It’s so nice when something you’ve been waiting for with baited breath, shaking with anticipation, getting sucked in by hype and promises of the next big thing in cinema, actually turns out to be good. No, not good: superb. Superb is a word I have never used before in my entire life, and I’m using it now to describe Star Trek. This was popcorn entertainment of the highest caliber. It was the most enjoyable film I’ve seen in years.
Spoilers and nerdiness ahead.
Look: the last time we saw this franchise on the big screen, it was 2002 and the movie was Star Trek: Nemesis. Nemesis was – and let’s be fair here – an abomination – nay, an abortion of a movie. It tried so hard to be The Wrath of Khan for the Next Generation cast, but it wound up being “Spock’s Brain.” The problem with making movies with the TNG cast had nothing to do with them or the characters or the show, which I really love. The problem was: all the Big Epic Storylines had already been done in the two-parters. The only really good TNG movie was First Contact, and that’s mostly because it was a sequel to “The Best of Both Worlds.”
Nemesis involved time traveling Romulans and the destruction of Romulus and the past coming back to haunt you. Star Trek has all those things in it, but this time, they remembered to bring the Awesome. Gone is the technobabble, the stiff dialogue, the stiffer acting, and the moralizing. In its place is a Captain Kirk who’s still a loose cannon, a Spock who hasn’t reconciled his human half with his Vulcan half, and a plotline that opens up a whole new world of possibilities should this franchise continue, which, if there’s a God, it will.
Chris Pine’s Kirk skirts the frat-boy thing at times, but underneath it all is a certain, palpable intelligence that keeps him from being an anti-intellectual poster boy. He is absolutely James T. Kirk as a callow youth, before he was a hero. If you know Trek-lore, you’ll know the story of how Kirk was the only cadet ever to beat the Kobiyashi Maru test. Guess what? You get to see him do it here. As you may know, he cheated, and the way Kirk casually eats an apple while blowing away pretend Klingon Birds of Prey is priceless.
Zachary Quinto is Spock. He just is. He looks exactly like Spock from the series, but plays him with a certain sadness and curious detachment – understandable, considering what happens to him here. (I’ll say no more, but this is where the movie diverges from established canon, and it’s much better for it. In case you’re one of those people who knows the combination to Kirk’s safe, know that the contradictions are explained by all the time travellin’, and you should get over yourself.)
Simon Pegg shows up way too late as Scotty, but it’s a treat when he does. Zoe Saldana plays the Uhura that Nichelle Nichols probably would have loved to play, if NBC didn’t freak out about the black lady having too many lines back in the ’60s (you know how southern advertisers could be..) Kal Penn should have had more to do as Sulu, but he does well with what he has. Karl Urban is so McCoy that it’s almost a shock to learn he’s really from New Zealand – oh, and we find out why he’s called Bones. Anton Yelchin makes a fine Chekhov, and Bruce Greenwood’s Pike winds up being sort of a father figure to the crew. Greenwood’s always been good – dig up Nowhere Man or Thirteen Days sometime – and a Starfleet captaincy suits him.
And Eric Bana as Nero? So good. So over the top and huge and vengeful and fun. Sure, his motivations don’t really make sense, and his scheme – go back in time to destroy the planet of the guy who tried, but failed, to stop your planet from being destroyed – is at best petty and at worst sort of Scooby Dooish, but he’s obviously having fun up there on screen, so we’ll let it slide.
The film feels like no other Star Trek film (except maybe II, IV, and VIII if I’m feeling magnanimous) in that it is a product of its time. It’s the perfect post-post-irony action film, in that it can laugh at itself without mocking itself. It’s fresh and brash and young and it’s everything Enterprise failed to be. No one takes themselves too seriously here, not even Spock, whose subtle kiss-off to the Vulcan high council elicited huge applause in the theater. It gives us massive battle sequences, huge sound, lots of explosions and action and fighting, and still manages to feel human. The characters are what matter here first, then the plot, then the action. The action’s impressive – Sulu gets to swordfight, Kirk is chased by monsters, and the climactic fight is one of those great “two guys fighting on a very small platform above a very big pit” things – but we’re swept up because we care about Gene Roddenbury’s characters.
Anyway, great film. See it on the big screen while you still have a chance. K’plagh!
The girlfriend, by the way, is currently writing an article about how to watch the film if you are – as she was – a Star Trek virgin. It should be up on her blog later tonight.