If you are one those people that beat up the Star Trek geek in high school, it’s probably time to call them up and apologise. Somehow, the Star Trek universe just became cool.
There has always been a barrier – a stigma of lame – that has distanced non-trek audiences of getting into the rich history of the franchise. It’s a shame too, since it has more back story than most science fiction franchises. The problem has been that until now, each film has tried valiantly to work as a stand alone entity but has always felt like an extended episode of the show. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fans but for the rest of the movie going audience, it didn’t inspire them to rush to see the latest Trek adventure.
You couldn’t walk into a Star Trek film without knowing the history of the characters or you’d miss out on the nuances – the things that can make a Trek film great. It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough characterisation or that the crew members lacked depth, quite the contrary – these characters have had more work put into them than you are likely to see from any other film. The problem is, most of it happened on the TV show and when moving through a film plot, no time is given to explain what is considered to be assumed knowledge. This is one of the biggest strengths of JJ Abram’s StarTrek – it appeals to newcomers and fans alike.
The cleverly crafted story isn’t just a much needed reboot of the franchise; it’s also an invitation for non-trek fans as well. If you’ve never heard of James T Kirk or Mr Spock, it doesn’t matter because throughout the course of the film, you will learn about all the crew members, some more than others, and due to the nature of the story, anything you had heard about them in the past, anything you knew, is redefined as well.
Even hardcore Trek fans are coming into the film as newcomers. There are definitely quite a few winks thrown in their direction but by the end of this film, the Trek universe they knew – the rich history and the events of all the TV shows, all the movies, all the comics and all the books, it’s all gone. In this film, events take place that turn the whole universe on its head. One of the most important races, one pivotal to so many Trek stories is all but wiped out. It was a bold move by Abrams but it has given him the opportunity to rewrite history, so to speak, without disrespecting cannon. Most importantly, it worked and is believable. It was risky since if even the slightest thing had gone wrong in the script, performances or direction it could have potentially destroyed the franchise for good.
This is a Star Trek film for everyone. Whether you like Star Trek or hate it, you will probably enjoy this film. It is, first and foremost, a character driven action adventure science fiction film. It is a visual effects spectacle with cool space battles, great hand to hand combat sequences, and a healthy dose of comedy as well. It isn’t perfect by any means but it gets enough right that you tend to forgive its few shortcomings.
Without giving away too much, the plot centres around the characters from the original series. Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Scottie, Dr McCoy, Chekov, Sulu and Uhura are the all given their individual moments to shine, although at the core, it’s a story about Kirk and Spock primarily. We are given a truncated journey through both those characters lives from birth to the time they first step onto the Starship Enterprise during its maiden voyage. The story involves the somewhat overused time travel plot line with characters travelling back to a time before the original TV show and changing certain events, and therefore, reinventing everything that came afterward.
The characters are extremely likable and there are very few groansome moments. Each actor does a remarkable job of recreating the performances of the original actors while also bringing something of their own to the party. Chris Pine doesn’t mimic William Shatner, but he is definitely Kirk. Quinto’s Spock is a little more conflicted and less stoic than Leonard Nimoy was, but he is unmistakably Spock. Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy is gruffer than Deforest Kelly but is perfectly cast and he puts in a stellar performance. The warm love we all felt for Scottie is exemplified by Simon Pegg, but he is much funnier than James Doohan. Sulu, Uhura and Chekov are all different than the original cast but each in ways that are great.
As far as villains go, Eric Bana’s Nero is one of the best the Trek universe has seen. The film could definitely have used more screen time on him but his motives are understandable and you even feel a little sorry for him too. He is a man consumed by revenge but not in a two dimensional way. Bana puts in a brilliant performance that is scary while also taking time to be funny at times too. You definitely feel that Nero is a threat that needs to be dealt with.
Part of what makes the film work so well is the gravitas that it is afforded by including Leonard Nimoy in the cast. In past Trek films, bringing old cast members back has always felt forced but in this story, Nimoy is not only brilliant, as always, but he is essential. He lends credibility to the film and puts in a heart warming performance. It was a good decision to include him in the film and works as more than just a cameo or a tip of the hat to the fans. Despite William Shatner’s complaints he wasn’t included in the new film, it’s a good thing he wasn’t. Within the frame of the story, it needed to be Spock that travelled back in time. Besides, Shatner’s Kirk has had his time on the big screen – Now its Chris Pines turn.
There are a few things that are somewhat questionable in the plot and the film does suffer from a few minor awkward moments but on the whole it is well paced, does a great job of initiating people into the universe and has you rooting for the characters to come out triumphant at the end. Most of the problems come from what i like to call the”Pitch Black” factor, convenient events that are not believable. If you have never seen the film Pitch Black with Vin Diesel you aren’t missing much but essentially it is the story of a prisoner who can only see in the dark that crash lands on a planet that has no darkness except for one day a year, which just happens to be the day he lands there. In the same way, the “coincidences” in Star Trek are almost unbelievable and could have been handled a little better as they really ask you to test your suspension of disbelief. Also, at the same point in the film, while on the ice planet, when Kirk is chased by “non-descript monster number 23” it comes off as kind of silly – a little too silly. However, those are the only two complains that can really be aimed at the film.
Sure, the action could be a little too close at times and the frenetic direction made it a little hard to know what’s going on now and then but, on the whole, it is a solid film and one that people really should see. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go out and buy a Star Trek uniform if you go see it – it will take much more than seeing a few Trek films to become a true Trekkie.