Unless you live under a rock, on an island with no power, or don’t care, you are aware that there’s an 11th feature film out today based on Gene Roddenberry’s venerable creation Star Trek. In this reboot version, director J.J. Abrams, writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and the rest of the team have managed to take a relatively tired franchise and inject it not only with new life, but with a new found sense of purpose as well. This purpose? To entertain, have fun and maybe even teach us a little something along the way. On all counts this film succeeds admirably.
One of the advertising tag lines for this new Star Trek reads “This is not your father’s Star Trek.” That pretty much sums up how this particular film fits into the established Star Trek universe. As in, it doesn’t. But that’s okay because this movie delivers and makes you almost forget the past and embrace this new, shiny reality for all its worth — lens flares and all. In short, this new, improved Star Trek works — and works well.
Not only is Star Trek entertaining, which it most certainly is, its great fun and satisfying on many levels and in ways few movies are these days. For long time fans of the Star Trek franchise such as myself (I started with the original series), we get to see our favorite, and very familiar, characters as they develop the friendships and relationships that will sustain them and help propel them into the future. The characters are introduced and evolve in familiar, yet new and unique, ways throughout the film as we are taken on a journey and spun off in new directions that offer endless story possibilities.
I was a bit concerned how they were going to get away with some of the obvious changes made to the established history of Star Trek. Fortunately, the method chosen works, even though it rests fundamentally on a somewhat tired time travel conceit. Still, even with that, which is explained just enough and in a very “Trek” way, you forgive the film its little flaws because in the end, its fast paced, action-oriented, humorous, exciting style engulf you and help you forget, and forgive, the film’s problems.
Is Star Trek a perfect film? No, of course not. With stories that turn on a plot contrivance with so many possible problems like time travel, this movie has a few holes large enough to fly a starship through. Does that matter? Not at all. The movie is going along with such pacing, energy and exuberance that you barely notice and just enjoy the ride.
The cast is near perfect and not only evokes their celebrated namesakes but also bring new dimensions and conflicts to the table making these characters seem fresh and alive again. Of particular note is Zachary Quinto as Spock, who portrays not only the Vulcan side of Spock and plays it well, he also manages to infuse Spock with something else: humanity and compassion. This is a new, conflicted Spock with the same drive and determination to adhere to logic but with another dimension not seen previously. This Spock is also one who still fights for control against his baser human feelings. Fortunately for Quinto (who gets much more to do in this film than raise his eyebrow, speak monotone and stare) and for audiences, his Vulcan side doesn’t always win.
Karl Urban’s portrayal of Leonard “Bones” McCoy was also particularly good in this film. From his first moments on screen complaining about the dangers of space until he utters one of his signature catch-phrases “I’m a doctor not a . . .”, Urban’s characterization of Bones is not only spot-on but among the most believable in the film. He takes the character and makes it his own but also still manages to tie McCoy to his past incarnation in the form of DeForest Kelly. It’s a great performance that practically steals the movie. He’s also the catalyst for much of the humor of the film.
Also of note is one character fans had been concerned about since the casting was announced many months ago: James T. Kirk. With only one other major motion picture to his credit, Chris Pine seemed like an unusual choice, to say the least, to play the iconic Captain Kirk. Fortunately, Pine manages to balance playing Kirk his own way while still showing us bits of the old Kirk. We get to see his character evolve from fatherless rebel to womanizing Starfleet Cadet to potentially disgraced student to the hero and Captain he is destined to be during the film’s two hours and fifteen minutes. This journey is well worth the time it takes and once you get to the end and Kirk takes the center seat where he belongs as Captain of the Enterprise, its very satisfying indeed.
The other aspect of Star Trek that seems to be missing from many films these days, even ones that are supposedly comedies, is humor. This film is funny and Abrams knows just where to bring the funny to help defuse the tension from previous scenes and to give the audience a rest before taking them to someplace even more tense and action packed. That kind of “roller coaster ride ” balancing ever increasing highs with pauses for humor and to regroup for the next, ever bigger, high really helps elevate this film above many others of late.
This is true even for blockbusters like The Dark Knight, which I feel could have used a bit more humor. This is also one of the reasons Iron Man worked so well. It was action-packed, tense and had life or death consequences, but it was also very funny. Just the thing big, action-packed summer blockbusters need.
Star Trek is not just a movie for fans of Trek. It’s really a movie for everyone. It’s a story of growing up, of facing your fears and of learning to work together to solve problems. During the course of the movie we learn that its okay to be afraid, to face that fear, overcome it with the help of your friends and that its possible to turn dire situations into triumphs — “no win scenario” and all. In a time when uncertainty and fear permeate the world, we need a movie like this to remind us what we are capable of as human beings.
Sure, Star Trek is also a big, loud, exciting popcorn movie full of great visuals, starships, Romulans, space battles, phasers, Vulcans and all the other elements that make a Star Trek movie so much fun. And really, there’s nothing wrong with being fun. Fortunately, in spite of its few flaws, Star Trek manages to be a great deal more than that.
Star Trek is now playing everywhere and is rated PG-13.