Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek XI: Review

Star Trek (sans any numerology) is the eleventh Star Trek movie, and like the reboots done for Batman and Superman, a thoroughly modern reworking of the concept.

For my reviews of past Star Trek movies, see: 1-3, 4-6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Plot: A starfleet ship comes upon lightning storm in space and is surprised by Big Powerful Ship with shrapnel torpedoes. The captain of the BPS forces a surrender and kills the captain and much of the ship, while learning, to his surprise, that the stardate (year) is not what he thought. The first officer goes down with the ship in order to save the life of his wife and new son (and other escaping personnel). The new child's name if Jim Tiberius Kirk.

25 years later, the BPS jaunts through the galaxy causing problems, destroys a planet, and makes its way to Earth to destroy it, too - and the captain has a personal vengeance against a Vulcan named Spock, who didn't manage to save his planet, in the future. Captain Pike of the new starfleet ship Enterprise goes to stop him (along with other ships apparently populated entirely with crew wearing red shirts). Pike is abducted, and young first officer - half-Human/half-Vulcan - Spock takes command.

Spock is struggling with his identity - is he Human or Vulcan? - in the face of a personal tragedy, and he isn't entirely up to the job, so it's up to cadet Kirk to save the day - except Kirk's not really supposed to be on the ship, since he's on trial for behavior unbecoming of a cadet.

Along the way, a whole host of other characters are shown to work on the ship or find their way aboard.

Reactions: I really enjoyed the movie. As I mentioned above, it has a strong kinship with the new Batman movies, Ironman, and so on, regarding pacing, intensity, confused and dark POV. It also borrows from other movies: a whole lot of Star Wars - shots, action sequences. Also many similarities to Star Trek 2 - personal vengeance, a doomsday weapon (with a similar concluding sequence), dropping bugs into people's heads to learn their secrets, references to Kirk's cadet testing, and someone yelling the name of his enemy ("Khaaaan!", "Spockkkkk!").

The acting was universally excellent. It was funny in all the right places, with a phrase or a look, never desperate for a laugh (cough Star Trek V). The plot was decent enough, as far as time travel in Star Trek ever can be. I haven't seen much of the Star Trek canon, but this is the first time I remember them introducing an alternate history based on the actions of someone coming from the future: usually (c.f. Star Trek 8) actions in the past affect the extant space-time continuum. In this movie, a disruption in the past is simply understood to create a new space-time continuum.

And that was deliberate on the part of the director, who wanted to take the canon in a new direction without entirely pissing off existing Star trek fans. Because a whole lot in this movie, and apparently future movies, are going to have little to do with the existing canon.

The most obvious difference is the bridge on the Enterprise, which looks a lot more 2009 than 1969. That's fine with me.

This movie, like many "prequels" to famous franchises, spends a lot of its time introducing familiar characters to explain how they met. It felt rather rushed here. There are a lot of characters, and they all have to meet (meet Kirk and meet the Enterprise), so the scenes in which they meet come together blam, blam. Thankfully, this is not a huge deal: think of the character introductions in a movie like Oceans 11. It's too fast, but only the main characters really count, anyway. We'll find out more about the other characters in later movies, we hope. With what little time each character had, he or she did a good job of introducing themselves. And the time spent on this didn't detract from the story.

There are a few rather questionable aspects to the story, such as having a mutinee cadet hijack his way back onto the ship, get into a fist fight with the current captain (with no interference from the watching security guards) and then assume command when the captain recluses himself.

The characters:

Kirk is a speed devil and a total loose cannon. It's a wonder he made it a week in academy; discipline in the entire academy and on ships appears to be total chaos. He's not really entirely likable. But not too unlikable, either. I wasn't thrilled with his overdone casualness in the academy test scene. Otherwise, no complaints.

Kirk runs into Uhura early on, and she's feisty, but not really. She inexplicably kisses Spock a couple of times, and she doesn't seem to add much more to the movie than that. And, aside for a brief shot of Spock's mother, there are no other female characters in the movie. This is par for the course for Star Trek, but I was hoping for more; in fact, the IMBD entry indicates that the director and producers were careful to add strong female characters, but I must have missed them.

Kirk runs into McCoy on his first day of training (funny, I thought he was supposed to be older). McCoy is strongly played up as the character we know and love, but a few of his lines were a little forced, particularly his "Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a ..." line.

Sulu is now Korean, rather than Japanese, but apparently that's no problem. Chekov revisits the Russian-inflected English which got him into trouble in Star Trek 4, and seems to have potential. Both of these guys need much more to do in a future movie. Scotty is introduced midway in the show; amusingly. But once on the ship, fades into the same kind of repartee he is known for, without much more.

The bad guy was a bad guy.

Spock is played excellently, and in fact is more the main character than Kirk in the movie. If I have any complaints, it is that the script didn't give him quite enough time to detail his internal struggle. More on him and a little less on the exploding shrapnel might have been nice.

Star Trek was, once upon a time, full of philosophical inquiry and moral dilemma. Not much of that made it into this film; it was more Kirk's spit and vinegar, and Spock's struggle with his emotions. Beyond that, the movie didn't really mean very much. But it won't make you bored, and it will probably leave you happy.

Ranking: 4, 11, 9, 8, 2, 3, 10, 7, 6, (5 and 1 which are both the same and horrid).
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