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
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 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!
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.