Friday, July 3, 2009
REVIEW - "Star Trek" (2009)
Waited long enough? I have as well-- Maybe to long, but long enough to think. There’s always anxiety when preparing for the reboot or alternate adaptation of previously envisioned franchises. I suppose this is because I know there’s only two real options after the fact: If I hate it, I know exactly what’s wrong and I’m able to reel it out like a five year old’s Christmas wish list. If I like it, I’m at a loss of what to say. How do you constructively review something you enjoy so much? The answer is simply “time.” What sits well with you? What flaws eventually rear their ugly head? If first impressions are lasting, then growth is revealing. Regardless of any qualms had with Abrams’ “Star Trek,” time has exposed one certainty: It is one damn good movie.
James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) cross paths in a glorious space opera that pits them in front of an enemy from the future, Nero (Eric Bana). After altering the destinies of the future crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Nero seeks vengeance against the Federation. Young, daring, but ready, the legendary crew of the Enterprise embark on their first mission, boldly going where they have never gone before.
Star Trek seems to have become the staple franchise to define the modern nerd: Thirty-year-old male warthogs, living in the basement of their mother’s house, enjoying cheese puffs and arguing online about whether or not Diana Troy had more cleavage in “TNG” episode 23, season 4, or episode 12, season 6. (NOTE: There is never a father involved. It is always the “mother’s basement.”) Along with this farce, Trek has also been under scrutiny for some poor latter films and a weak, fifth television series. With the franchise declared dead rebooting the original concept seemed like the only relevant choice.
Gone is the Trek techno-babble that had put the latter entries under fire. Instead of wasting celluloid explaining how the warp engines work, or how a black hole can create a portal to an alternate universe, “Star Trek” treats the science fiction elements as simple plot devices. The audience can suspend themselves to believe these characters can travel through space. They don’t need a fictional, onscreen textbook to explain how.
Instead, Abrams reignites the fire of “Bones”, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Scotty, giving each character their time in the sun. But the film owes its heart to Kirk and Spock. Not since “Wrath of Khan” has Jim Kirk been so interesting. Instead of waiting for that midlife crisis to kick in (“Star Trek II”), Abrams delivers a fresh Kirk with an arrogant, adolescent swagger lifted from his days without a proper father. Early in the film we see a young Kirk throw a 1960s corvette off a cliff. I still believe this to be an important scene due to its insistence that this is not the 1960s “Trek.” We don’t live there anymore. This is a new era and Trek needs to be relevant again. So watching the main character throw the embodiment of the 1960s in to a canyon felt ever so appropriate.
Spock, brilliantly portrayed by Zachary Quinto, is reborn to audiences as a character fighting to keep control of his human side. We’ve never seen Spock endure so much for being part human. The idea that he’s lived a life of people constantly getting a rise out of him becomes a wonderful staple for why he joins Starfleet. Though some feel Spock was too emotional, I feel it perfectly embodied this younger incarnation and his struggle to control both himself and his career.
As Kirk and Spock find themselves butting heads and learning from each others’ personalities, the journey of these two characters brings us to some exciting places. Creating an alternate universe for these icons frees them from the suffocating stronghold of the beloved (and endured) Star Trek cannon. While following “cannon” is important to many fans, it’s also the source of Trek’s recent failure. Hitting the restart button and giving audiences a universe where anything could happen has unleashed the franchise to unlimited possibilities and a heightened sense of drama. Anything could happen. Anyone could potentially… die!
So with the summer’s strongest characters, incredible special effects, and cinematography that should make the directors of Trek past ever so jealous, is there a downfall? Nothing immediate, but certainly worth noting, “Star Trek” continues the streak of weak villains with Nero’s bombastically brief explanation for vengeance. While Eric Bana makes more out of the villain than he’s worth, the character side steps any common sense. Coming from a universe where Romulus is destroyed and harboring the technology to save it from said, future destruction, Nero decides to wipe out the Federation instead. Why not save the planet first? What happened to villains like Khan? The last three Trek films just haven’t cut it in terms of great villainy.
And while each actor delivers with the utmost gusto, sometimes I wonder if the movie is border lining self-parody. For example, Karl Urban gives one of his best performances as Dr. McCoy, but Anton Yelchin, throwing down Chekov’s accent dead on, feels more like a clown in his introductory scene. His accent’s shortcomings worked in “Star Trek IV,” but I’m torn by whether or not it works here. So where’s the line? What is Urban doing right that Yelchin could learn from? Perhaps its simply experience as Urban was one of the more confident looking actors on screen. You can’t simply do impersonations; you have become that iconic character to make it work.
But stop me before I nitpick too much. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have finally written a script worth being proud of. While it isn’t an iron-clad screenplay it fell in J.J. Abrams’ fine-tuned hands and the result was staggering. In the first ten minutes of the movie, George Kirk hears the wail of his son over an intercom while ramming his starship into Nero’s behemoth. What could have been a by-the-numbers opening by Orci and Kurtzman, ended as one of the most emotionally, gut wrenching sequences in the film. What Abrams’ has done is create a fun joyride while maintaining a stern attention to characters. The summer probably won’t get much better than this. Abrams’ can keep his day job. The Enterprise flies again.
***½ out of ****