J.J. Abrams' courage gave us almost everything we love most about Star Trek, with the inevitable exception of those things we could not have – the original cast. The characters remain in place, gamely reimagined at the beginning of their careers, rather than, as we eventually came to know them, at the end. Of course, it would have been easy to expect a new and improved telling of the canon, complete with new and improved visual effects. Instead, we got a stunning opportunity to see our beloved comrades explore new adventures without the necessity, or tedium, of a simple retelling.
In this sequel, however, Abrams constructs delicately, almost lovingly, a story where familiar elements are unavoidable, but one where they are weaved into a thoroughly satisfying and viscerally thrilling path to endless years of new delight for Trekkers everywhere.
The cast are learning to occupy their roles, with one notable exception. Zachary Quinto is positively delightful as Spock, a role he clearly shows the ability to wear comfortably and expand in surprising new directions. Simon Pegg is Scotty on Steroids – funnier, crankier, and vastly more entertaining. Perhaps most impressive is Karl Urban as McCoy. He is spot on perfect, almost disturbingly so, portraying McCoy just was we would have expected, while at the same time compensating for some of the thespian shortcomings of DeForest Kelly.
The glaring disappointment is Chris Pine as Kirk. Pine lacks even a hint of the powerful machismo of William Shatner, depending instead on simple unwarranted bravado. He comes across less as a hero and more of a simple jerk, and his wanton womanizing is less romantic than simply debauched. It is perhaps ironic that Shatner, long lambasted for his acting, ends up being the most difficult actor to replace convincingly.
To be fair, a fully satisfying replacement was probably not possible, as Shatner, for all his limitations, has, after decades of accretion, evolved into a once in a lifetime commodity. Still, it is difficult not to see Pine as miscast. But then, who? Channing Tatum? Chris Hemsworth? Most likely unavailable, so we have Pine.
The story is pure gold, pure Star Trek. It draws upon familiar themes and characters and casts them in brilliant directions. At times, this film seems almost a tribute to the legacy Abrams seemed to be totally rejecting in the prequel. Stunningly, startlingly brilliant and persuasive evidence that Abrams is the only man with whom fans can entrust, not only our beloved Star Trek, but, it turns out, the other crown jewel of Sci-Fi fandom – Star Wars, the new episode of which Abrams will also direct.
I wondered during the movie whether those less familiar with the Star Trek canon would appreciate the many subtle inside jokes and references. To be sure, there were many that were not so subtle, but it seems obvious that people who are relatively uninitiated with get less out of the movie than hard core fans.
I'm not even going to discuss the plot details. Suffice it to say that nobody should leave the theatre disappointed, no matter what they were expecting. As for me, I left feeling as though all my years of devotion to Star Trek were fully rewarded, and renewed by this, one of the most magnificent achievements in the series' nearly half a century of delighting fans of all ages.