I’ve never been a fan of the whole Star Trek franchise so the little small details and continuity gaffes that the usual Trek aficionado would detect from a mile away went completely over my head but as a fun, adventure movie, it was a blast. This is kind of a big thing for me since I’m pretty anti-Trek. I’ve never been a fan of any of the shows and I don’t even think I’ve ever seen any of the movies. At least, not a whole one. Maybe when I was little, but I don’t remember them at all. It’s always felt like a very cheesy, inclusive clique that you can never get into without watching the infinite amount of hours Federation history or taking a crash course in how to speak Klingon. That’s probably this movie’s greatest achievement. Opening the doors to a franchise that has long suffered because of that inclusive feeling.
This movie makes Star Trek mainstream again. Let’s not say cool. Don’t want to get Trek nerds’ hopes up. Let’s just stick with mainstream for now. It’s a respectable summer blockbuster with the usual whiz bang that goes with that but I never felt dulled into submission by the movie. I think that has a lot to do with the character work that went into the movie more than anything else and the relentless pace of it.
Having been a fan of J.J. Abrams previous work, most notably Alias and Lost, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Those shows worked so well because it had great, complex characters that the audience really got to know and relate to right from their very first hours. Even with all of the craziness that those shows tend to bring about where you might not know what’s going on, the characters are what tends to ground his shows and lets you keep with them. Abrams is able to do this well within the confines of a two hour movie as well. It’s a great talent of his.
And let’s face it; the story of this movie is pretty flimsy as well. As I understand it, the writer’s strike occurred fairly early in the film’s production process and so there weren’t as many rewrites as Abrams’ would have liked on it and this shows from time to time. Especially when it comes to the plot of the whole movie in itself. While it works good enough to get the characters to the points they need to be, its just not interesting at all in itself. Eric Bana’s Romulan character, Nero, is given little to do except act angry and stomp around for much of the film’s running time. An incredibly uninteresting villain with a whole planet destroyer plan for….some reason. There’s basically one scene of old Spock (a role reprised with a quiet dignity by Leonard Nimoy) doing the whole Vulcan mind meld thing with Kirk that explains basically the whole plot and motivation of the movie. And that’s about it.
Fortunately, Abrams never lets the movie dwell on these kind of small matters. It’s the rapid pacing and pure adrenaline of the movie that makes you forget that what’s going on kind of makes no sense and pretty flimsy at best. Not that there’s constant the constant action of a Michael Bay movie where the viewer is dulled into mindlessness but there’s always some great internal conflict or external conflict arising on the Enterprise and between crew members that you’re always drawn into events.
It never gives you time to think about the huge flaws in its story structure but rather just lets the viewer have fun with it. As much as that has to do with Abrams’ great visual style (excessive use of lens flares notwithstanding) and energetic direction, it’s the cast that really sells you on the reality of the movie and draws you in from the word go.
Chris Pine’s Kirk is kind of a smug dick during the run of the movie but in a good way. Pine makes him likable while still maintaining that smug jerkiness that I assume Shatner exuded magnificently during much of his career. Zachary Quinto’s Spock must come under even more scrutiny since he has to do it while the original is doing it right in the next room. While Nimoy’s Spock has a kind of zen coolness to him, Quinto’s Spock seemed more of a sociopath in keeping his feelings in check. And there are a few moments where he’s meant to let out and, well, any non-Trekkie starts trying to remember if Spock is supposed to be a good guy or not. Quinto’s role as Sylar on Heroes must be getting to him.
Karl Urban’s McCoy is a great counterpoint to the dueling Kirk-Spock relationship that drives much of the movie and plays the role to the hilt. Definitely the best out a great group. John Cho as Sulu doesn’t get too much to do but he does have one great action scene that was a lot of fun. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has a great sexual energy but unfortunately not much else to do in the movie. I spent much of the movie waiting for Simon Pegg to show up as Scotty and I wish he had more screen time but what’s there is great fun, with the exception of a needless travelling through a water tube gag that could’ve been done without. Anton Yelchin as Chekov took a bit of getting used to. His accent comes on a bit strongly towards the beginning but by the end I think he’s able to get a better handle on it and does admirably in the role. That’s what’s great about this cast. You wouldn’t mind seeing them in a Trek series of their own.
On the flip side, Eric Bana is given really nothing to do but pout and get angry with a half realized motivation to kill every sap in the Federation. The Romulans as a threat are so under realized it becomes kind of a joke. They have a giant ship that drills into planets and destroys them but that’s about it from them. They’re more of a macguffin to get the Enterprise crew together and, unfortunately, the movie makes that shamelessly clear.
And, of course, there’s the time travel aspect to it all which basically is there solely to set up the fact that this is an alternate Trek. This is Trek 2.0 in that it plays lip service to the fact that everything that’s ever happened in Trek happened, but now we are in an alternate reality of Trek where the viewer is now has a blank slate. This kind of creative maneuvering to get new and old fans together is pretty clever. (So clever it seems that they’ve basically moved this whole concept of an alternate reality over to the TV show Fringe which director JJ Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are producers.)
The film has its many flaws in addition to a paper thin story. While a great visually dazzling movie, I’m pretty sure my retinas got burned out towards the end with all of the lens flares flying around the screen. While it does give a great sense of otherworldliness and space action in the movie, it could’ve been toned down a bit for those who didn’t come into the theatre with sunglasses.
The film also seems to have a bit of distracting cameos which pulled me out of the action a few times. Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother? OK, then. Why not, I guess? Lady’s got to work. But what the hell is Tyler Perry doing as the head of a Federation council? I almost didn’t recognize him without granny panties. Yeah, sorry for that visual. I’m surprised he didn’t have the name changed to Tyler Perry’s Star Trek. It’s all about the branding. I’m pretty sure Perry’s powerful enough he can make that happen at this point. Hell, he got himself in this movie out of nowhere, for starters.
Also, I know there’s something in Trek lore about Green girls that Kirk beds in the original show but, man, the green girl that Kirk sleeps with in this movie is painted horribly green. Like, at the last minute they thought it would be a great inside fan thing but only had like an hour to get her green so they threw a bucket on and shot the scene. She looked weird, is what I’m getting at.
Anyways, those are all pretty small nitpicks since this a pretty fun, adventure movie. It has glaring flaws, mostly in the script, but Abrams and the cast pull it off gracefully. It looks like Paramount has a franchise it can rely on again in the Trek brand and as long as Abrams is piloting the ship and they get more time to clean up the scripts on the sequels (Yes, that is what these movies for. Let’s not hide it. They are franchise and sequel machines. Money in the bank.), I’ll be there with ticket in hand. And on opening weekend this time. Yup, I’m a Trekkie now. It’s official.
No, not really. But good movie though.