It only took two weeks of summer to get to the good stuff, as J.J. Abrams' Star Trek for non-Trekkies has arrived, and it is quite a spectacle. Exciting action and an entertaining, swift screenplay are capped by stunning visual effects in what can only be described as the first blockbuster Star Trek of the franchise. It isn't perfect, but it is one of those movies I will be going to see again in theaters- and those don't come along very often.
As an introduction, I am a Star Trek fan. I am not, however, a Trekkie. I don't dress up, I don't know the science behind warp drive and I can't speak Klingon. I make fun of Trekkies, but I also have enjoyed all of the television series save for "Enterprise" and most of the movies. I watch both Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country at least twice a year, and I am slugging my way through the original series, of which I haven't seen every episode.
So, with that out of the way, I had my reservations along with everyone else when it was announced that Star Trek was going to be remade with new cast members for some of the most recognizable characters in entertainment history. But, as a movie buff, I was also excited, because it was clear that Star Trek had been stuck in a short-sided mindset for way too long, resulting in such bland series as "Enterprise" and box office failures like Nemesis. And with J.J. Abrams, the man behind Mission: Impossible III, one of the most underrated films of the last decade, and "Lost," one of the best television shows ever conceived, directing the movie, I knew I was in store for something good.
And Star Trek is good. Really good. Not every non-Trek fan will like it, but a lot more will than they think. Abrams, a self-described Star Wars fan (read: not a Trek fan), has given the franchise the breath of fresh air it so desperately needed. I love many of the previous movies, but they have generally suffered from low budgets and rather two-dimensional visuals; they've been made for Trek fans without the need to capture the attention of the general moviegoer. This Star Trek is different. It's big. It's glitzy. It's action-packed. And it's funny, too. The visuals are absolutely amazing, giving Star Trek its first real chance to compete with Star Wars when it comes to action. Abrams dives into the action, almost to a fault, as ships are torn apart, worlds are destroyed and our heroes are bloodied in fist-to-fist combat. The movie isn't mindless, but it moves along with the pace and excitement of a summer blockbuster - exactly what Paramount wants it to be. For the first time ever, it is a major box office threat. Or, at the very least, it is setting up its sequel - which has already been approved by the top brass - to be a box office behemoth.
Star Trek takes us back to the beginning, back to before the first episode of the original series and shows how Kirk became a captain, how he met Spock and Bones and everyone else. We see Kirk at his birth and how his father dies a valiant but horrible death. We see Kirk as a rebellious youth (I'm sorry, but was the car chase seen in the previews really necessary?) with an aptitude for risk - and carelessness. And we get to see the other characters before their chiseled perfection, including Spock, who is still torn between his Vulcan logic and human emotions. In other words, the movie gives a vibrancy to a set of characters that most non-Trek moviegoers long since shrugged off as bland and Trek-like. For those of us who have grown up with Star Trek, we know that's not the case, but this return to basics and beyond - a strategy that has worked thus far for franchises such as Batman and James Bond - is a great way to introduce new people to the world of Star Trek.
The movie's plot is in many ways non-important, and yet it isn't a throwaway plot, either. Without giving too much away, Star Trek is about an alien named Nero (Eric Bana) who, after a devastating event in the future, has traveled back in time to unleash genocide upon the Federation and enact revenge on a young, confused Spock for something he has yet to do. In the scheme of things, it's perfectly good for such a reboot, and yet disappointingly simple when compared to storylines in Khan or Undiscovered Country. Bana is good in his role as the ruthless villain, yet limited by what is ultimately a forgettable character; there's little back story to explain his motivations, and for a Romulan, he seems a bit too human for his own good.
There are other flaws with the movie, some of which may be jarring to Trek fans. As I explained earlier, I am not a Trekkie, but there were a few things that did bother me and that I'm guessing bothered others more. This may be a good time to make note of upcoming spoilers, for this paragraph only. The destruction of a particular planet took me off guard and is sure to infuriate some diehards. The same could have been accomplished without such a shocking blow. The movie's reliance on time travel is disconcerting as well; Star Trek has dealt with time travel so many times before it's become a bit cliché, and it just sets itself to be overly convoluted and over-the-top. The time travel element is both central to the story and to give Abrams an out for many of the Trek no-no's he commits, but I would have loved to see a film that involved no such thing. Time travel also allows Leonard Nimoy to reprise his role as Spock for a surprisingly large amount of screen time, and while it's nice to see him back in the role, I actually found him distracting after a while. He isn't quite the Spock we remember, and he serves as a vessel to explain things quickly so that the young actors don't have to figure out everything out on their own. This, in my opinion, is a cop-out; this is a new Trek with new actors, and the way Nimoy is written into the picture is just a little heavy handed.
But those are nitpicks for the most part. In general, Star Trek is thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. The cast, the biggest question mark in the production, holds its own with flying colors. For the most part, they don't try to mimic the original cast, and that's a good thing; they make the characters their own, at least to a degree. Chris Pine plays a good Kirk, even if he never really captures that Kirk swagger. Zachary Quinto looks and sounds much like Nimoy did back in the day. The rest of the cast, including Bruce Greenwood, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana (can you say hot?), Simon Pegg, John Cho and Anton Yelchin also turn in strong performances.
More importantly, the screenplay is well done and surprisingly funny. Star Trek is a well-written film full of drama, jokes and legitimately stellar moments. Abrams complements the screenplay with a very fluid and dynamic directing style, bringing Star Trek to life like never before. He may go over the top on sun flares (now you'll notice them, too), but otherwise the picture looks and feels great.
Star Trek is not a movie without its flaws, but it was impossible for this movie to escape without being picked apart. Regardless, it is an exciting, entertaining action film that will appeal to general audiences and guarantee many more Star Trek movies to come.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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