Star Trek (2009) Movie Review
Let’s face it, Trek hasn’t been Trek these last few years, so it was probably a good idea to go back and re-invent the wheel. Which is exactly what J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Transformers”) have done with the blessing of the studio. And what they have done, by introducing a time-travel storyline, is to essentially remake the Trek universe for today’s audiences, complete with a young cast and the ability to do whatever they want in future Trek movies. Time travel stories have always been tricky business, but the Trek franchise has always been adept at delving into them while still maintaining their universe’s status quo at the end of each episode or movie. Not so here. Abrams and company have essentially nuked the Trek franchise, leaving them free and clear to tell whatever stories, and make Kirk and company do whatever they want from now on, free of the obligation to stick to Trek canon. Whether that is good or bad, and if the fans will come along for future installments remains to be seen.
“Star Trek” opens with the Federation starship U.S.S. Kelvin witnessing the appearance of a massive Romulan ship from what appears to be a space-time disturbance. As it turns out, the ship is captained by one Nero (Eric Bana), who has journeyed into the past to exact revenge against the Vulcans and Humans for perceived grievances committed in his timeline. During the encounter between Nero’s ship and the Kelvin, a young officer named Kirk is tasked with saving the day, which he does, but at the cost of his own life. Fast-forward to 25 years later, as a cocky and wandering James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) comes to realize that his life is going nowhere fast, and after the encouragement of Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who witnessed Kirk’s father’s act of heroism 25 years earlier, decides to enlist in Star Fleet and make something of himself.
Three years later, Kirk is firmly entrenched in Star Fleet, with only one friend to speak off — the neurotic Bones McCoy (Karl Urban). Kirk has eyes for Uhura (Zoe Saldana), but she has eyes for someone else, namely her instructor Spock (Zachary Quinto), a half-human, half-Vulcan instructor at Star Fleet who Kirk, of course, has butted heads with. When Nero’s ship resurfaces over the planet Vulcan, Kirk, Uhura, Spock, and Bones are conscripted to staff Captain Pike’s ship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, which along with other ships are sent to investigate. As he did with the Kelvin, Nero makes mincemeat of the Federation ships, leaving only the Enterprise, thanks to the quick-thinking of Kirk, in one piece. When Captain Pike becomes a prisoner on Nero’s ship, Kirk and Spock must battle for control of the Enterprise in order to stop Nero, who is now headed to Earth with his indestructible ship…
If you’re one of those people familiar with Trek lore and were wondering how Abrams would maintain the status quo while still telling his kind of story, you needn’t worry – Abrams has no interest whatsoever in maintaining Trek lore. By using the time travel storyline, Abrams has essentially declared that he is putting down the Trek bible and beginning work on a completely new version. The movie signals its intentions in the very first sequence, when Nero’s ship travels into the past and wipes out the Kelvin and Kirk’s father along with it, forever altering Kirk’s future. When “Star Trek” becomes a hit (and all indications are that it will be), sequels to “Star Trek” will be free and clear to build on the first movie, while not necessarily constrained by all the Trek that’s come before them.
Fortunately for me, while I’m familiar with the Trek universe (a must for a lover of the sci-fi genre), I don’t own a single Trek action figure, movie, or comic book, and in fact the only piece of Trek merchandise that I do own is a Trek first-person shooter game that came out years ago based around the Borg. And truthfully, that was because I was more interested in FPS games than Trek. Because of that familiarity but not obsession with all things Trek, I easily embraced Abrams’ brave new world. Sure, the fact that the Enterprise’s engineering looks a hell of a lot like a huge warehouse then something that can propel a ship through space is somewhat silly, or that Uhura’s insults about Kirk having sex with farm animals is a tad out of place in a movie where the human race has developed intergalactic space travel. The fault, of course, lies in the filmmakers’ need to be so “different” from previous Trek that it has resulted in some truly odd contradictions in the world they inhabit.
“Star Trek” certainly fields an impressive roster of familiar and new names, especially young Chris Pine, who I’ve never even heard of until it was announced he was assaying young Kirk. Zachary Quinto will be familiar to TV viewers, having appeared regularly on NBC’s popular Heroes. Other names, like Zoe Saldana (soon to be seen in James Cameron’s “Avatar”), Karl Urban (“Doom), and John Cho (of the “Harold and Kumar” movies) have all been around, and the film should add to their profile. Urban, in particular, turns in a sparkling performance as the nagging Bones McCoy, and he so “gets” the role that whenever Bones is onscreen he steals the show. That’s a pretty impressive feat, considering how good Pine and Quinto are in their respective roles. Other notables include Anton Yelchin, young Kyle Reese in the upcoming “Terminator Salvation”, here playing a 17 year old Chekov. British comedian/actor Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) shows up in the second half of the movie to liven things up as the slightly (okay, very) eccentric Scotty.
Despite its save-the-world plot, the core of Abrams’ “Star Trek” is the paralleling lives and eventual merging of Spock and Kirk. The film takes great pains to introduce them to us as if we’ve never met either men before, and truth be told, we’ve never actually met these guys in this way before. Kirk as the wandering rebel, gleefully getting into unwinnable fights, and Spock, the half-breed whose half-human side is used not-so-subtly against him at every turn. Leonard Nimoy shows up in the second half of the film to provide guidance to young Kirk, as if Abrams is acknowledging that yes, he realizes there is an entire Trek universe before he came onto the scene. At the same time, Abrams seems to be telling us that while he knows there is another Trek out there, his does not necessarily adhere to it.
“Star trek” is not perfect, of course, and the film’s biggest weakness has to be Eric Bana’s Nero. As with every Origins Story, the focus is on the hero and how he grew into his legend, so the villain comes and goes as the plot dictates. As such, Nero starts off the story with a bang, but literally recedes into the background of space until he’s needed again to advance the plot. There is pathos behind Nero’s actions, but they’re just not very well-reasoned. One day, ol Nero decides that Spock has to be punished for something he did in the future. Okay, great, revenge is always a good motivator for any story. Except as explained by Nero, I’m not entirely certain how what happened to Nero is Spock’s fault at all. So what are we left with? A pissed off Romulan with facial tattoos armed with a huge honking ship that looks like it could impale a planet. Which I suppose is good enough when all you really need is someone for the heroes to take down.
Also, I realize this is a younger version of Star Fleet, but when Nero’s lone ship arrives on Earth, there’s no one there to defend it at all? Are Star Fleet captains so dense that they couldn’t figure out, as Kirk immediately did, that Nero would be headed to Earth next? And even if they realized too late, are there really not a single ship on Earth left? Where did they all go? Of course, if there was an entire fleet of, you know, Star Fleet ships to protect Earth from Nero, it wouldn’t leave much room for Kirk and Spock and the young Enterprise crew to save the day all by their little lonesome. Granted, some suspension of disbelief is required to get to the requisite heroic conclusion, but it’s just a tad silly to think that there wouldn’t be a single ship left on Earth, or close enough to show up and put up a fight.
A chaotic and oftentimes illogical (as Spock would say) final Third Act notwithstanding, I still had a tremendously fun time with Abrams’ “Star Trek”. While the cutting edge special effects and big-budget production value make for a killer sci-fi movie, it’s really the characters that make “Star Trek” as enjoyable as it is. Without a doubt, Chris Pine is destined to become a major movie star, and that goes for Zachary Quinto as well. If “Star Trek” does as well at the box office as its reviews would seem to indicate, then more Abrams’ Trek is on the way. And with the caveat emptor that this is not your father’s Trek, but a whole new, other Trek franchise already established with Nero’s time travel shenanigans, who knows where Kirk and company will end up in part two, and who they’ll meet along the way. It should be fun to find out.
J.J. Abrams (director) / Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Pine … James T. Kirk
Zachary Quinto … Spock
Leonard Nimoy … Spock Prime
Eric Bana … Nero
Bruce Greenwood … Capt. Christopher Pike
Karl Urban … Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy
Zoe Saldana … Nyota Uhura
Simon Pegg … Scotty
John Cho … Hikaru Sulu
Anton Yelchin … Pavel Chekov