everything Trek that came in the reboot’s wake draws directly from this movie (the ridiculously slick Discovery for example) tells you everything you need to know.
While the super lush visuals and a truly witty script go a long way to making Star Trek ’09 such a blast to watch, the real secret behind this reboot’s success is some of the most savvy casting ever seen in a modern blockbuster. Chris Pine’s crack at Kirk 2.0 is crisp, charismatic and plays strongly to the Shatner version’s proclivities (Kirk trying bone or fight everything that moves) without lapsing into easy parody and Zachary Quinto similarly gives us a more internally tormented Spock as he wrestles with his human side while remaining calm as a summer lake on the surface. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has much more emotion heft as the voice of sanity between these two titanic personalities and Karl Urban’s performance as Dr. McCoy scores huge laughs as it sits magnificently right on the line between impersonation and making the character his own. As for the “lesser” members on the bridge of the Enterprise (apologies for the term but you know what I mean) John Chu gives added determined grit as Sulu, Simon Pegg’s Scotty wields his Scottish accent like a club in the name of comic relief and the late Anton Yelchin gives Chekov the nervous energy of a dozen Tom Hollands being pumped for MCU spoilers; and while not all of them are possibly used as much as they could be, it’s all for the purpose of keeping the story continually in motion like a Klingon Warbird racing to make a deadline. Another good example of this is Eric Bana’s serviceable villain, Nero whose time spanning rage progresses the plot without ever really overshadowing the palpable chemistry of the main cast.
Another devastating weapon in Star Trek sizable arsenal is some truly inspired plot points (Having Kirk literally born in the middle of a space battle is so genius it hurts) and a heart that pumps harder that an old rig. Ylu wouldn’t think that a Star Trek movie would have the ability to reduce you to Pixar-level tears within its first fifteen minutes, but the whole opening sequence in which a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s dad tearfully to the sound of his son being born and hastly names him moments before his imminent sacrifice would make even a Vulcan’s bottom lip quiver.
It’s to Abrams’ credit that he can put such such a spin on classic characters that feels excitingly new, yet reassuringly familiar and the the visual aesthetic reflects this by keeping all the miniskirts, whooshing doors and whirring transporters that we’re familiar with in place with a loving reverence that never feels silly despite the film itself being damn funny. Behold an extended farcical sequence where McCoy smuggles a disgraced Kirk onto the Enterprise under the guise of a case of Andorian Mud Fleas that goes horribly wrong and temporily gives him hands swollen to the size of boxing gloves (“NUMB TONGUE?”).
You could argue that the filmmakers took the normally po-faced world of Trek and rubbed a bit of the dashing, derring do of Star Wars all over it to make it play to an wider audience that wouldn’t know a phaser from a Klingon bat’leth (ok, I’ll admit that I looked that one up) but the truth is that the Shatner/Nimoy movies always had that sense of rich comedy that comes with the familiar camaraderie of an experienced crew and the cool sci-fi set pieces (the parachute jump onto a plasma spewing drilling platform is a doozy) just heighten the adventure.
Packed full of surprises, cameos, guest spots and some (alternate) universe changing plot twists, Star Trek 2009 literally rewrote a universe for a whole new generation and applied jumper cables to a flagging franchise that’s since been placed to one side under the label of the Kelvin Timeline.
A prime example of an old dog learning new tricks – and then using them to apply the vulcan neck pinch – the Star Trek reboot is a win-win scenario that Kobayashi Maru’s the shit out of a played out franchise.
Spock and awe.