Star Trek boldly goes where no one has gone before. With a theatrical reboot that exceeds all expectations. Ever since Star Trek: Nemesis failed to keep the franchise going on the big screen, a movie wasn’t made for 7 years. Star Trek: Enterprise was the only TV series on air at the time, but even that was cancelled in 2005. So Trekkies were left with nothing for nearly 4 years. Despite decades of storytelling, rebooting the franchise was the logical choice. As I said in my previous Star Trek reviews, I didn’t officially become a Trekkie until very recently. Apart from half watching The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home, I only knew the basics of the USS Enterprise and its 5 year mission.
I’ve seen Galaxy Quest way more than I’ve seen Star Trek. When I first saw the fascinating teaser trailer with the Enterprise under construction, I didn’t know what to think. I knew I didn’t want to pass up seeing Star Trek on the big screen, but at the same time, it felt wrong to watch the movie without experiencing the series. So I made the regrettable decision to skip seeing the 2009 reboot in theaters. Only to realize Star Trek is made for casual audiences and diehard Trekkies alike. Since director J. J. Abrams was somewhere in the middle, he delivered a prequel that was fresh, action-packed, fun, optimistic, and full of pleasing nods to the original series…
Star Trek proves the odd numbered sequel rule is no longer relevant. Since the 2009 reboot has an impressive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m glad it was technically my introduction to the franchise. Making a prequel centered around a young Enterprise crew at Starfleet Academy is actually as old as Gene Roddenberry. Former producer Harve Bennett had a similar idea when making The Undiscovered Country, but nothing came of it. Paramount finally went forward with the idea after asking J. J. Abrams to produce and possibly direct. Although Abrams is more of a Star Wars fan, he was passionate about bringing the franchise back to its roots. Which meant the return of Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, Uhura, Hikaru Sulu, and Pavel Chekov with younger actors. Star Trek seems like a straightforward prequel on the surface, but it actually completely alters the timeline.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 99124.02: Star Trek begins in the year 2233. Faran Tahir plays the captain of the USS Kelvin and an unknown Chris Hemsworth makes his cinematic debut as first officer George Kirk. Little did I know he would be playing Thor in just a few short years. Jennifer Morrison also makes an impression as Winona Kirk a few years before Once Upon a Time. Although Nemesis prominently featured the Romulans, Star Trek is the first film to make them the villains. Klingons were discussed, but it wouldn’t have felt right after The Next Generation. Romulans have been major enemies ever since their introduction in “Balance of Terror.” The Kelvin comes face to face with the Narada when it emerges from a lighting storm in space. Longtime Trekkie Eric Bana plays the main antagonist Captain Nero. Star Trek became the first movie in the franchise to win an Oscar for Best Makeup. The Romulans are still similar to Vulcans with their pointy ears and eyebrows, but now they’re bald with facial tattoos.
The timeline is forever altered when the Romulans ask for the stardate and Nero kills the captain. Although Star Trek is known for its notoriously small budget, the 2009 film genuinely feels like a blockbuster. Abrams essentially gave Star Trek the Star Wars treatment with fast-paced space battles in spectacular CGI. His only distracting motif is a near constant use of lens flares. The most major difference to the timeline is James Tiberius Kirk being born on a space shuttle and his father bravely sacrificing himself to save the crew. Several years later, we explore the equally difficult childhood of Jim Kirk and his future friend Spock. Although he’s no longer born in Iowa, Kirk does grow up there. Young Kirk acts out by wrecking his step-brother’s vintage car. Young Spock grows up on Vulcan where bullies attempt to elicit an emotional response due to him being half-human.
Ben Cross does a fine job of recreating the distance of Spock’s father Ambassador Sarek. More unexpected is Winona Ryder making Star Trek her first major film appearance since disappearing from the limelight. She also does a good job in her brief, but important role as Spock’s caring human mother Amanda Grayson. Casting younger actors to play the iconic Enterprise crew was no easy feat, but everyone was dedicated to honoring the legends who came before them. Chris Pine rose to stardom as a smart, but reckless James T. Kirk who doesn’t follow orders. Although Pine studied William Shatner’s performance, talking exactly like him would’ve felt like a parody. TV actor Zachary Quinto was practically born to play Mr. Spock in his cinematic debut. He has the trademark Vulcan ears, eyebrows, and bowl cut, but Quinto lacks the all important ability to perform the Vulcan salute without assistance. He did however work closely with Leonard Nimoy to perfect his every mannerisms.
Although Spock applies to the Vulcan Science Academy, the way they view his human half convinces him to join Starfleet instead. Kirk meets Starfleet officer Uhura while trying to flirt with her in a bar. Star Trek is thankfully the most attention Uhura has ever gotten. Zoe Saldana immediately became the “Princess of Sci-fi” playing Uhura the same year as Avatar. Saldana ironically played a Trekkie 5 years earlier in The Terminal. She consulted with Nichelle Nichols to ensure Uhura would remain an intelligent, but sexy linguist who worked hard to get where she is. Though she goes for a ponytail rather than the classic bouffant. When Kirk starts a bar fight, he’s confronted by none other than Captain Christopher Pike. Most Trekkies know that the original pilot for Star Trek featured a very different captain and crew of the Enterprise. With the exception of Spock, Jeffrey Hunter played Captain Pike. The unaired pilot was later reworked into the 2 part episode “The Menagerie,” where Pike meets Kirk when he’s old and disabled.
Bruce Greenwood plays Captain Pike as a mentor figure who convinces Kirk to live up to his father by joining Starfleet. Kirk gets inspired when he sees the construction of the Enterprise on Earth. Jim meets his lifelong friend Leonard McCoy while boarding a shuttle to Starfleet Academy. Karl Urban is practically flawless when recreating Dr. McCoy’s southern sense of humor and grim medical analysis. Although DeForest Kelley wasn’t alive to give his blessing, I’m sure he would’ve been proud. Starfleet Academy isn’t shown in full detail, but Jim & Bones have already developed their friendship in the meantime. Another development is Kirk’s womanizing of a sexy green alien. It’s a fun and very in-character scene made better when Uhura awkwardly walks in and strips down as well. Spock & Kirk don’t officially meet until the latter beats the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru test from The Wrath of Khan. Their lifelong friendship doesn’t get off to the best start. In fact, Kirk hates Spock, while McCoy humorously likes him.
Tyler Perry is head of Starfleet for some reason when he places Kirk on academic suspension. Though they’re interrupted by a Vulcan distress signal. So Bones gives Kirk a virus that hilariously goes ary just to make sure they board the Enterprise. The iconic starship is given a sleek update with a shiny bridge full of lens flares. Phasers and tricorders are also given upgrades. More aliens are part of the crew since they can afford them. The uniforms pay homage to the original series with darker, more detailed yellow, red, and blue shirts. Female officers are once again wearing miniskirts. Kirk only wears an undershirt since he’s still a cadet. He jumps into action anyway when he recognizes the lightning storm in space that occured when he was born. The Romulan ship Narada remerges with a drill cutting into the Vulcan core. Pike surrenders to the Romulans who end up torturing him with a similar brain larvae seen in The Wrath of Khan.
Before he leaves, Spock is named captain and Kirk becomes first officer. Uhura is also promoted to communications officer and Hikaru Sulu makes his presence known as a replacement helmsman. Although the mostly comedic John Cho is South Korean, George Takei was more than okay with the casting (“Oh my”). Cho was happy to be playing such a masculine character and even calls back to Sulu’s fencing experience seen in “The Naked Time.” Kirk, Sulu, and Chief Engineer Olson space jump to the Romulan drill that the “Redshirt” obviously doesn’t survive. Despite not joining the series until season 2, the late Anton Yelchin shines as 17 year old Ensign Pavel Chekov. Yelchin was raised in America, but being born in Russia helped in developing a perfect accent. One that continues Walter Koenig’s replacement of v’s with w’s. Chekov delivers a message to the crew and figures out how to transport Kirk & Sulu when they successfully disable the drill. Everything goes wrong when Nero launches “red matter” capable of creating a black hole into Vulcan’s core.
SPOILER ALERT! Spock rescues the high council and Sarek, but he fails to save his mother before Vulcan is destroyed. I knew the altered timeline would bring changes, but it’s still shocking to have such an important planet wiped out like this. More shocking is Uhura starting a romantic relationship with Spock in an effort to comfort him. Although I would’ve preferred a younger Nurse Christine Chapel, Uhura being interested in Spock was hinted at in early episodes. Their relationship is enough to finally reveal Uhura’s first name to be Nyota. Kirk & Spock continue to quarrel when the latter maroons the former on the icy planet Delta Vega. Through a series of unlikely conveniences, an ice beast chases Kirk into a cave where he comes face to face with Spock. The original Spock played by Leonard Nimoy after a 2 decade absence. Nimoy has been, and always shall be, our Spock. So seeing him in the role after all this time was all the comfort Trekkies needed to believe in the reboot.
Spock Prime tells Kirk stories about their friendship and performs a mind meld to reveal Nero’s motivation. He wanted revenge on Spock when he failed to save Romulus from destruction. They were both sent back in time 25 years apart with Nero patiently plotting to destroy Vulcan. Spock entrusts Jim to bring his crew together and become captain by eliciting an emotional response from his younger self. All the pieces come together when Kirk meets Scotty at a Starfleet outpost. Abrams mainstay Simon Pegg authentically captures James Doohan’s Scottish accent and obsessive need to fix the Enterprise. He perfects a transporter that allows Kirk, his alien assistant Keenser played by little person Deep Roy, and himself onto the Enterprise at warp speed. Spock Prime giving the Vulcan salute to Kirk always makes me emotional. When beamed onto the Enterprise, Scotty joins the crew as their chief engineer and Kirk manages to emotionally compromise Spock.
Leading to the pivotal moment where James T. Kirk sits in the captain’s chair. The crew devise a plan and Spock joins when his father makes an unexpectedly illogical declaration of love for his mother. Kirk & Spock move closer to becoming friends when they each board the Narada with phasers drawn. Kirk rescues Pike and Spock sends the “red matter” equipped space pod of his older self into the enemy ship. Nero fires everything, but faces the Enterprise when it makes a spectacular entrance. Kirk orders his crew to fire on the ship until they successfully escape the black hole. Kirk & Spock are rewarded for their bravery with the latter becoming captain of the Enterprise and the former meeting his older self, telling him to set aside logic. Captain Kirk takes out the Enterprise in his trademark yellow shirt accompanied by Leonard Nimoy delivering the famous monologue. Star Trek is a nostalgic voyage that effectively saved the franchise. “Live long and prosper.”