Don’t pander to me, kid. One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait till you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.
I’m going to be completely honest with you; for the majority of my life, I was a Star Wars fan, through and through. Luke, Leia, Hans, Chewie… they were the characters I grew up loving. Maybe because Star Trek was a serial and not an epic trilogy, or maybe because my parents really didn’t watch the series, but I just never connected to Star Trek. So when I heard J.J. Abrams was revamping the series, I wasn’t exactly interested. When I decided to go to the movie on a whim way back in May, I was blown away by how good it was. Now that I have the DVD in my possession, I still think it’s one of the best action-y movies of the year.
In this alternate Star Trek universe, 20-something James T. (for Tiberius) Kirk is studying at Star Fleet Academy with best friend Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and the pretty and seemingly first-nameless Uhura (who won’t give Kirk the time of day). A more reckless Kirk than we’re used to, he must defend his actions during a suspension hearing led by Starfleet graduate and Commander Spock. Before the final verdict is delivered, Starfleet recieves a distress call from Spock’s home planet of Vulcan and must call upon the emergency student reserves. Kirk sneaks onboard the brand new Federation flagship Enterprise and discovers they are heading into a trap. As it turns out, Vulcan is being attacked by a very pissed off band of future Romulans who accidentally went back in time and seek vengeance against both Spock and the Federation.
I’m not a huge fan of movie time travel in particular. Most of the time, it doesn’t logically make sense; for example, the future Romulans believe that destroying the Federation will stop their planet from being destroyed, but (in most movies) if their planet isn’t destroyed, they wouldn’t have gone back in time in the first place. The reason it works in this movie is because they make sure to stress that the Romulans going back in time actually creates an alternate reality where everything is affected by the time travellers. This gives the new actors the freedom to make the characters their own. Easily the most obvious example of this is that Kirk’s father is killed by the Romulans when Jim is a newborn. Because he didn’t have a father figure growing up, this universe’s Kirk is played as more of a rebel and even more of a flirt and it doesn’t feel like they’re betraying the original show or movies. This alternate universe also gives them the chance to really start over with the crew’s story and not worry about diehard Trekkies complaining about continuity.
What makes this movie work more than anything else is the acting. It’s a big challenge to take on a role that is not only loved by millions, but has only been played by one actor previously. They all did a fine job at hitting the right mark, but in a really enjoyable way. Karl Urban is probably best known for his smaller role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but he really knocks it out of the park as Bones. He has really embraced the doctor’s thick sarcasm and dark but insanely funny outlook on life (the quote at the top is from his first encounter with Jim). Zoe Saldana‘s performance is inspiring as linguistics specialist Uhura. No offense to Nichelle Nichols, but Saldana adds a new depth and strength to the character. I look forward to seeing her in the next film. John Cho (of the Harold and Kumar films) is fine as Sulu. The saber dueling scene is good and there’s a funny moment at his introduction, but beyond that he is mostly in the background. Anton Yelchin is definitely the most over the top as the Russian protegee Chekov. Yes, he pronounces his V’s as W’s. I can forgive the silliness only because Walter Koenig played him over-the-top to begin with. And I was absolutely delighted with Simon Pegg as Scotty. I loved every moment he was on screen. I almost wish he appeared eariler in the film so we could have more of those moments. Bruce Greenwood is strong as Captain Pike, the man who convinces Jim to join Starfleet and Winona Ryder is surprisingly affective as Spock’s human mother.
The two stand out performances are from Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, who play Kirk and Spock respectively. As I mentioned earlier, Pine plays Kirk cockier and more rebellious, especially at first. This is still James T. Kirk, however, and there is still a decisive and brave leader inside him, even if it takes most of the movie for the rest of the characters (and Kirk himself) to really see it. Pine also plays drunk with a balance of realism and entertainment (his pickup lines to Uhura are great). Quinto really embraces the overly wound Vulcan. Considering Leonard Nemoy‘s Spock (renamed “Spock Prime”) is in this film, it would have been too easy for Quinto to seem like a sad imitation compared to the original, but his interpretation fits in perfectly. While the two characters hate each other at the beginning, once they start working together to save the Federation Spock and Kirk have great chemistry together. Jacob Kogan is sweet and sad as a young Spock, who is bullied for being half human. Jimmy Bennet is fine as a young Kirk, but his only scene (where he steals his stepdad’s car and drives it over a canyon) seemed a little strange, mostly because I wasn’t aware there were canyons in Iowa (although I was glad to discover the Beastie Boys are still popular in the 23th century). I do need to give props to Nemoy as Spock Prime. There is a scene where he explains to the new Kirk how he got to this new universe. His narration is filled with regret and I was couldn’t help but be moved.
Perhaps the weak link in the cast is Romulan leader Nero (played by Eric Bana). It’s not that the performance is particularly bad, but the character himself isn’t very interesting. In another movie, this villain would be fine, but when the rest of the characters are so fun to watch, Nero seems like a disappointment. It’s not a reason to skip the movie, but he is a weak link.
There are so many fun inside jokes in the film to appease the Trekkies. I know I used to be Star Wars fan through and through, but I knew enough about the series (much of my knowledge is thanks to Futurama, by the way) to be tickled pink by these great little jokes. Kirk makes out with an alien woman. Bones says, “Damn it, I’m a doctor, not a ______” at least once. And when I saw the man going down to the Romulan drill with Kirk and Sulu was wearing a red jumpsuit, well, let’s just say I knew what was coming. In many ways, the only real romance can be seen as a small reference to the original television show. While I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, I will say that the romance is one of my favorite new aspects to the story. When it is actually revealed, you understand what they see in each other.
I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the direction in the film. I’ve watched the movie a few times now and I love how subtle the directing is. It keeps the energy up and keeps you invested in the film. I also appreciate that the majority of the space scenes are silent (even in battle). I know some fans were annoyed by the horizontal glare that is consistent throughout the film, but it was a style choice and I thought it worked to establish this new series.
There are diehard fans that don’t appreciate this new look at the characters and universe they know so well. As someone who would normally choose Chewie, not Sulu, as my co-pilot, I can’t speak for those diehards. But as a woman who considers herself a huge dork (and a film fanatic), this is a great movie. It made me wish I knew these characters better. This movie might just make me (gasp!) a Trekkie.
Overall: A great start to a new era of the series, Star Trek keeps the focus on the characters while still going where Kirk and crew have never gone before.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars