I had no idea who Chris Pine was prior to Star Trek '09. I knew he had been in a few films, but nothing I had seen or remembered. When he was announced as the new Captain Kirk, I couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed. I mean, I remember rumors that Matt Damon was being considered for Kirk, and he even said he was open to the possibility. The point is, I had expected a "name" actor for the part.
It was the only way I could get behind re-casting the Original Series characters in a new series of movies. At the time, I had thought the magnificent seven were irreplaceable, and I'm sure other Trekkies thought the same. Now, thanks to the rise of Trek fan films which re-cast the TOS crew and other familiar Trek characters, it's not so sacrilegious an idea anymore.
Pine doesn't try to imitate Shatner, which I appreciate, though I do think he captures a portion of his spirit. His Kirk is somewhat broader in places; both Into Darkness and Beyond begin with Kirk on missions to alien planets that go comically awry. It's hard to imagine Shatner's Kirk in moments like that, but then, Pine is playing exclusively to a movie audience, not a television one. Expectations are different.
I think Pine is freer as Kirk to let his hair down, so to speak, which in itself is not so bad. Shatner's Kirk, by comparison, was wound a tad tighter. By that same token, though, he also had a weight and a gravitas that Pine has yet to fully achieve. Pine's Kirk still seems cut from the Indiana Jones cloth - again, not that that's bad. Just different.
Yes, it was a mistake to have nu-Kirk go from cadet to captain in one jump, one they more or less admitted in Darkness. If they had treated his story as more of an epic journey, perhaps over the course of three movies, we could've gotten a better handle on him not only as a character, but a heroic figure, similar to Original Kirk but slightly different. In fact, the idea of devoting a trilogy of films strictly to Kirk and his progression from Iowa farm boy to Starfleet officer to Enterprise captain might not have been a bad idea in retrospect. Unfortunately, we'll never know what that would've been like.
Pine is not Shatner. I think I've finally forgiven him for that fact. If Trek '09 had been a better movie, I probably would've accepted him more easily from the get-go - not that it was terrible. Indeed, I would rank it as sixth best of the films, after Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, First Contact and Beyond (though not necessarily in that order). Hopefully, nu-Kirk will continue to grow in subsequent films and Pine will stick around, for as long as he enjoys the part, anyway.