Star Trek: The Reboot

J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek film is sort of the anti-Battlestar Galactica. BSG took a fairly goofy old TV series and turned it into a serious adventure drama. Star Trek takes what was a serious adventure drama (well, for its time) and turns it into a goofy movie.

Myself, I’m an unreconstructed original series fan, and I happily enjoy those old episodes and the early movies while ignoring almost everything that followed. So I was just hoping for a good movie. Well, it’s got lots of action and plenty of humor, but it also self-consciously compares itself to the original series at every turn, and the story makes basically no sense, while blazing no new ground. So it was a rollicking ride, but ultimately it’s just another action film.

Spoilers ahoy!

In the late 24th century, Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) fails to stop a supernova from destroying the Romulan homeworld. As a result of his actions, Spock and a Romulan mining ship are thrown back in time to the 23rd century. The Romulan ship arrives right at the birth of James T. Kirk; its captain, Nero (Eric Bana), blames Spock and the Federation for failing to save his homeworld, and vows to destroy them all. He starts with the he encounters upon arrival, and Kirk’s father George sacrifices himself to delay Nero.

22 years later, Kirk (Chris Pine) has grown up to be a rebellious ne’er-do-well who gets into fights with Starfleet cadets. Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) goads Kirk into joining Starfleet to make something of himself, and the trick works. Three years later, Kirk is near graduation, when his antics in facing the Kobiyashi Maru test throw his career into doubt when Spock (Zachary Quinto) accuses him of cheating. Fortunately for Kirk, Nero chooses that moment to put his plan into action, attacking Vulcan. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) sneaks Kirk on board the U.S.S. Enterprise which sets out with a fleet heading to Vulcan. Nero’s ship is too powerful and destroys the fleet, then captures Captain Pike and destroys the planet Vulcan. Left in command of the ship, Spock elects to regroup with the fleet, and exiles Kirk to an ice planet when he tries to stop him.

On the planet, Kirk meets Ambassador Spock, who tells him that Nero’s actions have changed history, by killing Kirk’s father and destroying Vulcan. With the help of Spock and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Kirk returns to the Enterprise, is able to force Spock to surrender command, and heads off to face Nero before he can destroy the Earth, too.

Star Trek has basically the same plot as its predecessor, Nemesis, with a time travel twist: Grumpy bald Romulan in a powerful ship vows to destroy the Federation. Nemesis plays its story absolutely straight, while this film is a laugh-fest.

The biggest problem with this film is that the story makes no sense. It’s actually the same basic story as its predecessor, Nemesis, with a time travel twist: Grumpy bald Romulan in a powerful ship vows to destroy the Federation, and only the Enterprise can stop him. But in its details the plot is one of the shakiest of any Star Trek film:

  • A supernova that threatens to destroy the whole Romulan empire? Riiight.
  • Nero’s motivation is thin: How are Spock and the Federation to blame for the destruction of Romulus, exactly? Didn’t Spock try, yet just not succeed? What did Nero do to help stop the supernova?
  • A mining ship that can easily dispatch a warship, even if it was 150 years earlier? Okay, the Romulans are a warlike race, so maaaaybe… but it seems like a stretch.
  • Why would Spock’s ship be carrying so much black-hole-creating red matter? Isn’t that just stupid?
  • Kirk sneaks aboard the Enterprise against orders, and for this Captain Pike names him first officer?
  • Kirk is promoted from cadet to captain for his role in one successful mission?

That’s just what comes to mind off the top of my head. The whole story is ridiculous even by Star Trek standards.

The way the film is constantly measuring itself against the original series and its cast is just plain weird. And distracting, considering I was entirely willing to take the film on its own terms and forget about everything that came before, but it wouldn’t let me. Whether it’s recycling gags from previous films (Chekov’s accent), the attention paid to rewriting continuity, or the efforts of many of the actors (especially Quinto and Urban) to recreate the vocal and body language quirks of the original cast, it was a reboot that just couldn’t let its source material go.

That said, there are several fine performances. Quinto does capture the mannerisms of Leonard Nimoy well, yet it seemed like he never quite grasped Spock’s character fully. Far more impressive was Pine’s Kirk, which captured the essence of the character – despite the different environment in which he grew up – while not reproducing William Shatner’s superficial characteristics (indeed, he reminds me strongly of Matt Damon, who I’ve heard was briefly considered for the role, and whom I also heard Pine partly modeled his performance after). If Pine hadn’t come through, the whole film would have fallen flat; instead, he credibly portrays Kirk as a dead-end kid in the first half of the film, and then one who’s grown up considerably in the second half.

(Also of note is Bruce Greenwell as Captain Pike, who seems tailor-made for the role of mentor and elder statesman, a hero figure who shows the kids how it’s done by his self-sacrificing example, as well as displaying the deepest empathy for Kirk. Given that his role wasn’t very large, they really hit a home run when they cast him.)

Other than that: Special effects, fine. Music, weak (though not as weak as Jerry Goldsmith’s music on earlier films). Costumes, fine. Cinematography, your typical action-film work.

Overall, I guess George R. R. Martin put it a lot more succinctly than I have, although he hated the film. I thought it was okay for what it was, but what it was was completely devoid of ambition or freshness. It’s an evening’s diversion, but ultimately I was disappointed, and my expectations weren’t very high to start with.

9 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Reboot”

  1. Michael, it’s not that the supernova threatened to destroy the Romulan Empire — it threatened to destroy the galaxy!

    Also, I think you’re missing the point. (Or what I hope is the point.) I think that this is just an attempt to wave a magic wand and get things reset to ground zero so that we can have many grand adventures in the future. To do it in a realistic fashion would require several movies. Or an entire season of a new show. (And maybe that’s what they should have done.) This is a quick reset.

  2. Oh, I understand that a quick reset is the point. It’s just that I’m still just enough of a fan to have hoped that they’d make something more than an action flick, with a story that was, well, better than this was.

  3. I particularly hated McCoy in this one. It seemed like they took some guy who’d never acted before, sat him down in front of a bunch of clips of the original series, and told him to make that scowl happen or they’d shoot him. I didn’t mind the rest of them, even the we’ve-done-these-jokes-before lines from Chekov weren’t as painful as McCoy.

  4. This “guy who’d never acted before” played Eomer in LoTR: TT and RotK. I thought his was the best re-creation in the movie. In a very different role that showed his range.

  5. I don’t disagree with you on any of the particulars (except maybe Quinto, whom I thought was great and had a fine grasp of Spock…but not quite as deadpan a delivery), but in the end, I think I enjoyed it more than you did for what it is. I recognize all its flaws…but I’ve still seen it four times already đŸ™‚ It’s a fun ride, and that’s literally all I was looking for from this movie.

    I’ll admit, the next movie needs to have a better story and a bit more depth if I’m going to be truly satisfied, long-term, with JJTrek.

    I find it interesting how diametric the reactions I’ve seen about Karl Urban’s McCoy are. Some people are absolutely squeetastic about how he seems to be a reincarnation of DeForest Kelley; others hate the fact that he seems to be a mimic or a parody of him. I fall closer to the former than the latter, but I wish the writers hadn’t worked quite so hard to highlight every single one of Bones’ classic mannerisms in re-establishing the character.

    I’ve long since come back to my appreciation of the Classic Series (although you’ll recall I went through a period of apostasy in that regard, back in TNG’s heyday). But I think a lot of people are holding this movie up to a mirror that reflects what they’ve inferred and read and dreamed into TOS, and not what TOS actually was. TOS was bad science, plots that fell apart when you blew on them, and as much action as the budget could afford. It was also frequently funny, both deliberately and sometimes not so deliberately. And ultimately…it was about the people aboard the ship, and in particular, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and to a lesser degree, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Uhura.

    This movie can be described more or less the exact same way, although I would have perhaps enjoyed a slightly different balance of action to character time. That said, the actors brought enough intensity to their portrayals that it worked.

    I absolutely agree with you, btw, about Bruce Greenwood’s Pike. He had, in some ways, both the easiest and the toughest job. We saw little enough of Jeffery Hunter’s Pike that Greenwood had almost nothing he had to mimic, which also meant he had to do the most headspace work to really develop the character for himself. He was phenomenal, and my only complaint is that we probably won’t see much of him going forward.

    I also utterly loved Zoe Saldana’s all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips Uhura. After Pine, I think she struck the best balance of homage and making the part her own.

  6. I’m a bit like you, Michael, in that the plot holes in this story were ridiculous. It was basically a movie of set-up, all designed to get those particular individuals together on the Enterprise with Kirk as Captain. Pine is definitely the breakthrough star who helps to hold the movie together. I definitely agree with your assessment of Pike’s character – he adds a level of credibility that (mostly) legitimizes everything that happens.

    I loved Urban’s McCoy, although he was mostly limited to caricature – I’d like to see TPTB give him a better role in the inevitable sequels.

    I’m certainly not opposed to the Spock/Uhura romance, but, you know, it should never have happened (officer/cadet romance) and they were way too demonstrative at some key moments. Plus she couldn’t seem to stay at her post whenever things went bad for Spock.

    Also, obviously a number of things are different in this reality: everyone seemed to know what a Romulan looks like, as an example. In the original series, one of the major plot points of Balance of Terror was that no one in Starfleet knew what Romulans looked like, which made things uncomfortable for Spock. Well, I could go on.

    I still enjoyed the movie, though, mainly because I left my disbelief at home.

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