I wanted to start this review by saying that I wasn't a Trekker. But then I realized that by acknowledging the fact that "Trekker" is the preferred fan designation, and not "Trekkie," I revealed myself to be more of a Star Trek nerd than I had thought. I have a weird relationship with Star Trek: I've never been able to truly get into it, but because my dad has been a Trekker ever since the first episode of the first series aired, I've seen and enjoyed my fair share of episodes of the original series and The Next Generation.
Why, then, haven't I ever been able to really "get" it? Maybe I've got authority problems. Star Trek was always the bright-eyed, optimistic vision of the future, with Captains Kirk, Picard, and what feels like a gazillion others dedicated to finding new planets and lifeforms. They worked for the Federation. They were the Man. The rough-and-tumble Star Wars, on the other hand, openly went around calling its heroes "rebels." And Firefly, well…they were a buncha filthy criminals. In comparison, the clean and at times seemingly antiseptic world of Star Trek felt false.
Still, the one thing I've always truly loved about Star Trek was its colorful cast of characters, and, whaddaya know, that's the one thing I'm able to truly love about J.J. Abrams' souped-up new film version. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a winningly cocky hotshot, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is the film's surprising emotional center, and Scotty succeeds simply by virtue of being played by Simon Pegg.
The film is that most cherished of franchise entries these days, the fabled reboot, so we get to meet everyone all over again. Kirk's father is killed in the line of duty by a Romulan warship captained by Nero (Eric Bana) just as Kirk is being born. Thus, Kirk grows up as a hard-partying, anti-authoritarian slacker who, after getting beaten up in a bar for seducing the sexy Uhura (Zoe Saldana), is convinced by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to sign up for the Starfleet Academy. Three years later, Kirk finds himself aboard the newly built Enterprise, not exactly a hero–he only gets on the ship because his pal Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) sneaks him into the sickbay–but well on the way. When the Enterprise comes upon an attack of the planet Vulcan engineered by Nero, Pike gives himself over to the Romulans, leaving unlikely allies Kirk and Spock to save the day.
When the film focuses on the interplay between its characters, it's quite enjoyable. There are several laugh-out-loud scenes that are funnier than anything in an early summer action flick this big and occasionally stupid has the right to be. Pine and Quinto have real chemistry, and if given time, could probably grow into the characters and their relationship as well as William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy did. Quinto in particular is exceptional. Spock is supposed to be a remorselessly logical Vulcan, but his half-human pedigree often forces him to act on impulse. Quinto performs an excellent balancing act, and in the few moments where Spock really lets loose, he shines.
But then they started shooting stuff and I got bored. To be fair, long-time Abrams colleagues Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman have cooked up a much better script than they did for Abrams' lamentable Mission: Impossible III or Michael Bay's horrific Transformers. But the action is staged with little ingenuity, and visually, the film is garish, if in a pretty sort of way. Abrams updates the original series' shiny, basic colors for the 21st century, with a sort of whiz-bang exuberance, which means that everything is a lot brighter, flashier, and oh my God, chill out with the lens flares. Where Firefly and Battlestar Galactica used lens flares during space battles to add to the you-are-there immediacy, Abrams' approach is mere surface gloss, and is more distracting than it is stylish.
Which can also be said for much of Star Trek's unnecessarily complicated time-travel plot. I have infinite patience for the insane leaps of logic on Lost, which Abrams co-created, but there they are an integral part of the characters and their situations. Star Trek, not so much. It's one of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood that Leonard Nimoy pops up as an older version of Spock, and though I won't ruin the specifics, what is positioned as the film's major turning point amounts to little more than a convenient way for Trekkers to fit the movie into formal continuity.
Although I may have a caveat or two about the original Trek, it still holds up, largely because Gene Roddenberry always made sure it was about something. Star Trek was always one of the most progressive shows of the 1960s, dealing with such thorny social issues as racism and religion. And while I appreciate that Abrams has brought Trek's bright, shiny mixed-race melting pot back just in time for the Obama Age, I'm not quite sure what this one is supposed to be about. There's nothing wrong with boldly going forth to sell tickets, but there's not exactly a lot of nobility to it either.
Still, this movie made my dad happy, and for that I am grateful.