This movie really did blow my doors off. I was pumped to begin with, but I was surprised by quite how much J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise really did satisfy me.
I was on the fence about this movie when I heard about it. The first trailer did nothing for me. But then the second trailer, with its grandiose music pounding home the Star Trek mythology, really did get me excited. I couldn’t wait to see the big moments of character introduction and to hear iconic lines of Star Trek dialogue being uttered.
Abrams fulfilled all of my expectations and took things a little farther. After watching the films that featured the original crew as well as the Next Generation crew, I was expecting something that was very talky with a few well choreographed space battles in there for the price of admission. The other films were bogged down by scientific dialogue and sometimes heavy handed themes. While all of these things are quintessentially Star Trek, they make an audience member dubious about the level of excitement a new film will possess.
God, was I surprised. This film hums along at a ginger pace, takes no prisoners, and really gives you your money’s worth. Is it silly and sometimes appallingly implausible? Absolutely, but that goes with the territory in Star Trek; you’re doing yourself a favor if you go with the flow, and the flow in this movie is so fast that a moment’s thought could land you light years behind everyone else.
The film is an origin story of the original crew where the personalities we have come to love so much first take shape. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a brash young hot rod whose father died saving hundreds of lives in a star battle and has grown up in the shadow of that legend. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is half-human, half-Vulcan, torn between a logical mind and a compassionate heart.
The story follows the two of them from childhood up to their first adventure (in this version) onboard the starship Enterprise, then under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Kirk has been placed on academic probation at Starfleet Academy, but is snuck on the ship by Bones McCoy (Karl Urban), the gruff Southern doctor who, don’t worry, will utter one of his trademark lines in the course of the film.
We also meet Sulu (John Cho), the ship’s jittery pilot, and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), the diminutive officer with the thick Eastern European accent. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the sexy communications officer with eyes for Spock despite Kirk’s bruised ego, is around as well, more as eye candy than anything else.
(Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
The film’s plot centers on the Enterprise‘s faceoff against Captain Nero (Eric Bana), the leader of a displaced Romulan starship whose planet was destroyed before his ship was sucked into a black hole and taken back in time. He blames the Federation for standing by and allowing this destruction to happen, and has vowed vengeance against all Federation planets. Nero attributes his planet’s destruction to an older Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who was unable to save Romulus from being swallowed by the fires of a supernova. Spock came through the same time portal that Nero’s ship did and, after being captured by the vengeful Romulan, has been marooned in what is now an alternate timeline.
If that makes sense to you, then boy are you smart. I’m still sifting through the rubble that is the plot of this new Star Trek, and I have to say I admire Abrams and his screenwriters, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, for choices that could be so easily dismissed as ridiculous. I thought they were kind of fun, and enlivened a franchise that, at another time, might have felt the need to talk the plot away instead of simply be carried off on the wave of it.
In allowing themselves this freedom, they tell an origin story that doesn’t stop to contain silly moments of homage, but inserts them in passing and moves on. Characters are introduced but not lingered on. Iconic lines are uttered in the thick of action so they don’t draw too much attention to themselves. This movie is obviously made to be palatable for Star Trek fans, but is such a blast that the un-initiated will have no problem going along for the ride.
And what a ride it is, with the energy and excitement springing full force from the performances. Chris Pine is the perfect choice for a young Kirk; he has the same energy, arrogance, and swagger of William Shatner but, more importantly, the same all-or-nothing audacity that makes him rock in a space battle. Yelchin and Cho have fun with their roles without chewing scenery, and Simon Pegg, who pops up late in the film as Scotty, is well worth the wait as he steals every scene he is in.
Spock provides the emotional center of the film, as his human/Vulcan identity crisis is magnified when his home planet is destroyed by Nero. Zachary Quinto is all over the map with this character–he simply doesn’t convey the correct tone for a being that is steeped in logic and avoiding emotional connection. His humanity comes through too prominently. The same can be said, surprisingly, for old Leonard Nimoy, who seems to have had such a layoff from playing Spock that he isn’t quite sure how to get back to basics.
The visual effects in this movie will jack your heart rate. From the first space battle where Kirk’s papa buys the farm to the last sequence where Kirk tries to pull the Enterprise out of a black hole, you are on the edge of your seat. Abrams had the right idea for this movie; while Star Trek may have a more contemplative, thoughtful side, the emphasis here is on popcorn entertainment. While he succeeds in portraying some powerful moments (Kirk and Spock going mano-a-mano on the bridge is classic), the ultimate result is something purely slam bang. I’m looking forward to seeing this crew together on their next adventure. Maybe at that point they will engage in some discourse about the meaning of life and the nature of God and the universe and all that. This time out though, I’m glad they were up for a good time, as I was.