Prequels are so hot-- that 15 minutes at the start of the first Lord of the Rings movie where the armies of Orcs battled Elves and Men could have last for an hour and nobody would have cared. Star Trek began even before the career of its iconic leader, Capt. James T. Kirk, but you missed those first meetings: Kirk meeting Spock, McCoy and the others. Now you can see the genesis of Kirk from his birth through to his ascent to the Captain's chair. This is a story of the Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana), out for vengeance vs. Federation. But Kirk's nemesis is actually Spock. Spock is a sticklier for order and logic-- Kirk is a bad boy and rebel. Can the two bond? They're the ultimate odd couple.
In the original series, Kirk is a super student, "a pile of books with legs" who rises quickly through the ranks with Kirk-like style. JJ's Kirk is a lucky-- falling ass backwards into the First Officer job on Enterprise after being smuggled aboard. Just in time for the climax of the movie, Kirk is maneuvered into the Captain's seat. Along the way, Kirk hits on Uhura, meets the helmsman and navigator, Chekov and Sulu, and finds Scotty languishing on remote Delta Vega. Delta Vega-- an icy planet in the interstellar hinterland but close to the hot arid Vulcan. There is no big secret to the big surprise element: Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock. Future Spock comes back into the past in a key plot device that also allows the book of Star Trek to be rewritten from the start without getting lots of fan's underroos in a knot. The cast ranges from modest to strong: Captain Pike was in command of the ship in the original pilot. He is brought back as the captain of this Enterprise and is well played by Bruce Greenwood. Karl Urban is eerie as Doctor McCoy played by the late DeForrest Kelly. Yelchin delivers as good a performance as he can manage though weighed down with most of the bad lines in the movie. Cho does his own incarnation of Sulu-- different from his predecessor but still maintaining that spark. The two big roles: Zachary Quinto as Spock delivers a good performance but it's not the same. Chris Pine as Kirk really doesn't do it for me. Shatner has this careful talent for being an a-hole. He showed it off in his portrayal of Kirk. It carries a tenacity and daring that makes you root for his character. Chris Pine doesn't have it. Can he develop it? I don't know.
Plot holes, incongruities and bad science abound-- just like regular Trek. The look of JJ's Trek is good but where before everything looked sterile and cardboard, this Trek has a smooth ethereal bridge but the engineering section looks like a pipe factory and showroom. That mix of messy and smooth keeps taking you in and out of the esthetics of the future. Star Trek is low Q but high thrills. If you can surive the lapses and nitpicking elements, the story is captivating-- a roller coaster ride that almost makes you get up at the end and say, "Again! Again!"