Vulcan nerve pinch? Check. Dr. "Bones" McCoy complaining "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a [fill in the blank]''? Check. Those warbly sonar pings the U.S.S. Enterprise was always making? You can hear them right in the opening scene of J.J. Abrams' exuberant, thrill-a-minute reboot of the venerable Star Trek franchise.
But what's this? BFFs James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the pointy-eared Spock (Zachary Quinto) trading evil eyes - and eventually right hooks - on the deck of the Enterprise? The leggy Uhura carrying on with one of the ship's high-ranking officers in a not-so-secret affair? A screw-up Kirk taking orders from someone else sitting in the Enterprise's captain's chair? And nary a Klingon in sight? This is not Star Trek!
Well, it is now - and that turns out to be a good thing. Abrams, along with screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, has dared to go where no man has gone before, tinkering with the mythology of Gene Roddenberry's original incarnation of the Star Trek brand without changing its essence. Abrams has also pulled off the near-impossible feat of making a prequel that fills in the backstory to characters we already know without making us squirm impatiently in our seats.
Abrams chooses imaginative moments from the characters' childhoods that ground their grown-up counterparts in something more tangible than iconic status: The boy Spock's taunting by school bullies, the teenaged Kirk's rebelliousness, or even Kirk's birth, which takes place under the most stressful of circumstances imaginable. There is considerable fun in discovering the hows and whys the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise came together, and each member has at least one moment in the spotlight, including the esteemed helmsman Sulu (played by John Cho), who gets to use his fencing skills in one of the film's most exciting action setpieces.
Decidedly more action-intensive than any Trek movie before it (and boasting some remarkable special effects), this new incarnation also boasts a plot that devotees and newbies alike can follow. Abrams gives the film such a contemporary feel (a Beastie Boys song in a Star Trek movie? Believe it) that you wouldn't know the movie was spun off from an old TV show if it wasn't impossible not to know it.
Only the scenes featuring Leonard Nimoy, who pops up to perform a mind meld that might as well have been called "Necessary Exposition,'' threaten to slow the picture down to the pace of the first, disastrous, Robert Wise-directed Star Trek movie, in which the characters seemed to do little other than stare out into space with awe.
How times have changed. The new Star Trek moves like lightning, looks fantastic and assembles a cast worthy of the mantle handed down by the original crew of the Enterprise. The movie also reminds you how much fun a science-fiction pop opera can be when its creators aren't bogged down with their own self-importance. Take note, George Lucas: This is how it's done.