DIRECTED BY: J. J. Abrams
WRITTEN BY: Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof
STARRING: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Karl Urban, John Cho, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin
SPOILERS ABOUND – YE HAVE BEEN WARNED
First off, disclaimer: I am not what you might call a “trekkie”, and my familiarity with the series is almost entirely casual. That said, I still feel like I know enough about the series to know that this just isn’t a very good Star Trek movie, or a good movie in general. I guess superficially it’s…entertaining. Abrams’ camerawork is visceral and makes the action…not boring. The movie moves along at a brisk enough pace to keep your attention. It’s noisy and colorful and has occasionally nice music. The actors are fine in their roles; they deliver their lines well and show visible effort in putting emotion into them which is a definite plus. Also for all you Star Trek fans out there, Bones says “Dammit Jim” a few times, and Scotty says some wacky stuff in a Scottish accent. And a bonus for all you Wrath of Khan fans out there, you’ll be happy to know this movie retreads many of the scenes you know and love from the classic film, so much so that it almost feels like you’re watching it all over again!
The story opens with the crew of the Enterprise conducting an observation of a primitive alien world. It’s not great, but I like these kinds of Raiders of the Lost Ark style cold opening. During this expedition Kirk and crew disobey the prime directive (that is the rule that they aren’t allowed to interfere with worlds that lack space travel capabilities). Kirk is reprimanded after Spock spills the beans about what they did and he ends up losing command of the Enterprise! And then, just as Kirk reaches his lowest point…it’s kind of forgotten because suddenly TERRORIST! Benedict Cumberbatch plays rogue officer John Harrison who kills many of the Star Fleet heads in an act of vengeance for…some reason that’s never really made all that clear. It’s up to Kirk…for some reason to go after him and take him out. Things get needlessly complicated when Kirk elects to capture Khan instead of killing him, revealing that the situation is slightly more complicated than what it seems.
And just to get it out of the way, yes, Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is in fact Khan from the original series and second movie (surprising absolutely no one). This reveal isn’t handled particularly well, basically boiling down to him coming right out and saying “I am Khan”. I don’t even understand why this was supposed to be a secret. Why even bring Khan back? What was the point? There’s really no twist on his character, and he doesn’t do much beyond bouncing between two modes: menacing and angry. Why not make a new villain instead of shackling Cumberbatch to an iconic character. I did like the tension that comes from Kirk and Khan having to have to work together, but again, this is dispensed with before anything interesting can be done with it. What’s the big secret then? Was it that Admiral Marcus was actually evil? That Kirk is the one that “dies” of radiation poisoning instead of Spock?
It is an exercise in plot as an excuse to move from action scene to action scene, with no regard being given towards significant character development beyond caricatures. What plot there is has holes out the wazoo, with motivations being so nebulous I couldn’t figure out what exactly was driving the villains to do what they did. Was the admiral looking to start war with the Klingons? Why? It was general opinion that war was incoming anyways, what would be the point of going through all that trouble to start a war? Maybe it was just to have the Klingon’s show up for about ten minutes because a marketing team knew Klingons are in Star Trek and wanted them there for ten minutes.
And like many an action blockbuster these days the villain purposefully gets captured halfway through the film only to break out after some convoluted scheme they cooked up ahead of time. At least in this case, there seemed to be at least a little improvisation on the part of our intrepid villain. Characters in this film seem to act largely on these predictive assumptions that characters will just so happen to do what they want at just the right time so their plan work. The levels of mental gymnastics required to buy the plot are just mind boggling. I think that Abrams’ needs to find new screenwriters because, in my eyes at least, this movie is an absolute failure in screenwriting at even the most basic level.
The film relies on the nostalgia of fans as a crutch to support its multitude of narrative weaknesses. I thought the idea behind to reboot was to distance itself from the pesky shadow of continuity, to become something new and exciting, its own thing. What we get here is the skeleton of an action film with the trappings of a Star Trek film haphazardly draped over top of it. There’s even a shoehorned cameo by Leonard Nemoy that pops up midway through the film. Even when it was established in the first film (and reiterated here) that he wasn’t going to interact with the characters anymore because…time travel and stuff, he goes ahead and gives them information anyways. It’s a moment that solely exists to appease fans who want to see him and nothing else. Where are the humanistic themes, the philosophical undertones? I don’t mind Star Trek having brisker pacing and more action, but why dispense with the things that make Star Trek Star Trek?
At least Abrams action direction is more coherent this time around. There’s a smattering of really nice set pieces here and there to draw your attention away from the story. The score by Michael Giacchino also has some great moments, but for the most part it’s just standard bombastic blockbuster score #473.I know the first Abrams Star Trek was far from perfect, but at least that movie didn’t rely solely on action to support its plot. This is a movie that hits the ground running, bounding heedless of any concept of pace or character. Ultimately it trips at the finish line with a cheaply wrapped up finish with no emotional payoff. Even people I’ve talked to who liked the film agreed the ending was pretty terrible. Of course many fans won’t care, because Kirk says the opening speech from the show at the end! See! Star Trek!
RATING: * * (out of four)