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Star Trek (2009): ***½

Directed by J.J. Abrams

The 11th Star Trek movie definitively breaks the odd-number curse (the even-number blessing having already been broken up by Star Trek Nemesis). It's a rip-roaring, slam-bang spectacle of an adventure movie that manages to feel completely contemporary while still feeling very much like a Star Trek adventure.

Yes, it's about the crew of the original Star Trek TV series (TOS as it's known to the fans), but it is more complicated than that. This movie is simultaneously a prequel, a reboot, and a continuation of the Star Trek saga. And it works as official canon in all three capacities. Unlike the recent James Bond reboot, this new Trek does not negate everything that came before it at all. It's much more like Marvel Comics' "Ultimate" line of comics; they were designed to be a good jumping-on point for people to be able to tell stories with these characters without the burden of 40 years of continuity, but without negating the continuity of the "regular" (616) Marvel Universe, which continued right on publishing in tandem with the Ultimate line. This new Star Trek has a direct link to post-Nemesis events, and so it allows every Star Trek story that's come before it to still exist.

The device by which it does that is time travel (not really a spoiler, since it happens in the very first scene of the movie). But it's not the usual, crappy time travel that the Star Treks do so horribly. Seriously, the various Star Treks have had some of the most messed-up time travel stories ever. They make no sense and are filled with anomalies and paradoxes that make my head hurt, like listening to a creationist try to talk about evolution (zing!). This Star Trek is smart about it. Two ships from the post-Nemesis time period go back to the pre-TOS time period, but when they emerge they don't "change history" or any stupid crap like that. They create a new, parallel branch of time. Like this:

This is an extremely smart way for the filmmakers to utilize familiar characters and locations but not to be constrained by known future events; the future of this timeline has not yet be set in stone and so anything can happen. The filmmakers take full advantage of this fact with a truly shocking, unexpected event that causes this new timeline to proceed in a vastly different direction than the original. And it gives this movie a real sense ofjeopardy that prequels (usually) are entirely lacking.

Enough history lesson, though. What's good about this movie? Pretty much everything. The new cast is great, particularly Zachary "Sylar" Quinto as the young Spock. Initially I couldn't see very much Kirk in the performance by Chris Pine. He was all disgruntled, unfocused, restless, arrogant energy. But by the end of the movie he has gained the ability to direct his energy in a constructive way, and there's a shot of him striding onto the bridge and plopping down onto the captain's chair that made me think, "My God, that is Kirk!" The other characters fare pretty well, with Scotty being the most different. Though I love Simon Pegg's performance it didn't remind me very much of Scotty (I don't remember Scotty ever being a slob), and for some reason he was saddled with a Snarf character. Most surprising was Karl Urban as Bones. Urban absolutely 100% nails it, right down to the southern accent and the grumbling grimace. It was uncanny.

The pacing of the movie is great. It starts off with a bang, and then settles back to watch the parallel upbringings of Kirk and Spock and their very different reasons for joining Starfleet and their very different Starfleet experiences. When their paths cross they instantly dislike each other. Kirk sees Spock as a stuck-up, elitist blowhard (and he's right), and Spock sees Kirk as a loud-mouthed, undisciplined, arrogant jackass (and he's right). Each one of them thinks that they don't need the other to deal with the main crisis that suddenly pops up and drives the remainder of the movie. From then on the movie is a non-stop, slam-bang adventure that (as I like to say) POPS. It moves, it races, it roars, and it has the same joyous energy that made last year's Iron Man such a fun movie. This is one of those rare movies that you can watch over and over again and it'll put a big, goofy smile on your face every single damned time. It is FUN.

There are great little touches that reference Star Trek lore. When Kirk asks Sulu what his hand-to-hand combat training consists of, Sulu says, "Fencing." I actually said to myself, "Of course it's fencing," as an image of a shirtless George Takei running around the TOS Enterprise with a sword popped into my head. There's a funny joke with Chekov not being able to access the computer due to his difficulty in pronouncing the "V" in "Victor." And the whole theater instantly knew the fate of a newly-introduced character who had the misfortune of wearing a red suit on an away mission...

The movie isn't flawless by any means, though. There are some very awkward product placements in the first half of the movie. Nokia? Budweiser? Really? And this Star Trek has some of the worst science of any of the Treks. I'm not talking about black holes being time-travel portals; I can easily forgive that. I'm talking about ideas behind some of the plot elements. The villain's main plan is to drill down to the core of a planet and then create a black hole in the center, which will consume the entire planet. But why does he have to drill at all? Creating a black hole on the surface of the planet would be just as devastating; the planet's gravity would quickly draw the black hole down to the core anyway, consuming all the matter between the core and the surface.

The film is also really bad about distances. At one point it shows a character standing on the surface of a planet and looking up into the sky where another planet is plainly visible and looks to be about five times larger than the moon looks in our sky. But it is explicitly stated that this is a different planet, not a moon, and indeed both planets have similar-enough gravities that we can assume they are very close in mass and size. That's just not how solar systems work. Also it takes the Enterprise about four minutes to warp from Earth to Vulcan, but later it takes ships seemingly well over an hour to make the return trip.

There is also a shockingly powerful invention of transporter technology. Characters utilize "transwarp beaming" to beam onto a still-at-warp Enterprise after it has been warping away for probably over an hour. Can you imagine how far the Enterprise must have gone at high warp in all that time? How many light years? My god, you don't need starships at all anymore; you could just set up a series of beaming stations in neighboring star systems and just beam from one to the other and make your way across the whole galaxy in minutes! Gah!

And one more thing: Don't Federation planets have some sort of planetary defense system? Like the orbital equivalent of the Coast Guard or something? The bad guy is able to park in orbit around two major planets and the only resistance it meets is from whatever starships happen to be nearby.

But here's the thing: I didn't (and still don't) really care about all that stuff. The movie has such a joyful energy that it reminded me of Sci-Fi stories from the 20s and 30s when everything was secondary to the sense of epic adventure. And that's what this new Star Trek has in spades. I can't wait to own this one so I can watch it over and over and over. I can't wait for another one.


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