But then J. J. Abrams got his hands on the new Star Trek. I don't know how this craptastic of a movie-maker managed to wrap his slimy little fingers around one of the greatest science fiction franchises in history (rivaled only by Star Wars), but he did and now we're stuck with a movie that is, unfortunately, a crapfest. I know that Abrams has been behind it for a while--well before the trailers and the website--but I had been under the illusion that someone else was directing this film, that it was in capable of hands. And I even went into this movie setting aside all my hatreds for Abrams2, hoping that maybe he'd redeem himself by providing a well-rounded, damn good flick that captured much of the magic of the original series. But no. Not even close. (Spoilers ahead...)
The new Star Trek begins with a bang. Some Romulan miner from the future named Nero is pissed off because his home planet has been/will be destroyed by a supernova. He blames Spock and the Federation for letting his people be eradicated and decides to go back in time to exact his revenge. Back home, after Nero destroys a federation ship and Kirk's baby form escapes, grown up Kirk gets prompted on a dare to join Starfleet and be all he can be and other such ridiculousness. Nero attacks Vulcan, and hi jinks ensue.
That's the basic gist of the story, and certainly the first half of the movie is worthy of the Star Trek title. But that's when everything falls apart. What was already a time-laden plot line becomes convoluted with absurdities that expose a gaping hole of amateur writing and directing. It was easy enough to accept one time traveling character, because Nero is essentially the central conflict of the story, but when you decide to have two time traveling characters, one of which literally has no business being there at all other than to provide a pointless, meaningless sidetrack for Kirk to follow, you're flirting with the edges of continuity. In fact, the second time traveling character has no purpose being in this movie other than to provide the writers/directors an easy out, a way of getting past the difficult hole they dug themselves into by making Spock and Kirk practically sworn enemies, to shove in a character who probably should have been there earlier, and a way of inserting Leonard Nemoy into the movie so he can go off on a big flashback where he tells us everything. And I do mean this literally that after the halfway mark the plot of Star Trek becomes less about furthering the story and more about finding ways to dig oneself out of a hole with cheap tricks and illogical idiocies that make one wonder whether there was any point at all to the whole thing.
The absurdities, however, do not end there. The directing/editing for the film is absolutely wretched, with entire subplots being inserted in hamfisted glory into the narrative, with no clear reason for them to be there. Uhura, thus, is the most pointless character in the film, which is sad considering she is also the only significant female character in it. We're supposed to accept at face value that Spock and Uhura are an item, but we never understand where it comes from or whether it existed before Kirk met Uhura. In fact, we don't know anything about this relationship, yet it's shoved into our view as something that should be taken seriously as part of the rivalry between Spock and Kirk. Uhura thus becomes nothing more than another item for Abrams to dangle over us to fulfil some other plot line as if to whore out Uhura to the whims of continuity.
In addition to the ridiculousness of the plot, the cast is a mixed bag for a movie that's supposed to be reviving the greatness of Star Trek. While Scotty, McCoy, and Spock are perfectly cast, the remaining classic Star Trek characters are mediocre at best. Uhura is utterly pointless; the fellow who plays Chekov manages to turn the character into a comedic farce a la Epic/Scary/etc. Movie; Sulu lacks some of the original charm of the character; and Kirk, worst of all, is not even Kirk at all, but an absurdly arrogant delinquent who fails to fit into the shoes once worn by Shatner. I understand trying to upgrade the characters, but this is clearly the wrong direction. Kirk never hits his stride in this new incarnation; in fact, there is almost no growth for Kirk, except that he befriends Spock in the end, but only because Abrams inexpertly inserted future Spock to make it happen. What a great way to try to develop a character by essentially cheating and telling us that there's no reason for Star Trek to remain true to its form, because one can simply fabricate a time traveling elf at will to manipulate other characters into doing the will of the directorial gods.
Other issues I had with the film are primarily nitpicks. I appreciated the re-imagined Enterprise and the upgrading of the look of the Federation, but I had issues with other designs in the film. The Romulan mining vessel, while certainly cool and evil looking, made little sense as far as its functionality is concerned. Considering that Abrams kept the look of the Federation relatively intact (the Enterprise still looks like the Enterprise), it seems somewhat ridiculous that he would shift the visual focus of the Romulans so incredibly for Nero's ship. Looking back, you can't logically make a connection between future Romulan and past Romulan, even though the time spanning between them is relatively negligible3. My other issue is one I think fans are right to throw a fit about: Why is the Enterprise being built on the ground? Not only does that make absolutely no sense logically, but it doesn't fit into the Star Trek universe at all. First off, building a ship of that size on the ground and then trying to get it into space would not only require ridiculous amounts of energy, but would actually be counterproductive when one considers that it would simply be easier to build it in space. Second, we've seen the Enterprise built in space before, if I recall correctly, which leads me to assume that, again, this is just a ploy by Abrams to give us a special scene that changes Kirk--that scene being one in which he makes the decision to actually join Starfleet and become a captain of his own ship.
After all the negativity in this post, I suppose it would be fair to say that there were a few things that I did enjoy. The first half of the movie was excellent, in my opinion, with exception to the destruction of Vulcan, which I thought was incredibly damaging to the Star Trek universe considering the prominence of Vulcans as a species. I also found the comedic points rather delightful, particularly Quinto's Spock and his interactions with Kirk. Visually, the film is stimulating, with a few borderline elements that seemed too much like Star Wars to be fitting, but that's more nitpicking on my part. Overall, I would say that Star Trek was okay. Nothing special, not worth the ten dollars I paid to see it, but maybe good enough for those with lower standards in films than myself. I expected too much of this movie, and was shorthanded. If you really want to see this movie, wait for it to come out on DVD and rent it. It's worth seeing for three dollars, but not worth a full price movie ticket.
1. My mother let me watch the original series on tape when I was seven or eight and I've never looked back.
2. I have never liked J. J. Abrams. Lost is certainly one of the worst television shows ever made, with its pointlessly overly complicated narrative and its ridiculous premise that takes itself far too serious--Gilligan's Island at least had the forsight to recognize the stupidity of its basic plot, and thus inserted comedic flare in exchange for serious diversions into weird explanations for why they ended up there without being found for a heck of a long time. Then there was Cloverfield, which basically bent all monster movies over and rammed it home with the ferocity of a jealous Orangutan. And don't get me started on Chug, Chud, Hud, Hub, Hug, or whatever his name was, who we had to deal with for most of that movie, despite his being one of the most annoying characters in the history of films. The only good thing to come out of Abrams is Armageddon, and I think that we should acknowledge that as a fluke, with everything that followed it being part of a legacy that would rival M. Night Shyamalan's lackluster career.
3. You can actually trace the evolution of the Enterprise throughout the Star Trek franchise, and it never really changes. True, it's look adjust and becomes sleeker or bulkier, but the Enterprise is still recognizable as the Enterprise, no matter which movie or series you watch. This is contrary to what Abrams has done with this movie, taking all the original Romulan designs and tossing them out the door to make something cool looking, but disconnected not only from any sort of logical reality, but from the historiofuturic universe of Star Trek.