I saw Star Trek last week on Friday and only now that I’ve managed to spend some time away from it to be sure that what I felt wasn’t a fluke, I can say that it was every bit the thrill ride that Wrath of Khan was. Khan still ranks as the top Trek film for me, but J.J. Abrams has proven that he is probably the best man for the franchise right now.
To be honest, I wasn’t all that happy to hear at first about how they were going to take the “prequel” route by telling the stories of the characters from the start of when they first came aboard the Enterprise. I didn’t hate the Enterprise series, it had some great moments, but when you walk alongside the history that has been established by the books, the series, and everything else in between, you always run the risk of pissing a lot of the fans off who do keep up with all of that baggage when something doesn’t mesh. But the movie isn’t a “prequel” in the strictest sense, nor is it a reboot which interviews with writers Orci and Kurtzmann have pointed out. It doesn’t throw away anything from the Trek universe as fans know it and it does it in a way that, well, is pretty incredible if not downright WTF.
It didn’t become some screwy story of angst filled cadets crying over relationships and the characters didn’t come off as caricatures or snidely disrespected the original series in any way from what I could see. If I could describe the treatment that this film had for the work that came before it, I’d have to say that it walked on eggshells (with only one, huge, exception that ties into the narrative…HUGE exception, but a challenging twist for the series) the entire time. The story respects the original series through an incredible twist within it that I want to talk about, but can’t, because it would spoil the whole thing. But I can say that Spock is in it, both the old and the new, and it figures into what goes down in more ways than one.
Casting a largely unknown cast also created a lot fewer expectations for me going into this. I didn’t know everyone in the movie aside from Leonard Nimoy, Ben Cross, Karl Urban, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, and Bruce Greenwood who I’ve seen in other films.
And they carried their roles with plenty of style. Urban had McCoy’s dry wit, Bana was fantastic as a bitter villain bent on revenge, and Simon Pegg will probably have to take some getting used to as a young Scotty. Ben Cross was a decent Sarek, and Bruce Greenwood was a solid Christopher Pike (for you non-Trekkies out there, Pike was the first captain of the Enterprise and the guy that was in the original pilot for the Star Trek series). The good news: they were all great.
The movie is a slam bang extravaganza of superb special effects and explosive moments such as diving onto a tether drill from orbit because a jamming field prevented beaming, or the incredible opening scene which sets the whole thing in motion. Chris Pine as a young, headstrong, and troubled Kirk was perfect. He had the swagger, the confidence, the devil-may-care attitude carved into his mouth and his fists, but he also had the “we can do this together” mentality that a good leader should also have to bring everyone to the table. And Quinto as a young Spock? You can tell that he’s still struggling to contain the emotions that his human side wants to burst through to the surface, and he pulls it off well.
And that’s the most surprising thing for me…the human element that was brought out in the film with the major characters, although not all of them had gotten equal shrift. Chekov was great, but we didn’t get to see much more of him other than his accent and his ability to snatch people out of thin air with the teleporter. But they were all incredibly likeable and instantly appealing, something that a new generation of Trek fans will probably need to warm up to if the franchise is going to be able to tell new stories.
That’s also what will probably cause a lot of furious debate among Trekkies as they try and decide where this falls within the hallowed canon that some of the prosthetically eared members among them regard as inviolable dogma.
As I had mentioned before, though, there’s an interesting twist that sets this film apart from the original Trek universe in a way that only a sci-fi opera like this can explain. Even without the Trek trappings, it’s still…like the Wrath of Khan…a solid piece of space adventure that anyone with a desire to see huge ships duking it out among the stars while laughing along with the characters and sitting on the edge of their seats to see how they will survive the next near disaster can get into.
Read the reviews and make up your own mind, but they’re not bullshitting when they say that it works. As a fan since watching the original series, who loves DS9, even Voyager, Next Generation, and even a little of Enterprise (and the animated series…I miss the old Nikelodeon), I can heartily recommend any fan to sit down and get ready to warp into a the wake of a cinematic Genesis torpedo exploding on the silver screen.
They really did it.