By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
Of all the recent reinventions of iconic movie franchises — notably Batman and James Bond — Star Trek has the most to gain since it lost respect among fans and never got any from people like me.
I'm a heathen who never watched a Star Trek flick until 1994's Generations, and that was only because I was working. Paraphrasing Groucho Marx, I would never belong to any club that would have Trekkers as members. I was telling them to get a life long before William Shatner said it in jest (maybe) on Saturday Night Live.
And I'm here to tell you that director J.J. Abrams has made a believer of me. The new, vastly improved Star Trek moves at warp speed through a marvelously reinvented sci-fi franchise, reverent to the past and firmly entrenched in the now.
In other words, it's younger and louder than the TV show and its spinoffs. But it also cleverly resurrects Gene Roddenberry's characters in ways at once familiar — even heathens couldn't avoid knowing Star Trek basics — and revelatory.
Do you know that James Tiberus Kirk was literally born under fire, that Uhura kissed another crewmate before him, or how "Bones" McCoy got his nickname? Probably not. Those are samples of the imaginative tidbits that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman drop into the story, and Abrams enlivens. There's a sense of discovery here for everyone, regardless of previous Star Trek knowledge.
But the movie's grandest stroke is its casting, with both younger versions of the bulwarks of the USS Enterprise crew immediately recognizable.
Chris Pine (Bottle Shock) plays Kirk as an impulsive, intrepid Casanova, cagily informed by Shatner's signature role, revealing rough spots to be smoothed in a future that Trekkers have seen. The same goes for Zachary Quinto's Spock, finding the median between Vulcan pragmatism and human emotion that Leonard Nimoy deftly balanced more than 40 years ago.
It's no secret now that Nimoy appears in Star Trek, although much longer and more importantly than fans could hope. The details are part of the movie's serpentine structure — that darned time-space continuum again — so no spoilers here. But the fact that Nimoy's Spock mocks the time-space continuum is evidence of Abrams' occasional yet respectful breaks from tradition.
I would prefer a more straightforward villain than Eric Bana's Nero, whose vengeful scheme is the worst victim of screenplay. At times, Abrams seems unsure of how to approach this behemoth, with abrupt shifts between comedy, action and dramatic conscience. Everything is done well — Karl Urban ("Bones") and Simon Pegg ("Scotty") offer fine comic relief after pulse-quickening battles — but aren't always snug fits.
Star Trek zips along energetically enough to make those quibbles easy to overlook. It's summer movie season, after all. But like Iron Man last year, the rest of the season's contenders have a tough act to follow. Abrams' movie inspires me to boldly go where I never thought I would: back for seconds.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 8893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.