3. Star Trek (2009)
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Starring John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Eric Bana, and Leonard Nimoy.
It cannot be understated just how skeptical Star Trek fans were of 2009’s big-screen franchise reboot; an enterprise (sorry) which on paper seemed coldly calculated by Paramount’s blockbuster-selecting algorithm, and yet, one which turned out to rank among the series’ best-ever efforts.
Star Trek is a film that at once seems paradoxically safe and risky; giving the sci-fi series a sexy, sleek makeover for a broader audience rightly gave fans time for pause, defined by an opening flashback sequence in which a young Kirk races away from the cops set to The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
And yet this is ultimately one of the very minor successes of Abrams’ film, which cleverly uses time travel to loosen its tether from the prime continuity while still being tacitly hitched to it. As much as it may have kickstarted a frustrating trend for flagging IP to use timey-wimey logic to rewrite unsavoury past installments, back in 2009 it felt positively creative – all the more surprising given it was scripted by regular Michael Bay scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.
Indeed, Trek ’09 is a slick and confident tentpole thrill-ride, yet one which backs up its high-end action sequences – helmed exceptionally well by Abrams, excessive lens flares and all – with intelligent character work and world-building. Sensibly training its focus on the fractious early relationship of Kirk and Spock through the fraught upbringings which brought them together, Abrams’ film ensures the human factor outpaces the lavish set-pieces at every step, aided further by the remarkable core casting.
Pine’s appointment as William Shatner’s successor proved especially disquieting to an already-concerned fanbase, given Pine’s status as a near-unknown prior to the casting announcement. And yet while Pine’s work will never replace Shatner’s, he finds a sweet spot where he’s able to pivot between juvenile jerk-off and steely leader as Kirk’s arc requires.
The easy show-stealer, however, is certainly Quinto’s Spock, who resists the urge to simply deliver an impression of Leonard Nimoy, instead bringing something extra to the part and in turn making it his own. This ensures that Spock’s encounters with Spock Prime (Nimoy) transcend mere cutesy fan service and instead deepen the characterisation of both.
But the entire cast is terrific here; Karl Urban’s Bones channels DeForest Kelley with delicious aplomb, while Simon Pegg is a note-perfect Scotty, and the rest of the front-line cast offers same-but-different renditions of their iconic roles. Eric Bana is also a hammy delight as the vengeful villain Nero, and Bruce Greenwood proves remarkable in his small role as Kirk’s mentor Christopher Pike. That’s not to ignore a startling opening cameo from none other than Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father George.
There is nothing phoned in here; the cast works in exceptional synergy to eke out every last drop of soul-stirring humanity from the script, which re-configures the Trek mythos in a unique way given its numerous prior forays into time-shifting hooey. There are certainly a few mainstream-baiting concessions to endure – the pointless Spock-Uhura (Zoe Saldana) romance, for one – but for almost its entirety, this new Trek tows the line of compromise shockingly well.
Without a whiff of calculated cynicism, Star Trek ’09 gives the series a much-needed adrenaline injection, while retaining the heart and pathos which has defined it since the beginning.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
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