Star Trek boldly went where no one had gone before: good

There are a gazillion reviews for the latest Star Trek movie out there. Here’s mine.

The place they went that no one had gone before? They made a good prequel. Virtually all revisits of classic things (c.f., the Transformers, George Lucas’ revisits to Star Wars and E.T., Batman) are terrible. This one is the best in a long, long line of movies and TV shows.

The actors are A+. Unlike George Lucas, who only directs in clichés and can’t direct humans to save his life, JJ Abrams knows how to elicit amazing performances from a cast of great actors. None of these actors is a marquee name like Patrick Stewart, but they deliver marquee performances. The major cast is Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, and Simon Pegg. You can tell that they studied the original actors some, but yet it’s still fresh, new, and worth seeing. It’s not a rehash.

Warning! Spoilers!

I’m not interested in writing a review where I can’t talk about what happened, so I’m going to give up various details. If you don’t want to read spoilers, look elsewhere.

Great Stuff

This is stuff that I think is really outstanding, unique and new to the Star Trek universe.

Spock is really nuanced

I’m not sure i like the fact taht he seems to have an achilles heel for emotion related to his mother, but it works. I especially like the way he gracefully gives up command, recognizing his own instability. It was dignified and played well.

Pike’s best line

One of the best lines in the whole film is when Pike challenges Kirk to join Starfleet. It goes something like this: “Your father was captain of a ship for 12 minutes. And in that time he saved the lives of 800 people, including your mother and you. I’d like to see you try to do better.” I thought that line was delivered brilliantly, and that it really reached out at Kirk and poked him where he was vulnerable.

All the good lines, none of the bad

All the lines you expect from the classic characters are here.

  • Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor not a”
  • Fascinating”
  • I’m givin her all she’s got, Captain

While there’s definitely a tribute to the classic lines, they don’t dwell on it. It’s not like watching a rerun on TV.

New depth for Bones

Dr. McCoy has a more nuanced character. He’s sorta pessimistic and gloomy, but in a way that’s not too far afield from the original character. I really like his attitude. It’s different, but it works. “Tell me something I don’t know!”

A new spin on Scotty

Scotty gets a sort of unsung hero geek makeover. He easily gets some of my favorite lines in the movie, and I’m already a big fan of Simon Pegg’s work (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). The Rolling Stone review suggested that he was one of the scene stealers, I think he was far and away the biggest scene stealer. If he was in the scene, you wanted to watch him. The unsung hero bit is good. It makes him out to be this sorta genius whose greatness is completely taken for granted and nobody realizes how unbelievable it is. Contrast this with, say, Data from the Next Generation, where all his intellectual prowess is totally expected. Scotty is taken for granted in a different way.

Brilliant casting

I’ll stop singing their praises soon. But I would watch this group of actors over and over again, assuming they were written and directed at the same quality.

The not-so-good

There were a few things I was not keen on.

Reboot

By invoking time-travel (which is already overused in the Star Trek universe—to the point of being taken for granted), they have rebooted a few things. Now Kirk never knew his father. Now Kirk was born in space fleeing a Romulan ship. Now Kirk and Spock started off hating each other and Spock was the designer of the unwinnable scenario at Starfleet Academy. Vulcan is now destroyed and they’re recolonizing some new planet. Now Spock and Uhura are getting it on after hours. I feel like this was a bit of a cop-out on the part of the writers. They needed room to write new and interesting stories for the characters and the whole Star Trek universe has gotten so built up with cruft. It does sorta ignore what has come before, though.

A little George Lucas

One of the things George Lucas does a lot in the various Star Wars movies, especially the prequel abominations, is pointless travel from one place to another that does not advance the plot or the characters. In Star Wars these are like special effects solos the way there are big multi-minute instrument solos in rock concerts. But I digress.

In Star Trek there is a point where Kirk is marooned on the moon overlooking Vulcan (Delta Vega?), which appears about as hospitable as Antarctica. The wise computer tells him to sit tight, help is on the way, but he seems to think that wandering the frozen wastes is a better idea. It’s not clear that he has a plan or even a vague idea which direction to go. I get the whole idea that he’s a “man of action” and I realize he can’t just sit still, but that looked like suicide.

So then he’s walking across the wastes. This is the point-A-to-point-B thing. Where’s he going? Why is he just walking? A big monster comes to get him. But the big monster is attacked by a bigger monster. This is right out of Episode I: The Phantom Menace when the main characters take a pointless journey from point A to point B “through the planet core.” Twice (not once, but twice) on that journey they are attacked by a big sea creature and then rescued when a bigger sea creature eats it.

Star Trek, unfortunately, borrows this gimmick and then gets it a bit wrong. I mean: here’s this Tyrannosaurus Delta Vega who was happy to attack the rabid polar bear monster because it looked like lunch. Then T-Rex sees a scrawny human and says “hey, I’d rather chase that wimpy thing that’s a third the size of polar bear.” This makes no sense. The bigger monster should have gone after the biggest lunch—the monster polar bear—and ignored Kirk. The scene also takes too long. It’s too many minutes out of the screen play and we don’t really advance the plot or learn something about the characters. I mean, Kirk isn’t even ingenious or particularly interesting in these scenes. He’s just running, tumbling, etc.

Finally, Kirk just happens to bump into time-travelling Spock. That’s just too coincidental. This movie could have cut 10 minutes out by having Spock find Kirk (having seen the pod crash land) or by having Kirk find Spock without the goofy monster chase. Something more believable would have made things move along faster and not strained believability so much.

Of course, when the two of them set out to go to the Starfleet outpost, they arrive there without incident.

Sudden rise to the top?

I like Star Trek, but I’m not a big enough fan to know if the Enterprise was always Starfleet’s flagship, or if that detail was added later. Moreover, I’m not sure I buy the timeline. Kirk graduates in 3 years from the academy when most do it in 4, and a couple amazing displays of leadership lands him the position of Captain on the Starfleet flagship? Seems unlikely. I got the feeling, in the original series, that Kirk served under Pike for more than a few hours. I think the timeline has been compressed a bit too much for believability.

Love interest for Spock?

I’m not sure I see the value or the believability in the Spock/Uhura thing. They may have gone a bit too far in the Spock-is-half-human department.

A little time travel never hurt anyone

In the end, we’re all OK. The timeline has been altered, there are two Spocks running around, but nobody seems the least bit troubled by this. Nobody’s studying it trying to put things right. Everyone’s just happy living in an altered timeline, with only the old Spock knowing both timelines. I think this is pretty cavalier on the part of every character who understands what has happened. (i.e., only a few are aware that time travel has occured). Both Spocks, Kirk, and presumably a few others know what has happened. But nobody’s worried and there’s no need to fix it.