This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Star Trek is dead. Long live Star Trek. The multiple spin-off spanning franchise eventually ground to a halt under the weight of its own inertia, the excruciating Enterprise proving to be so terrible that even the hardest of hardcore Trekkies had to admit that it sucked. This, however, is ‘sucks’ calibrated to a Star Trek scale, whose continuing missions has so far yielded one halfway decent film, two at a push, a slender handful of decent episodes and a torrent of utter drivel where Wesley Crusher’s homework eats the ship or something escapes from the holodeck. Again.
This rebootening of the series addresses some of the major reasons for its wander into the wilderness by removing any pretense whatsoever to the ‘science’ part of its ‘science fiction’ pigeonhole. I’m no fan of the original series, but its mix of adventure and faintly tedious humanist message made little to no effort at justifying its space opera hijinx with a grounding in fact, which for no discernible reason suddenly became an issue with later series. Any script that feels the need to insert (quite literally, in this case) sections of ‘technobabble’, a mishmash of pseudo-scientific terms to give a vague patina of credibility to its mixture of Future Technologies Eight and Twelve has self-confidence issues that simply aren’t going to be fixed by talking about reversing the polarity of the tachyon accelerators and then waving the same magic wand you were going to use anyway.
It’s this baffling attempt at convincing people that it is ‘hard’ sci-fi, or speculative fiction, or whatever the geeks are insisting it be called these days, that, I’m convinced, has driven people to repel from the very name of Star Trek. Admittedly, it’s a fairly repulsive title to begin with even before obsessives start translating things into Klingon. Recognising that if it’s ever going to appeal to anyone outside of the dwindling supply of hardcore nerdotrekkies, it’s been left to J.J. Abrams to do some dramatic mainstream repositioning. And by Grabthar’s Hammer, this isn’t so much a reboot of the franchise as it is tying it up in a sack, smacking it with a baseball bat until it’s reduced into tiny shards, reversing over it in a Sherman tank then shaping the resulting broken mess into something that’s halfway between Rodenberry’s original series and a pre-prequel-asshattery George Lucas.
The point of this outing is to introduce us to the new versions of the classic U.S.S. Enterprise crew. Sporting a brand-new troubled background, Jimmy Kirk (Chris Pine)’s Starship Captain father sacrifices himself and his vessel to save his crew, wife and at that point unborn son at the altar of what can only be descibed as a massive bastard of a vessel that sticks its head out of an anomaly. This trauma turns Kirk into something of a rebel despite his aptitude, it’s only a stern talking to from family friend Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) that sets him somewhat straight and headed into Starfleet.
Befriending the pleasingly bitter and curmudgeonly, even at a young age, Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) and butting heads with half-Vulcan, half-human, all pointy-eared Spock (Zachary Quinto). Before long we’ve collected the entire set of fresh-faced versions of the familiar bridge (and engineering room) denizens, just in time for that massive bastard of a ship to make a reappearance, with its Romulan captain Nero (Eric Bana) screaming for Spock’s head on a plate for reasons that will become apparent of the fullness of time. Which, incidentally, Nero has been travelling back in.
For a villian and a scheme designed with the express McGuffinal purpose of rewriting history, Nero’s actually relatively well realised, thanks in large part to Bana who does far more with his limited number of lines than could reasonably be expected. Thankfully the quality of acting performance extends beyond the known quantities of Bana and fin comic relief from Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott-y, with compelling interpretations from Pine and Quinto. The effects work is, with perhaps the exception of one scene, above par, and the only slight criticism I can muster that is anything other than nit-picking is that it does bounce around in tone between drama and near-slapstick comedy a shade too often for my liking in the early going.
If you’re the sort of person who, $deity help you, actually enjoyed the shambling mockery of entertainment that the assorted Star Treks had become then stay well away from this film, as it contains much that will be anathama to you. The though process for most of the film seems to have revolved around wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if’s. Wouldn’t it be cool if Sulu had a foldaway sword to fight with? Let’s do that, damned if it makes any sense. Wouldn’t it be cool if Scotty has a weird, prosthetic-laden comedy dwarf sidekick for no apparent reason other than to be insulted? Fine, off we go.
The most interesting thing about the new Star Trek, for my money, is that for the most part almost all of these wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if’s actually do turn out to be pretty cool. It’s underwritten by a decent story with compelling characters, and delivers above average effects during its above average action scenes. If you’re the sort of tedious stickler who wants to pick holes in a plot designed more around the need to redact nearly forty years of future history than deliver a rich, layered narrative then there’s plenty of opportunity for that, but you’d be missing out on how much fun it contains.
It’s perhaps a little unfortunate that for mass market acceptance there’s got to be a lot more empathsis on “fiction” rather than “science”, but at least in this case it also coincides with an empathsis on “good” rather than “dreadful”. As franchise reboots go, the only better-handled one of late has been Batman Begins and even then, not by much. It’s perhaps not worthy of five stars in terms of narrative worth or any of the more tedious ways in which to judge a film, but as entertainment and spectacle it’s as good as anyone could reasonably expect.