Director/Producer JJ Abrams has taken Star Trek where it hasn’t gone before by taking it back to where it all began. Surprise; he rebooted Star Trek while no one was looking, and not only did he do it well enough that many casual fans–let alone the general public–won’t even notice, he managed to do it in-continuity with the Trek that had gone before, thanks to a clever plot involving a time-traveling villain who actually succeeds in carrying out most of his goals before he can be stopped, forever altering the history of Star Trek that has been built up over the past four decades. From this point on, as the film makes painfully clear, anything goes.
While many Trekkies would no doubt jump up and cry for blood upon hearing news like that, the more shocking revelation is that in doing so, Abrams has revitalized the franchise and given the world a leaner, meaner Star Trek than ever, while still retaining the best qualities of the franchise–namely, its hopeful vision of the future, despite whatever adversity and horrors may befall us along the way. And oh, the horrors these characters endure in their lives during the course of this film.
From the moment the film opened with the appearance of Nero, the time-traveling Romulan madman played by Eric Bana, on the day of James T. Kirk’s birth, everything changed for the future of Star Trek. A gorgeous flyby of another starship, the U.S.S. Kelvin, was accompanied by barely distinct radio chatter and background noises that echoed the familiar sound effects of the original Star Trek. The opening scene introduced the viewers to George and Winona Kirk, parents of the future starship captain later played as an adult in the film by Chris Pine, and the sacrifice George made to save his wife and newborn son (not to mention the entire crew of the Kelvin) would not only change the course of Star Trek’s future history, it was also a deeply moving piece of cinema, made all the more poignant and touching by the film’s score.
Jumping quickly ahead, the film briefly touched on the rebellious youth of the now-fatherless Kirk, as well as the struggles faced by Spock, played by Zachary Quinto of Heroes fame, as he grew to maturity on the planet Vulcan. Spock’s story is just as fascinating and just as integral to the film as Kirk’s, as it focuses on both his struggle to be as true to his Vulcan heritage as he can by attempting to purge all emotion from his life despite the deep love he can barely contain for his human mother, as well as the prejudice that is inflicted upon him by other Vulcans throughout his life which ultimately drives him to shun Vulcan and join Starfleet, the paramilitary exploratory and defensive arm of the United Federation of Planets, of which both Earth and Vulcan are members.
Ultimately, events bring Kirk and Spock into conflict with one another after Kirk is convinced to join Starfleet. While a cadet at Starfleet Academy, Kirk runs afoul of Spock, who is serving as an instructor there. The two are forced by circumstances to work together aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, however, and the beginnings of the close friendship seen in the original Star Trek television series (and referred to during a special appearance by Leonard Nimoy as a 180-year-old Spock from Nero’s future) are put into place. Events quickly come to a head as Nero resurfaces after nearly three decades in waiting. He launches an attack that has rightly been described as an allegory of the September 11th attacks for the Star Trek universe, which was shocking in its scale and brutality not only to the characters in the film but to the audience as well.
Despite the horror of the events, at the end of the film, the characters still have hope for the future. That vision of hope for the future, where humanity will one day overcome its current struggles and rise up to greatness remains at the core of the film. In an era of terrorist attacks and nonstop doom and gloom in the news, that hopeful outlook is as refreshing and welcome now as it was in the 1960s when the original Star Trek aired on television.
This film is not to be missed. There were moments that nearly brought me to tears, moments where I was tempted to jump up and whoop with joy, and moments where I could only sit back in stunned shock. Along the way, numerous references to places, people, and events throughout the previous incarnations of Star Trek came up, many of which brought smiles to the fans and helped deepen the sense that we were looking through the window into another time that could be within our grasp. This is perhaps the best film of 2009, and easily the greatest Star Trek film of all time.