When it comes to a franchise as beloved as Star Trek, I suppose it's important to let people know where you stand, right at the beginning: I never was able to get into the original Star Trek series (probably because I'd already been indoctrinated into the Star Wars religion), but I knew enough to become a big fan of the first three cinematic adaptations. I think The Motion Picture is a fine (if slightly overlong) re-awakening of the franchise, and I'm a big fan of both The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock. The rest of the features are slight and forgettable (at best) or drearily familiar, which is slightly annoying because I absolutely adore The Next Generation on the small screen. On the big one? Not so much.
But beyond the impact and popularity of a lone franchise, I'm just a huge science fiction fan. Anything that can delve deep into the future and dazzle me with something flashy or fascinating is a good thing indeed. But what makes Star Trek such a long-lasting and rabidly adored franchise is that it goes beyond simple "alien adventures" and touches upon ideas, questions, and issues that we always contend with in the "real" world. If you have to travel 100,000 miles and deal with purple aliens to make a clever point about, say, racism, then let's hear it for basic-yet-admirable subtext. So yes, Star Trek has always been a smart, insightful, and topical space adventure, but this time out ... it's mostly just fun.
Yes, it's an all-new reboot of one of the most beloved series of all time. Which means director J.J. Abrams and his filmmaking crew are walking on very thin ice. True, it's not like the Star Trek series has never seen a bad film, but when you're retro-fitting a mega-franchise in very loud and expensive fashion ... the fans take notice. And they're not afraid to call bullshit at the drop of a hat or a crack in the canon, which is part of what makes the new Star Trek such a pleasant surprise. Not only did they "pull it off," but they've done so in rather grand fashion: This is the best Trek since Khan got all wrathful and such. It's an origin story, which is normally snooze central, but in this case ... well, do you actually KNOW how Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, etc., all met up at the start? I'd assume that only the hardest of hardcore fans know that stuff, and the "flashback" approach allows us to accept an all-new cast as a simple part of the equation. The story of young Kirk, who lost his father only one second after being born, turning away from a rebellious streak and enlisting in Starfleet, only to slowly acquire a rather eclectic crew of friends while battling a mercilessly evil villain ... yeah, this stuff is just plain old fun.
And what a entertaining film this will be for the movie geeks to dig through: Shot like a dream, cut real tight, scored with majesty and power, packed with dazzling sights and sounds and sly little pieces of banter. We've also got the requisite chase and escape stuff, a few nifty creatures, a sweet dash of romance, and even some time-travel twistiness that all but demands repeat viewings. Hell, you could know nothing about the words Star Trek and still find a lot to enjoy here.
Any of the old-school Star Trek fans can tell you: It's the cast that makes or breaks a series. And while it's way too early to tell if this new gang will make a fan-friendly impact, going only by one fine film, this ensemble is aces across the board. So while we don't have that friendly sort of familiarity that we normally have with Star Trek, it's replaced with the sensation of meeting interesting "new" characters who might be a little bit younger (and, yes, a lot prettier) but are still just as likable. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto excel as Kirk and Spock (respectively), but big chunks of the film are stolen by the likes of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), McCoy (Karl Urban), and good ol' Scotty (Simon Pegg). Compliments also to Eric Bana's brooding villainy, Bruce Greenwood's classy authority, and Ben Cross' overt Vulcanosity. (And was that ... Winona Ryder? Nah, couldn't be.) No, this is not the Enterprise crew we know and love, but I know enough to crave a few more adventures with the new guys.
As Star Trek is character(s) first and plot second, it's understood that we spend a lot of time getting reacquainted with everyone, but of course there's just enough of an adventure story to keep the flick cooking. Eric Bana stars as a horrific Romulan with a massive grudge, one who's not afraid to leap back in time to satisfy his lust for revenge. But the real arc of the flick is Jim Kirk, and his journey from Enterprise stowaway to captain. The screenwriters run through a whole lot of road-blocks and temporal contortions to give the Star Trek faithful a reboot to remember, and I'd say they've done one heck of a job.