N.B. Grandiloquent Factoids: Ian couldn't pass up the opportunity to review Star Trek as:
- He likes Star Trek.
- It allows him to employ his review system on the property that inspired it.
Whoever said you're either a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan couldn't count. Probably. The point is he/she was wrong. I know this because I enjoy both of the relevant Star franchises*. As a child, the latter held most sway with me. Then, the Prequel Trilogy gave the franchise a permanent black eye and I embraced Trek anew. For the purposes of a clear-headed review, this leaves me rather well placed; I enjoy the franchise, have seen much of it, yet I don't feel obliged to apologize for its (many) recent missteps.
The film's opening is shakier than a pole-axed Cloverfield. There's a busy but unremarkable space battle, the much-maligned "My name is James Tiberius Kirk" robot-cop police chase from the trailer, and a "Jeremy" video homage with L'il Spock. The solid ideas on show are clouded by awkward execution and an uncertain tone. History looks set to repeat itself.
Things start clicking, when Kirk (Chris Pine) gives Starfleet a shot. Director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman understand that another training-wheels origin story is among the last things many genre fans want right now. With this in mind, we are spared Starfleet Academy: The New Class. A very enjoyable Kobayashi Maru scene and some inter-species shenanigans aside, the crew's school days are wisely curtailed. As with Saavik and chums in The Wrath of Khan, it's more dramatic watching newbies learn on the job. And apparently drama is important in movies.
But peril is irrelevant if we don't care about the ship and her crew. Thanks to solid work across the bridge, we care plenty. Chris Pine nails Kirk, as at home kicking ass and breaking rules as he is nailing well-endowed Riseans. Karl Urban also excels as "Bones" McCoy, packing enough world-weary charm to rub shoulders with DeForest's Kelley and Robert Picardo's Doctor in the acerbic Trek doctor pantheon.
Zachary Quinto, though, has the greatest task of all; while Pine et al exist independently from their predecessors, the Heroes star must deliver alongside Leonard Nimoy, the only returning O.S. veteran. And boy does he deliver. Like his cast-mates, he does his own thing, while never losing sight of what made his character iconic in the first place. It's a move that pays off better than any of the movie's many accomplished SFX driven set-pieces.
I'll spend as long discussing the movie's time travel/alternate reality conceit as it deserves: it's convenient, transparent, and absolutely fine. You can't go off on flights of fancy without doing the donkey work first, in much the same as way you can't start colouring your "Jeffrey Combs is the Peter Sellers of Star Trek" mosaic without finishing the pencil outline.
For all its techno trappings, Abrams' Trek does the little things best. Things like pacing, atmosphere, and pairing Simon Pegg with a Ghoulies reject side-kick. It also boasts finality sorely lacking in more recent Trek; phaser blasts and photon torpedoes destroy things, and dead means dead. This is tremendous news for Joe Public and disillusioned Trek-fans alike. For Vulcans, Romulans, and a Crewman or two? Not so much. Had the movie married this approach to a subject meatier than Angry Aliens** want revenge, we could have had something really special on our hands.
Watch it: because you won't believe Star Trek is relevant again until you do.
Don't watch it: because you refuse to accept the notion that Winona Ryder can look old in any way and every time you see her under age make-up you'll think "that ain't right" as the fourth wall crumbles.
Ranking: 7/10 (Plucky Lieutenant.)
* Stargate fans, feel free to develop taste.
** Bana does phone-it-in somewhat, as Nero.
Ian Pratt likes to think of himself as the Bones of this blog, but he knows he's closer to Neelix.