J.J. Abrams is not a fan of Star Trek. He’s a Star Wars guy. Since we are close in age, I understand where he’s coming from. It’s also why his Star Trek movie is nothing more than his version of Star Wars using the Star Trek characters.
This, alone, is not a bad thing.
Abrams has created a rollicking space adventure, with two distinct character arcs, coalescing into a neat package of nostalgia and potential. It was a tricky business reinventing Star Trek for a modern, “non-Trek is my religion” audience and Abrams does a masterful job.
I have a few complaints, but there’s a lot more to like than not to like with this movie. I am no fan of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who scripted the Transformers movie with bathroom humor and an incoherent plot. Here, the laughs are surprisingly good and the space battles too dizzying to follow (just like the Transformers robot fights), but the parallel storylines of Kirk and Spock are moving and identifiable to the audience. Abrams wisely chose to focus on bringing pathos to his protagonists and this makes all the difference.
Casting actors for iconic characters played originally by actors who were essentially typecast afterwards has got to be a terrible job. The studio should give the casting directors huge bonuses for what they did because without Pine as Kirk, Quinto as Spock and Urban as McCoy the movie would not be the true kickoff to the summer season it is. Each of the actors accurately portray the “characters” and do not devolve into impersonation – a real fear I had with this collection of relative unknowns. To be fair though, the rest of the cast are little more than one or two sentence character sketches, comic relief and the incredibly attractive Zoë Saldana (who gets to do more than just say “Hailing frequencies open.”)
I liked Pine playing Kirk as a cocksure, ladies man, who’s smarter than he lets on. Quinto’s emotionally conflicted Spock feels closer to Roddenberry’s original vision. Urban as McCoy gets the short end of the characterization stick, but manages to channel DeForest Kelly without mimickery.
Pine’s Kirk is a hero who feels pain, gets scared and delivers witty quips. In that respect, he’s more Indiana Jones circa Raiders and it works without sliding into anything resembling a Shatner-ism. Quinto as Spock doesn’t have the right tenor to his voice, but he looks uncannily like a younger Nimoy. Both Pine and Quinto have several defining moments in the film and both deliver performances better than I would have imagined.
Visually and sonically, the movie is on par with the best special effects flicks with a dutifully soaring score. I know Abrams went back and tweeked the sound mix and it shows. I wish he would have eliminated his lens flares as I think they are more distracting than any other justification Abrams has for their inclusion. The opening space battle is frantic, exciting and bittersweet. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Your mileage may vary, but personally I didn’t need the time travel/Spock Prime connection to the original series/timeline. I would have been incredibly happy if the writers had totally ditched the time travel aspect, didn’t add Nimoy and beefed up Bana’s Nero. In fact, Nero’s motivation for revenge on Spock Prime being told in a mind meld instead of via action and dialogue was a terrible cheat by the screenwriters. As a character, Nero is paperthin and his plan to destroy planets played better when the Death Star did it. Portraying Nero as a Romulan added nothing to the story and could have easily been rewritten to be stronger with a clear need to destroy the planets of the Federation.
I wish the writers/director/studio would have had the cajones to do a complete reimagining instead of the alternate reality cheat. It would have made a cleaner break from the 40 odd years of Star Trek lore and not relegated this universe as Star Trek on Earth-2.
Ultimately, I’m probably picking and nits. Regular moviegoers won’t care one iota about alternate realities and new timelines. They just want science fiction action and Abrams delivers it in a sleek and shiny suitcase.
Some may ask how it falls on the Wrath of Khan scale and for me it’s still short. However, it’s far and away the next best movie of the 11 total Star Trek flicks. Speaking of second movies, I wonder if Khan might be in line as the inevitable sequel’s villain? Might I suggest Naveen Andrews (Sayed on Lost) as a potential Khan Noonien Singh?
I look forward to the next installment. Warp Factor Awesome.