May 7, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long: Film Review: 'Star Trek' GRADE: B+

'Star Trek' prequel speeds through time with humor and a great young cast

From left: Chekov (Anton Yelchin), James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Mr. Scott (Simon Pegg), Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zo Saldana) (Industrial Light & Magic)

Boldly going where so many have gone before, director J.J. Abrams has, against all odds, managed to reinvent and re-energize the previously stretched "Star Trek" universe, making a film that should appeal to longtime Trekkies, sci-fi neophytes and pretty much anybody who likes a good action flick.

Indeed, the rebooted "Star Trek" is the first great blockbuster space yarn of the 21st century (even the most avid fans of 2005's "Serenity" have to admit it was no blockbuster), a superbly cast, humor-filled, whiz-bang high-tech affair that races forward right from the start while still managing to reintroduce all its familiar characters and offer them enough room to breathe.

The success of the casting cannot be stressed enough. Abrams reached out to a group of simmering talents who have the chops and enthusiasm to bring new life and energy to beloved characters who had grown musty. From John Cho's Sulu to Anton Yelchin's Chekov, Karl Urban's surprising Leonard "Bones" McCoy to Simon Pegg's Scotty, the reinterpretations are just dead on.

The big questions, of course, were comparative unknowns Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock and Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk. Consider those questions answered -- both actors rock.

Yes, Spock can rock.

This "Star Trek" is a prequel to all other "Treks," beginning with Kirk's birth and subsequent bad-boy behavior. Without giving away too much, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman establish immediately that yes, this is the "Trek" reality, but it's not quite the same reality, and the tweaks along the way become part of the fun.

When the rambunctious young Kirk runs into Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) in a bar, he accepts his challenge to join Starfleet. A few years later, a dangerous Romulan (Eric Bana) declares war on pretty much everything, and all the young cadets take to the sky.

And thus most of the youngsters end up on the Starship Enterprise. What follows is a warp-like series of space opera encounters that lead to Kirk and Spock -- who start out none too friendly -- having to save the world, of course.

The action is great -- Sulu and Kirk battling baddies on a giant drill floating in the sky, Kirk running from a bizarre snow monster, Spock whipping through space in a hopped-up fighter ship -- but as always it's the characters who sell "Star Trek."

Kirk is one giant id of a kid, and the little-known Pine brings a foolish brashness to the character that sets up the man to come. And Spock's intellectual separation is given major attention in this story, with Quinto edging him ever closer to his human side.

The addition of a shipboard romance, the twitchy curly haired brilliance Yelchin brings to Chekov, the inclusion of "Trek" culture references, the presence of Leonard Nimoy in a more-than-cameo capacity: It all works.

If you've never seen "Star Trek" before... well, who are you? But this is the place to start. The merits of most of the previous films are debatable ("Wrath of Khan" still stands out), the impact of the original TV series is indisputable.

But this "Star Trek" manages to update the franchise while also returning to its roots. And it feels so totally 2009 -- young, modern and full of energy. May this crew live long and prosper.

tlong@detnews.com">tlong@detnews.com (313) 222-8879

'Star Trek' by the numbers

1966: The year "Star Trek" premiered on NBC
79:
The number of episodes in the original "Star Trek" series
14: Emmy nominations earned by the original series, including three supporting actor nods for Leonard Nimoy
6: Number of subsequent "Star Trek" TV series
10: Number of previous "Star Trek" films
60 million: Dollar cost of the last Trek film, 2002's "Nemesis," which returned $43 million
0: Times the line "Beam me up, Scotty" was used in the original "Trek" series

Eric Bana plays a Romulan who declares war on almost everything. (Industrial Light and Magic)
Zachary Quinto (Industrial Light and Magic)
"Star Trek" gives new life to the franchise while staying true ... (Industrial Light and Magic)