Star Trek Review

“Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved eight hundred lives, including yours. I dare you to do better,” says Bruce Greenwood, playing the gruff but guiding Captain Pike, to a bruised and bloodied Chris Pine, the young hotshot taking over the legendary role of James Tiberius Kirk.

Pike’s dare could just as easily be seen as a challenge for Pine to grab the role from William Shatner’s cache. By making Kirk, Sr. a distant legendary figure to live up to (something that was not the case in the original series), director J.J. Abrams and co created an embodiment of the specter that is Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek that they want to outdo—not out of swagger, but out of respect. Just like Kirk.

Did they succeed? Depends on how you look at the film. When it comes to the reworking of the characters, Star Trek wins in spades. Chris Pine’s Kirk is a reckless rebel, but one with plenty of humor and a great sense of command that make him almost instantly likable. Not surprisingly, the film focuses heavily on building his friendship with Zachary Quinto’s Spock, which writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci cheat in developing by having a time-traveling older Spock played by Leonard Nimoy tell Kirk about their future bond; but the chemistry between Pine and Quinto is still there. Besides, the cheat is firmly acknowledged in the first meet when Kirk cheats to beat the Kobayashi Maru test designed by Spock.

Quinto turns out to be the surprise highlight of the cast, given the complexity of portraying an alien character meant to have a “logical” uptight quality to him, but set in that character’s youthful and more emotionally compromised days. A contrast made more apparent by the film’s inclusion of older Spock, who Nimoy plays with affecting heart. Most impressive is not the shiny new CGI or the bloated budget, but the strong casting. Not one weak spot in the ensemble, from Karl Urban’s cranky but loyal McCoy to John Cho’s eager swashbuckling Sulu. Makes you wish they could be on TV every week to get more out of the banter. It’s a good-humored Trek, mostly through the naturalistic wit possessed by the cast, save for Simon Pegg’s Scotty, who is 100% comic relief. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Maybe that dedication to the sculpting of the Enterprise crew is what takes the creative energy out of the film’s actual plotting. Once the Bridge is complete, the film loses traction. Eric Bana’s Nero is as boring as a villain can get. “I’ll destroy the Federation planets one by one… Starting with your Earth!” is the extent of his villainy. Where’s the moral dilemma that Star Trek is known for? Where’s the social commentary? The multicultural harmony that was so groundbreaking in the original’s era is no longer the radical future it once was, and this Star Trek fails to project a suitable replacement for it.  On the contrary, it feels rather sexist when everyone but Uhura gets a “saving the day” moment to shine. Zoë Saldana’s snappy attitude suggests a strong female character, yet her Uhura does practically nothing but follow Spock around with cooing eyes. But hey, at one point she strips to her bra and panties with Kirk peeping from under a bed! Abrams doesn’t go as sleazy as Michael Bay’s lingering pervo-shots of Megan Fox in Transformers, but there’s a failure to live up to the equality the series has always been about.

There’s also a big problem when a summer blockbuster with promises of fireworks doesn’t deliver its spectacle. Maybe it’s Abrams’ television background, but the film doesn’t have the kind of visual scope necessary for a big sci-fi adventure—it can’t even shoot its actors well outside of close-ups. For all the whiz-bang effects, the space battles here are just haphazard and one-note; the Enterprise is seen mostly through sweeping camera shots around the hull. There are some inspired moments (a shot following a crew member getting sucked into space with the sound suddenly muting comes to mind) but for the most part Abrams’ idea of a visual flair is to literally flare the lens, blinding the audience in almost every interior shot.

It does a great job rebooting the continuity to set up a string of fun new adventures with this terrific cast, but not much else. Maybe some fans are satisfied by the idea of a Trek film with the big budget to fuel it, but when it comes to boldly going where no Trek has gone before, this film is as stuck in gear as Sulu’s first time helming the Enterprise: it’s going to need another turn of the key.

"Star Trek" opens May 8, 2009 and is rated PG13. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Directed by JJ Abrams. Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman. Starring Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Chris Pine, Eric Bana, John Cho, Karl Urban, Leonard Nimoy, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, Zoë Saldana.

May
07
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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