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Exclusive 'Star Trek' Movie Review

Exclusive 'Star Trek' Movie Review

Review by Adam Cohen

(Beware! Contains Spoliers)

There's a moment in "Star Trek" where James T. Kirk is taking the legendary Kobayashi Maru test and he starts chomping on an apple during the exam. At first, I thought "that's just silly," but then it hit me- in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" Kirk is eating an apple in the Genesis Cave when he tells Saavik how he beat the no-win scenario! And without being obvious, "Star Trek" enjoys many other small moments such as this, which made me feel like I've come home again.

This movie deals with a villain that wants to blow up planets throughout the Federation. But the real focus of the story is how Kirk and Mr. Spock become brothers. They start off poorly- Kirk hating Spock for being the tightwad that he can be and Spock disliking Kirk for his insubordination and recklessness. Now, we all know how their characters will end up- best buddies saving the galaxy time and again. However, their conflict is so well-written and acted that their arrival at friendship is meaningful. This is why "Star Trek" succeeds at reviving the original characters.

Chris Pine as Kirk

Chris Pine plays the role of Kirk, which had been "owned" outright by William Shatner for 40-plus years. What Pine pulls off is a believable incarnation of a cultural icon. Nothing Pine does contradicts Shatner's work- in fact he works so well within the framework of the character (his cockiness, his need for emotional approval, his "badassery") that he helps further define Kirk in new ways. And Pine goes about doing this without imitating Shatner. The same goes for Zachary Quinto as the equally iconic Mr. Spock. These two actors achieve something unique- they revitalize familiar characters with their own brand of energy while remaining true to their predecessors. And it's a key accomplishment for this movie. For all the window-dressing of technology and faux-science speak, "Star Trek" is about a brotherhood. My nostalgia for the old show centers on the relationship between Kirk and Spock. I don't know how Director J.J. Abrams and his screenwriters were able to distill that relationship so well, but I'm amazed by the result.

What this film also succeeds in establishing is a verve which has been absent from recent "Treks." Starfleet is now a believable service corp. again- the Academy scenes are key to illustrating how "the right stuff" gets into outer space. This energy permeates the remainder of the movie- nothing feels stale. In fact, there is a "New Frontier" vibe to the whole show which has been missing since the original series went off the air in 1969.

Kirk Meets McCoy

Sweeping us up in the fun is a cast that is truly wonderful. Karl Urban's McCoy is a sincere homage to DeForest Kelly's original character. Zoe Saldana is magnificent at balancing Uhura's passions and professionalism. Bruce Greenwood is instantly believable as Captain Pike, a surrogate father to a wayward Kirk. Simon Pegg is... well, Simon Pegg playing Scotty. Anton Yelchin perfectly taps into Chekov's weirdness, a fantastic take by the young actor. And John Cho was understated and genuine as Sulu. In fact, there is a moment during the height of the action where Cho says "Kirk and Spock are on their own" and that's when it hit me hard that I completely bought into these new actors.

This movie is a neoclassical accomplishment, not some "cover band" take on the original series. "Star Trek" is original in its own important ways without betraying the established canon. Even the well-worn plot device of time travel is used effectively here- serving as the basis for the "alternate" universe in which this crew exists. Nothing we've seen in past stories is to be taken for granted in this new version. Trust me, about half way through the picture you'll realize what I mean.

And then there's Leonard Nimoy's performance. I separated my reaction to his work from the rest of this review because he is truly an independent factor in the movie. Nimoy's Spock is almost like the narrator- he's our guide to this new universe. I was worried that his presence would be gimmicky, but it actually ended up being essential to the story. The elder Spock identifies the importance of Kirk and his younger counterpart's friendship. And in his own, Yoda-esque way, he uses wit and humor to nudge these two characters together. It was a cameo that mattered to the plot- something past "Treks" have mishandled on numerous occasions.

Nero Kirk and Spock

There are elements to this movie that needed work, namely the villain Nero, played well by Eric Bana. Nero is more of a force of nature, not a well-developed character. You believe he is dangerous, but you never quite understand his motives, which is a result of some slap-dash storytelling. And sure, the way in which the whole crew comes together is rather convenient (and as Spock would tell you "highly improbable") but the movie's fun-factor fills these holes beautifully. What matters the most to me is that for two hours, I was in a world that was both familiar and fresh all at once. It's like meeting an old friend again for the first time. What a rare and wonderful feeling.

Adam Cohen is the editor of "The Jack Sack," a "24" blog. 

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