“Star Trek” has been lying on the emergency room table for a good 10 years now, finally flat-lining with the ultra-flop “Nemesis” back in 2003, and then being confirmed dead when the pitiable TV series “Enterprise” was cancelled in 2005. After having overcome cancellation, diminishing box office returns, and an increasingly maligned mythology onl taken seriously by hardcore fanboys, “Star Trek” looked like it had finally breathed its last Enter JJ Abrams, who has retooled, rebooted, and re-energized this franchise into a slick, hip, action-packed and character-driven summer blockbuster that will bring in much-needed new fans and please plenty of hard-to-satisfy Trekkies. The hardcore fans won’t be happy, but then again, are they ever?
The Plot in 13 Words
The Enterprise must once again save the planet in two hours, oh no!
Right from the first scene, Abrams proves he knows Trek, by giving us a banquet of exploding, slam-bang action that the series has never seen before – a massive ship with huge metallic claws emerges from the maw of a gaping black hole vortex, captained by the Romulan Nero, who demands the awaiting starship USS Kelvin of Spock’s whereabouts. Kelvin’s captain is one Kirk, a Kirk who doesn’t know who Spock is, and after a crackling, exploding space battle, they quickly find they are no match for the Romulan vessel. Kirk sacrifices himself by sending the ship hurtling towards the vessel after escape pods have been jettisoned, one of them containing his wife in labor and his son. Before the ship crashes into Nero’s, he has time to hear his new son’s name: James T. Kirk.
“I dare you to do better.”
Over the next forty minutes or so the movie follows Kirk in his rebellious youth as he wastes away most of his life getting in bar fights and driving cars off cliffs. Captain Pike, who was an officer aboard the Kelvin, is now captain of the Enterprise, and he gives a stirring destiny speech to Kirk. “Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved 800 lives. I dare you to do better.” This is a strong, solid set-up for Kirk’s character and provides believable motivation for him to enlist in Starfleet. Chris Pine gives Kirk a snide, cocky, self-assured gait and look that slowly hardens into confident experience tempered by just a dash of humility. There’s a bit of the Shat visible in there, too, but it’s not an imitation; it’s its own performance and succeeds on its own right. Not to mention his chemistry with Zachary Quinto as Spock, a relationship crucial to the franchise and crippling to the movie if it had chosen the wrong guys to play these two icons.
They didn’t. Just like everyone knew he would, Quinto (from TV’s Heroes) channels the cold, logical-yet-emotional face of Spock nigh-on perfectly. He’s a bit more rough around the edges here; an occasional smile even sneaks in, and he has more outbursts in the movie than Spock had in all six of the original ones. However, it makes much more sense this way; we first see Spock in a tender and funny scene at around age eight, as he is taunted, logically of course, by some older Vulcan boys about being half-human. It’s a dichotomy that Spock has to struggle with his whole life, and it makes sense that he wouldn’t have the wisdom, and completely emotionless expression down quite yet. The next few movies in the franchise will be the true test of Quinto’s skills. Not that they aren’t on excellent display here, along with the rest of the cast, all working together in humming harmony even if there are a few hiccups, which can easily be forgiven, this being basically the first entry in the franchise.
Meet the crew
Let’s begin with Karl Urban as McCoy, who comes closer to an actual impression of the original actor than anybody else. The classic Bones drawl is there, and a pleasant surprise is that the old Bones-Spock banter is back too. Zoe Saldana as Uhura is hot, young, and sexy, and a pretty good pick for a fresh-out-of-the-academy Uhura. She’s a much stronger character here than she was in the original series, and she has more sass and pizzazz too. She can’t quite pin down the regal yet smokin’ hot thing Uhura had going on in her too-short Starfleet uniform, though. John Cho (yes, stoner Harold) is Sulu, a fencing champ and rookie pilot of the Enterprise. With what little screen time he’s given, Cho proves he can play action drama just as well as stoner comedy. Anton Yelchin plays a young, blubbering, just barely out-of-his-teens Pavel Chekov, but he comes too close to annoying for comfort sometimes, and his character seems only to rely on how many times he can make his accent seem funny. Then there’s Simon Pegg acting very Simon Pegg-y as the ship’s engineer, Scotty, in this universe’s scenario a Starfleet officer assigned to some off-world barren planet as an engineer. Pegg’s hard not to like, though, and his take on Scotty is fresh and different, while still managing to retain some of the charm that made James Doohan’s role so iconic.
Back to the future again…?
The whole plot revolves a well-worn Trek device: time travel. Since most everything else about the movie manages to break all that’s old and dreary about the franchise into a fresh new light, it’s odd that this obviously over-used plot device should be what Abrams chose to re-ignite Star Trek into the next generation – until you see the way it’s used in the movie. Without giving anything away, Abrams manages to twist the conventional into something new and surprising that manages, in many ways, to have its cake and eat it too. The one other glaring weakness of the film is the villain – a one-dimensional angry sociopath valiantly played by Eric Bana. His bad character development him more of a placeholder than an actual threatening figure, but that’s a small complaining, as he provides just enough awe and menace and to serve as a fearsome villain for one movie.
What I Thought
Combined with the acting, character development, and special effects, the script works in balancing out the above weaknesses with yet more Trekkie wealth; the movie is peppered with a couple dozen references to Trek history, from the time travel discussion between Spock and Bones in The Voyage Home, to Kirk and Kahn’s classic conflict, to a red suit being the first to go up in flames on an away mission. The movie never gets too in-jokey enough to alienate newcomers – the references are worked into the storyline so that they’re just part of the world, not glaring winks. In the end, it’s an extremely clever movie that is exactly what this franchise needs to get back on its feet – a movie that loves its predecessors just as much as its fans do, but knows that in order to honor them, changes must be made, and drastic ones. This installment easily ranks in the top three or four of the series, and hopefully this solid platform will be a good jumping off point for Abrams to really blow our minds in the next flick. It used to be that if you suggested to someone that you go see the latest Star Trek, they’d look at you like you were some kind of twisted geek and ask you on which couch in your mom’s basement you slept. (The green one.) The change that they’ve put Star Trek through is staggering, and even more so when you realize how much it still feels like the same crew, flying that same starship, disappearing into that same pinpoint of light in the night sky, a voice floating over the stars, ethereally familiar and yet heralding a whole new era. “Space. The final frontier…”
I give it an 8/10.
– THOMAS ANDERSON
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