For a TV show that had such a brief run, and which has been the subject of so much mockery, Star Trek has lived long and prospered. For some four decades, various iterations of Star Trek have come and gone, the best of them retaining the optimistic, inclusive, multicultural, cerebral, exploratory, bright and shiny future spirit of Gene Roddenberry's original. Director J.J. Abrams (Lost) reimagines the original series and its characters, boldly going back to the future in Star Trek. This is an origin story, but with a very neat twist: time travel. Time travel is nothing new in the Star Trek universe, but it is here ingeniously deployed to reinvent familiar characters and storylines in a way that would be objectionable only to the most orthodox *Trek* constructionists. And they'd be missing all the fun. Losties can take note: Abrams does not subscribe to the boring time travel orthodoxy that the past cannot be changed. What fun is time travel if you can't change the past? (Hey J.J., while you're at it, could you make it so that Data doesn't die at the end of Star Trek: Nemesis? I'm still kinda bitter about that.)
Time travel paradoxes aside, the movie reinvents the pasts (and futures) of Trek antagonists/protagonists/odd couple James Tiberius Kirk and Spock, with an assist from a bitter and vengeful Romulan renegade named Nero (Eric Bana). Red matter, black holes, planetary destruction and a slakeless thirst for revenge have Nero wandering time and space in search of Spock who, as the story begins, is a hotheaded young geek rebel trying to reconcile his emotional human half and his coolly logical Vulcan half. Meanwhile, Kirk is born in the middle of a celestial battle, during which his father is killed by Nero. He grows up to hotrod around Iowa and get in bar brawls with snooty Starfleet types. Cocky Kirk (Chris Pine) and cerebral Spock (Zachary Quinto) lock horns at Starfleet Academy, where they once again embody the rationality vs. emotionality, body vs. mind, thought vs. action, hot vs. cold antagonism that makes them, together, the very soul of Star Trek, and a source of both great conflict and great humor. They complete each other.
The gang's all there too: Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) is a crazy-eyed paranoid medicine man with little faith in the miracle of space travel; Uhura (Zoë Saldana) is a young hottie who gives Kirk the cold shoulder; Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) still has that thick Russian accent; Sulu (John Cho) is now a cool warrior; and engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg, brilliantly cast) is still the funny Scottish fella who's a whiz with a transporter. There's an ill-fated Ensign Redshirt here and there too. And there's some Nimoy fella who's pretty good as Spock Prime, an old clock watcher who offers some pearls of wisdom to young Kirk and Spock. Abrams, and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who also collaborated on the *Transformers* reboot), are not slaves to the sacred text of Star Trek, and liberally reimagine the characters within their altered, almost-anything-goes universe, while keeping them just familiar enough that the tweaks both make sense and are a lot of fun. Pine and Quinto are especially good at evoking their original series progenitors (which they now, in narrative and space-time terms, predate), while making the characters, shaped and altered by changes in their future-pasts, completely their own. Pine's devilish performance is briskly funny, and includes subtle hints of the not-so-subtle Shatner, but without the goofy excesses of the elder Kirk, and with a youthful vigor and rawness that makes some sense (finally) of original Kirk's somewhat implausible universal sex appeal.
The story is unexpectedly poignant at several points, and frequently quite funny, in keeping with a general leaning towards feeling over rationality (you win *this* round, Kirk!). At the heart of Star Trek is a complex tale of parents and children, of lost boys and heroic fathers and father figures, (and heroic and lost mothers too) and blackening, character-twisting grief that works all the Greek tragedy angles. The father-son thing gets especially complicated in relation to Spock and Spock Prime, with a kind of noodle-cooking, gasket-blowing entanglement of the younger-elder/father-son/before-after roles.
Times have changed not just for Spock and company, but for the science of science fiction too, and Abrams deploys some cool special effects and riveting action that are nicely balanced by the fast-talking philosophical and techno chatter. Star Trek whizzes along at warp speed, and packs a whole lot of entertainment into its alternately light (and enlightened) and apocalyptically dark plot. Welcome back to the future.