Star Trek blithely goes where many blockbusters have gone before. And, by God, if that experience comes with a few drinks, a greasy bucket of popcorn, a drive-in theater, and some person(s) with whom to nuzzle, then it’s sure to be a blissfully dunderheaded time.
I must preface this review with my bias: There remains a vestigial Trekkie within me. That said, however, I’m sensitive to the franchise’s need for detox; its last film, which was released in 2002, was a crusty clunker in which the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation seemed ready to punch out their time cards. Offering the captain’s chair to J. J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Mission: Impossible III) was a sure-fire way to inject speed into the veins of an intergalactic corpse. This isn’t like the reboots of Bond or Batman, which make their subjects “darker” and more “cerebral”; as directed and produced by Abrams—working with a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (both of Transformers)—this new Trek prequel is denatured by being high on action and low on intelligence.
Its convoluted story opens with the hagiographic birth of James T. Kirk, whose father sacrifices himself by crashing his starship into that of Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan who has traveled from the 24th century into the 23rd to avenge the destruction of his home world. Kirk (Chris Pine) is your typical restless youth from Iowa—getting into bar fights, driving sports cars off cliffs at age eight, etc.—until Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) recommends he enlist in the Starfleet Academy. There, in a nod to events referenced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Kirk cheats on a flight-simulator exam, which happens to have been programmed by the half-Vulcan, half-human Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). The two must begrudgingly work together onboard the Starship Enterprise, and warp off to intercept Nero at planet Vulcan. Alas, Nero’s ship destroys Spock’s home world, leaving its inhabitants an “endangered species.”
Orci and Kurtzman finagle into this scenario younger versions of the other characters who’ve been familiar to audiences since the 1966-9 TV show: peevish Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), helmsman Sulu (John Cho), Russian navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin), communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg). Leonard Nimoy also appears as 24th-century-refugee Ambassador Spock, whom Nero blames for destroying his planet. (Hence, the destruction of Vulcan.) Nero nearly demolishes Earth, too, but is vanquished thanks to red matter—or something like that. His ship is finally blown to smithereens by the Enterprise—though it’s a rather unnecessary and brutal assault, seeing as Nero’s claw-like space tanker was already being spaghettified by a black hole.