The new Star Trek breaks the long-standing “even numbered rule” of the film series as it turns all the knobs to 11. It’s a solid reboot of a long-dormant franchise beloved by many. While it probably won’t spark interest among those who have shunned Star Trek in the past, it’ll certainly recruit plenty of new, young cadets.
Star Trek Begins
The first decade of the 21st century can be summed up as new beginnings all around.
Taking inventory of the past few years at the movies, James Bond was resurrected as a bitter, rough-and-tumble super-spy outcast; Batman went deeper as the Dark Knight; Superman tried to take flight with a cherry-picked, somber tale; and even Sherlock Holmes is getting a new lease at 221B Baker St. later this year. On the small screen, a heavy-handed, gender-swapping retelling of Battlestar Galactica met with wild success.
Now the original Star Trek crew of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and friends get their chance to take a new spin on their first adventure together.
What was old is new again and leading the charge in this particular case is a superb cast.
The familiar three lead characters are brought to life by three relatively unknown (for the time being) actors, all in top-notch form and game for whatever lies ahead. Kirk (Chris Pine, Bottle Shock), Spock (Zachary Quinto, TV’s Heroes and 24) and Dr. Bones McCoy (Karl Urban, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) still retain many of the tics and general mannerisms of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, respectively. Thankfully, Pine pulls off the new Kirk without delving into parody and steers clear of mimicking Shatner’s kitschy quirks.
In terms of casting surprises, the biggest one is the villain. Eric Bana (Munich) finally plays a full-blown heavy and he’s barely recognizable as the bald, tattooed Romulan Capt. Nero. Another is the retooling of Scotty, the engineer made famous by James Doohan and now reconfigured by the much slimmer Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead).
And, in keeping with the more modern mentality behind the new Bond and Batman, the storytelling here is much more aggressive than in the Star Trek adventures of yore. In short, by starting over, director J.J. Abrams (TV’s Alias and Lost) has crafted a standalone adventure that requires no knowledge whatsoever of where the series has gone before.
Capt. Nero seeks vengeance on Spock, all Vulcans and all humanity following the super nova-induced destruction of his home planet, Romulus. It’s an event Spock failed to avert, arriving on the scene scant milli-moments too late.
The adventure revolves around multiple manipulations of time via man-made (or Romulan-made) black holes. Thinking too much about the feasibility and intricacies of the pseudo-science behind the story would dilute the fun. In some respects, the less one knows about the Star Trek legacy, the better.
The Good Asshole
The use of red matter, black holes, super novas and alternate realities paves the way for plenty of rejiggering of the Trek mythos. Most of the time these plot devices lead to some cool new takes on the characters, particularly in establishing the “new” James T. Kirk. One heck of a wild child; he’s an adrenaline junkie who, at the tender age of ten or so, speed races through the open spaces of Iowa. In conjunction with this escapade, it’s comforting to note — according to this vision of the 23rd century — hard rock and Nokia will still be around.
This Kirk’s father was killed while taking a stand against the Romulans, sending his crew — and pregnant wife — to safety. Winona Kirk gives birth to James Tiberius only moments before his father, George, goes down in the conflict. It’s a sequence that proves one thing: In space, no one can hear you scream. Not even during childbirth.
A fatherless child, young Kirk is a genius living the life of a low-level repeat offender. It’s a point brought to his attention by Capt. Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood, National Treasure: Book of Secrets). Inspired to a higher calling, Kirk — and his ego — has a hard time fitting in with Starfleet regulations much like James Bond’s a loose canon in MI6.
While exploring the ladies-man aspect of Kirk, the good asshole does indeed get to bare his chest during a bedroom scene involving a green-skinned chick and Cadet Uhura (Zoe Saldana, Drumline). That makes for another tie-in to classic Trek’s The Menagerie, which brought to bear a much different storyline regarding Capt. Pike’s fate.
A Great Disturbance
But not everything’s perfect in this new vision and version.
The most disturbing aspect is the drab, emotionless annihilation of two entire Star Trek races, the Romulans and the Vulcans. It’s not clear how many Romulans will still roam this new Trek universe, but only 10,000 Vulcans reportedly survive.
Spock, effectively a member of an endangered species, is naturally a hard man to read given his Vulcan/human heritage. But the lack of gravitas surrounding the wiping out of billions upon billions of people, even with Leonard Nimoy making a fairly poignant cameo, comes across as an opportunity lost. Of course, maybe it’ll simply be fodder for another installment, much like Spock’s death in II led to his resurrection in III.
In Star Wars, an entire universe was painted with the broad strokes of good and evil. In Star Trek, the deeper humanistic themes present in its 40-some-odd-years of history are undermined by the detached, trivial handling of the destruction. Possibly in the name of an affordable budget, there are no scenes of mass hysteria. Only a cluster of Vulcan elders are shown as they’re rescued from impending doom.
Back to the Future
And there’s also a surprisingly generic score by Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles). Aside from a few stray measures from the themes written by Jerry Goldsmith, it’s not until the very end when Alexander Courage’s original theme makes a jarringly cheesy return.
Oftentimes, the CGI-heavy effects are also fairly generic. But there are still some sequences, particularly one involving a frenetically-paced skydiving mission, that elevate this Trek far above the bulk of its predecessors.
Those bits of bellyaching aside and all things considered, it’s good to leave so much of the Trek drek that has disgraced the screen ( The Final Frontier comes painfully to mind) in the past and look forward to new adventures with this revitalized — and familiar, likable — crew.