Review – Star Trek – warning spoilers

When I saw the new Star Trek movie last night I went in without any real expectations besides seeing an entertaining movie. I used to be a bit of a trekkie when I was a kid in that I liked the TV shows and movies, but not to the level of geekdom. More recently I’ve not been very interested as I’ve found the series in the past decade to be nothing but a re-hashing and re-re-hashing of next generation plots so when I heard that it was a complete re-imagining of Star Trek rather than just a prequel I thought it could be in the entire spectrum from fantastic to dire. I’m pleased to say I thought it was enjoyable and pretty good, but not nearly as good as it could easily have been. It’s rare to find a movie that I don’t think could be improved. Alien, Aliens, and the original cut of the original Star Wars are a few sci-fi examples which I personally think are about as good as they can get. Any changes would just make them different, not better.
The new Star Trek is different. I liked it but I can think of many ways it could have been a better film. The idea of the movie is to show the evolution of Kirk and Spock from youth through academy to being on the Enterprise. That’s a huge wealth of material and could have led to a rich storyline and several moview, instead this movie was rushed to the point of ridiculousness. After a great first sequence there’s one scene apiece about Kirk and Spock’s youth and then another one as young adults, then they’re both at the academy, Kirk as a cadet and Spock as an instructor, with Uhura as a eye candy. There’s about 5 or 10 minutes which breeze over all of Kirk’s academy days (none of Spock’s at all), then all of a sudden they’re on the Enterprise in the midst of the crisis and Kirk’s made first officer to Spock being captain. Now mind you Kirk is still at this point a cadet who hasn’t even graduated so it’s pushing it to say the least to make him XO of the Federation’s latest and greatest flagship as he has no experience whatsoever. An artificial and stereotyped conflict is generated between Kirk and Spock which I think takes away from the film as it’s never really developed, and it’s a symptom of the movie’s main flaw. The other characters: McCoy, Sulu, Checkov, and Scotty get kinda chucked at you with no history and for the most part are almost parodies of the characters from the old series. None of them get any real time to flourish and they instead have to resort to the mannerisms and lines from the original series characters in hopes you’ll fill in the blanks. They even bring in Leonard Nimoy to play an old Spock from an alternate universe (the one we know) ostensibly to give a reason for the plotline but more likely to give some sort of artificial credence to die-hard fans whom the producers mistakenly feel wouldn’t otherwise see this as a “real Trek” film. The effect is unfortunately wasted and actually takes away from what was already, for me at least, working on its own.
The plot is standard trek fare: a crazy Romulan bent on destroying the federation, except this is an alternate timeline from the Trek we know so things go differently. This isn’t a problem for me as I’ve never given a crap about the Star Trek “Lexicon”: the accumulation of Trek lore which is to trekkies as the Bible is to a Baptist. The alternate timeline gives them a license to go in a completely direction plot and style-wise which I find exciting and the movie does a decent job at using this to tell an old story in a new way. Eric Bana as the Romulan baddie of the week doesn’t have a very workable plot or character to work with as the reason he’s pissed off with the Federation makes little sense, so all he can really produce is a sort of general super-evilness without any direction. It’s not that he isn’t believable, it’s just there’s nothing for him to make us believe. Still, it’s not that big a deal as the baddie isn’t as important as the crew of the Enterprise and it’s enough to make the movie work.
I have to say they made some good casting decisions for the primary characters. The young Kirk is pretty good and I liked the guy who played Spock. The other characters didn’t get developed enough to know whether they were any good or not; they were sprung whole, mannerisms and all, giving us no idea where they got them from. Maybe I didn’t like that part because I’m used to the actors from the old series, but I think it’s because we were cheated out of so much of what a prequel is supposed to give you; insight into what made the later characters the beings we know and love. I wanted to see them grow up a bit, not be shoveled at you as complete characters. Kirk comes out of the box as a fantastic, legendary leader with incredible confidence and I just don’t buy it. A person is greatly influenced by life experience and this movie doesn’t even begin to touch on the experiences that made these characters, and I found it hard to digest.
It could have been so much better and still told the same story more or less. After the academy they could have been junior officers on the enterprise or some other ship and gone through some sort of crisis that would have allowed them to develop from kids to adults, and show us how they formed a team and learned to trust each other. This format would also have let the new actors make these characters their own rather than forcing the issue and the movie would seem much less rushed. Some evolution would have made sense of the context of the film, instead it’s all thrown at us mixed with loads of special-effects.
Flaws aside there’s plenty to like in this movie. They did an excellent job of capturing the sights and sounds of the old series but brought them completely up to date in a way I really liked, and they worked in some light humor that evoked a bit of the old series’ spirit. The special effects are excellent and the action sequences are exciting and well-directed. I liked the direction they took the movie, and I like the possibilities of this alternate universe. The new Kirk and Spock worked for me not because they did a good job at re-creating the old Kirk and Spock but because they didn’t try. They had a chance to make these characters anew and did it well. I liked this movie but didn’t love it; it didn’t try to do too much, it just tried to do it the wrong way. Everything was just a bit too quick and convenient in this film, which had the goal of getting Kirk from unborn foetus to the captain’s chair with the full complement of characters and battling evil as soon as humanly possible, which it accomplishes in about 20 minutes. I was slightly disappointed by this lack of development, but not enough to keep me from recommending my friends watch it as it is still well worth seeing for its good points. Get some popcorn and get ready for some fun.