“Star Trek” launches the 2009 summer movie season (forget “Wolverine,” at least for now) in much the same way “Iron Man” got last year’s season off to a great start. It’s bright and fast, fun and fizzy, witty and, really, kind of wonderful. It reminds us that sometimes we go to the movies just to get a kick out of what we see on the screen.
For this movie to be fun is quite an achievement. This is a “Star Trek” movie, after all. And there have been plenty before it, some of them kind of great (like “Wrath of Kahn”) and some of them pretty awful (like “Nemesis”) but none of them ever approaching fun. Going Where No One Has Gone Before has always been terribly serious business; there are leagues of Trekkies out there, after all, who are checking every detail, cross-referencing every serial number, and making sure it’s all “canon.” Everything has to measure up. Everything has to match. It’s hard, headachy work to make a Star Trek movie, and almost as much work to watch one. Until now.
J.J. Abrams sidesteps all the fretting about canon quite deftly, and in a way I didn’t notice, until it was pointed out to me by a more passionate Trekkie; he places almost all of his movie in an alternate universe. Very early on (like, in the first two minutes) a very large and ominous spaceship breaks the space/time continuum, radically changing the course of events, and voila – none of that canon matters anymore. That all happened before, and this is after, even though it’s before, so there you go. (If you didn’t understand that, ask your nine-year-old to explain it.)
And that gives him the freedom to make a movie that both quotes the old series and movies, and so on, and also to plot his own course where no one has gone before (it’s also not afraid to quote “Star Wars,” and quite liberally at times.) And so we get the same characters, but different. It’s hard to distinguish between back story and new twist, but that’s half the fun. We get a much sexier Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and a smoky, secret relationship between her and Spock (Zachary Quinto, of “Heroes” fame wears the ears quite nicely.) We get a goofy, kid genius Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and a kung fu Sulu (John Cho.) Abrams adeptly uses these supporting characters to provide one liners, side quips and comedy throughout the movie; they function like Tony Stark’s robots. The movie is so much better because of them.
And while Kirk is basically the same, though Chris Pine doesn’t chew scenery or spit lines like Shatner did, Spock is a whole new character. Unlike Nimoy’s Spock, who never betrayed a hint of emotion, real or buried, Quinto plays the Vulcan as the most emotional character in the movie. He always seems to be simmering, when he’s not outright boiling over. Even when he’s clinging to logic like a plush toy to a car window, he seems arrogant, secretly loving the power that being right gives him. He makes Kirk’s blatant emotional displays seem shallow and harmless. And then there’s the whole thing with Uhura. Yowza.
It seems to be a requirement that “Star Trek” villains be barbarous, monosyllabic, leather-clad Philistines who are more comfortable roaring and growling than conversing. Eric Bana fits the bill surprisingly well as a Romulan who has come back from the future to get revenge on Spock for something he’s going to do…someday. Why he doesn’t just wait around long enough to prevent the terrible act is beyond me, and, maybe, beyond him as well. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who is capable of much forward thinking. For some reason, at least certain decks of his ship are filled ankle-deep with water.
He manages to destroy an entire planet (a pretty important one, too) and to kill Spock’s mother (played, in one of the most bizarre casting choices in recent memory, by Winona Ryder) before heading after Spock himself. Um, one of the Spocks. Because Nimoy appears, late in the film, another visitor from the future, and if you want, a connecting point to all the other “Star Trek” movies (like I said, this one manages to take place both before and after the others.) Spock must rely on Kirk’s shoot-from-the-hip, one chance in a million decision-making to save all of them. Or, um, something like that. “Star Trek” moves quick and dizzily, rarely slowing down for explanations – and this works mightily to its advantage. (Central to the plot is something called “red matter.” We learn, to some extent, what it does, but never what it is.) To tell the truth, the plot got away from me a bit, and it didn’t matter at all. “Star Trek” was a fun movie, a great ride, a trip down memory lane and into the future, and one I look forward to seeing again. Soon.
- if you liked “Iron Man” last summer.
- if you are looking for something big, fun, summery, full of action and laughs.
- if you’re a Trekkie. But of course you’ve seen it already, haven’t you.
- if you’re a hardcore Trekkie, way into canon, and can’t imagine anything going this off-book being any good.
- if you’re really into science and can’t handle a sci fi movie that is more “fi” than “sci.”