Directed by JJ Abrams
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Bruce Greenwood, Eric Bana
And Karl Urban as Doctor Leonard McCoy
This movie is very good. It is very very good. Infact, this movie is not simply a very good Star Trek movie, it is a very good movie.
The first great thing about this movie was the four teenagers sitting behind us. In the half hour before the film started, they talked at length about which films they think were most popular for having sex in the theater (Rocky Horror Picture Show), and how she didn’t mind who he told about them having sex with each other, but he did mind who she told`. Also, apparently Lisa Hanover (not her real name) is such a giant slut that she agreed to have sex with Billy Gweebinski (not his real name) for fifteen dollars even though he’s totally filthy and a loser. Also, Ms. Hanover got in trouble at school for letting two guys suck on her breasts after a basketball game. Also, both the girls liked Cloverfield, and one of the guys always lost at Gay Chicken, which I gather is when two guys go in to make out, and the first one to bail out loses. The last one to bail out, of course, is branded gay.
The cast is pretty much excellent. I don’t think anyone ever questioned that Quinto would be awesome as Spock. As McCoy, Urban looks the part and sounds the part, but I will concede that for much of the film, he seems to be, well, “McCoying it up”. More like someone doing a McCoy impression instead of actually playing McCoy. I’d expected not to like Chris Pine as Kirk, but he really does pull it off. I’d been suffering from visions of a “Totally Awesome” Kirk tryng to be all hip and streetwise. Thankfully, it was not to be. The only thing I really missed — and this is really the script’s fault and not Pine’s — is that we never get to hear him give one of those classic Kirk Speeches, with Kirk telling… us… that… the indomitable human spirit… yearns to be… FREE! or something.
I was going to say that Zoe Saldana varied the most radically from her predecessor as Nyota (Yes, it’s canon now) Uhura, but then I realized that Uhura never really had any sort of characterization worth speaking of before. So yeah. she differs a lot in that. Anton Yelchin is basically a non-character as Chekov. John Cho’s is competent as Sulu, but nothing to write home about. The biggest disappointment in the cast, for me. is Simon Pegg. I know most people liked him, but I think they’re confusing liking Simon Pegg as a comic actor and liking Simon Pegg as Scotty. Pegg’s Scotty — I will not mince words about this — is The Comic Relief Character. He’s a joke. Scotty should not be a joke.
But for my money, the real surprising role, was the one I didn’t really go in with any preconceptions about: Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike. He’s basically Dad for the Enterprise crew, and he really ties the film together.
Watching Star Trek get the Crisis on Infinite Earths treatment is something which has sort of affected me at a weird emotional level. Even though Trek doesn’t speak to me the way it used to, it’s something sort of foundational to my brand of geekery. One of those things which was supposed to always be there. It’s the sci fi geek’s equivalent of mom remarrying.
Anyway, it’s visually stunning, it’s got a coherent plot, it respects its roots, and it makes Star Trek all shiny and new.
And to say more, would be spoilers…
Vulcan gets destroyed. For real. Permanently. And it doesn’t get reset. Vulcan is utterly destroyed, the Vulcan race is left on the verge of extinction, Spock’s mom dies.
Also, Uhura is sleeping with Spock.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, the story…
The starship Kelvin happens upon a negative space wedgie which emits a gigantic and slightly lovecraftian Romulan ship which blows it to pieces. Her first officer, one George Kirk, takes command and sacrifices himself to but the crew, including his wife, who is in the process of giving birth (attended by an alien from the planet of the anime girls), to escape. Among those lost in the destruction of the Kelvin is apparently the guy responsible for the “Art Deco” movement in Starship Interior Design. The Romulan ship is captained by a guy named Nero, and he’s looking for Spock, but he’s 25 years early.
A series of vignettes shows us that that child grows up to be James T. Kirk, a rebellious jackass who totally isn’t going to go into Star Fleet, at least not until he fails to pick up Uhura in a bar, gets his ass kicked, and has a heart-to-heart with Captain Pike. Even at a young age, he shows a profound skill for pulling himself back up when he’s dangling over a precipice, a scene you have seen in the trailer. Kirk enlists in Starfleet, which for some reason means that in three years, he’ll be in the academy.
Meanwhile, on Vulcan, Spock grows up, and demonstrates that while he’s as logical as the next guy, he loses his cool whenever anyone insults his mother. For example, when he is admitted to the Vulcan Science Avcademy, these very rational, logical Vulcans tell him that he’s a credit to his race, and that it’s amazing that he’s so smart in spite of the fact that his mother is a lowly human and inferior in every way, which is why Spock went to Starfleet Academy instead.
The vignettes imply that these events happen at roughly the same time, though it’s clear by the next scene that Spock’s scenes are taking place a few years ahead of Kirk’s, since Kirk, as legend foretold, cheats on the Kobyashi Maru, which pisses off Spock, who has him brought before the honor council for cheating. Spock is already a decorated officer, and author of the test. Before Kirk can get detention, though, word comes in that Vulcan’s having some natural disasters, and the only ship in the quadrant is…
Well, actually, there’s like seven ships in spacedock, but all the proper crews are off in some other sector doing something important, so Pike decides to man all the ships with cadets, since this is just a disaster relief mission and nothing too major. McCoy smuggles Kirk aboard the Enterprise by initiating a five minute unnecessary comedy sketch where he induces unpleasant allergic reactions so that he can take Kirk to sickbay. Uhura also wants on the Enterprise, which Spock hadn’t wanted to do, for fear it would appear to be favoritism — this is one of those great moments of foreshadowing in this movie. I realize it shouldn’t be surprising in a film that they establish something as a possibility before it happens, or hint at something before it’s revealed, but I’m so used to plot developments coming out of nowhere or relying on the characters being functionally retarded that this was really shocking later when we discover that they’re a couple.
This is Enterprise’s maiden voyage. This is important, because everyone has been working from the assumption that this movie is set “just prior to the original series”. That’s not true: Kirk is only 25. Thanks to Nero’s interference, Kirk ends up on the Enterprise years early.
Sulu, who is new, leaves the handbrake on, so the Enterprise stalls when he tries to go to warp, which turns out to be a good thing, since the trip to Vulcan takes exactly long enough for Kirk to realize that the reports from Vulcan, crossed with a Klingon radio intercept he’d heard about from Uhura while he was nailing her green-skinned roommate adds up to Vulcan being under attack by the same super-powered Romulan ship that killed his dad. Thus warned, the Enterprise goes ahead and shows up at Vulcan anyway, pausing only to raise shields, which don’t stop Sulu from scratching up the paint job on a piece of debris. However, Sulu’s wacky antics getting them started means that by the time Enterprise shows up, the rest of the fleet has been conveniently blown into confetti.
Nero is about to blow the Enterprise into humorously colored paste, when he notices what the name of the ship is, and decides it would be totally awesome to spare Spock so he can watch what comes next. He invites Pike over for drinks and torture, and Pike takes the opportunity to drop Kirk, Sulu and A RedShirt Who Will Soon Die Of His Own Stupidity on Nero’s combination drilling and transporter jamming platform. It occurs to me now that I maybe ought to have questioned the fact that for some reason Nero’s ship has a mining drill which also blocks transporters and communications.
Kirk ends up hanging off the precipice at the edge of the platform, then Sulu fights a Romulan using his Swiss Army Sword. A lot of people are going to say it’s a katana, because everyone knows that katanas are Just Better. But it’s not; right before he uses it, Sulu says that he’s trained in fencing. That’s a fencing saber.
Anyway, they manage to disable the platform, then fall off it. Chekov runs down to the transporter room, because only he has the skill to beam up a moving target. The tension in this scene comes from the fact that dematerializing is incredibly slow in this movie. Seriously, it takes like a full minute after you’re encased in transporter sparkles. They dematerialize just in time. Nero takes a break from torturing Pike and telling him his life story (He’s just a humble mining ship captain, and his ship is just a civilian mining ship. Romulus was destroyed. He blames Spock. He’s been waiting 25 years to take his revenge. This is one of the entirely reasonable and yet mildly disappointing thigns about this movie; the big bad is just a gruff old miner with a grudge against Spock. He’s not out for universal domination, he’s not working for the Romulan government, he’s not God, he’s just an old miner in an old mining ship, and he manages, almost by accident, to make the biggest and most permanent change to the Star Trek universe ever.) to notice that his drill is broken, which is okay because they’d hit the core already and were just continuing to drill for shits and giggles. They launch a bit of Red Matter, so named because it is red, into the core of Vulcan, causing it to become a black hole. Spock beams down to rescue mom and dad (and also the Vulcan Elders Who Are Tasked With Preserving Their Cultural Heritage) as there are only seconds before the planet is destroyed. Half of the elders get crushed as the cave they’re in collapses, but the survivors emerge onto the surface, which appears to just be a matte painting of Kirk’s Rock, cloned a hundred times in photoshop. Unfortunately, in the fifteen minutes it takes a person to dematerialize, the ledge under Spock’s mom breaks, and she falls to her death. And then, at the last minute, when it seems nothing could save the planet… Nothing does. Vulcan implodes. What. The. Frak.
Spock wants to go meet up with the fleet, but Kirk wants to rescue Pike and stop Nero before he can destroy Earth — Nero has a giant ball of Red Matter, and it only takes one drop to destroy a planet, prompting the question of what the hell Spock was doing with that much Red Matter to begin with. For the benefit of the audience, Spock explains that by destroying the Kelvin, Nero has totally altered history, and no one’s destiny is the same, which is good news for them as it means that Nero can’t beat them just by looking up how to beat them in a history book. Basically, Spock turns to the audience and says “Yes, This is a different universe now and continuity is different, and Mr. Abrams does not need to receive hundreds of letters complaining that Kirk isn’t supposed to serve on the Enterprise for another six years yet, and Spock kicks Kirk off the ship, marooning him on Delta Vega, a planet close enough to Vulcan that it takes up about a 20 degree arc of the sky, or rather, it would except that it’s been destroyed. After a pointless chase across the ice by a big scary ice monster, Kirk meets Spock in a cave. And by “Spock”, I mean “old Spock”, who is pleased as punch to see Jim, and intent on making sure Kirk grows up to be good friends with young Spock as history dictates. He explains, via mind meld flashback, that he’s from the future, where he’d been sent to save the galaxy from a supernova by hucking a black hole at it. He succeeded, but took too long, and Romulus was destroyed before he got there. Nero, in a crazy rage, tried to off Spock, but they both fell into a black hole and ended up in the past, Nero in time to kill Kirk’s dad, and Spock about a week ago. Nero captured Spock, to make him watch as he destroyed Vulcan, but for some reason decided that Spock would have the best and most painful view from Delta Vega. Together, Kirk and Old Spock walk the 14 km to the nearest machine shop, where they meet Comedy Relief Scotty, a cadet who got dumped here with his midget alien buddy for killing his commanding officer’s dog. Spock gives Scotty the secret of beaming onto a starship at warp speed, which Kirk and Scott use to return to the Enterprise, which is still within range despite it being the next day. Nero, of course, hasn’t reached Earth yet, and the Enterprise has been traveling toward the rest of the fleet in a distant part of space. That’s okay, though, because it’s only going to take them thirty seconds to return to Earth. Old Spock does not warn Kirk about the dangers of falling bridges.
Now, you all know that scene from the trailer where Kirk and Spock fight, and everyone’s been wondering what’s up with that. Well, it happens here, and it happens because Old Spock has convinced Kirk that telling Young Spock about him will cause a massive temporal paradox. This turns out to be a lie, to try to engineer Kirk and Young Spock into liking each other, because Old Spock is wacky like that. So instead, Kirk has to assume command the old fashioned way: by getting Spock to try to kill him. Kirk insults Spock’s mother, Spock tries to kill Kirk, Spock’s dad yells at his son to get his act together, and Spock relieves himself of command as emotionally compromised. Since Pike’s last act before giving himself up was to put Spock in charge and name Kirk the acting first officer, this leaves Kirk in command.
And then the Enterprise drops out of warp within the atmosphere of Titan for some reason. They say something about it being to shield them from detection by Nero’s ship, but all they do is just lift up immediately out of the atmosphere and fly up to earth, so it seems likely that Sulu is just showing off at this point.
Kirk and Spock beam over to the Romulan ship just before the drill fires up. Or something. This bit was a little confusing. The important part is that there’s no way for them to get off the ship until the drill is destroyed. Kirk orders Chekov to take his shot if he sees a tactical advantage against Nero’s ship. He won’t; the Enterprise basically just sits back and watches for this part. Spock, by the way, decides to go with Kirk after a pep talk from his dad, about how Spock shouldn’t try to control his anger, but instead be true to his emotions. Yes. Spock’s dad. Now, we all know that in movies, the answer is always “Don’t think, feel!”, but geez — if there is one time in your life when it’s probably a bad idea to let your emotions overrule you instead of thinkign about things rationally and behaving responsibly, it’s when you’ve got to stop the guy who just committed genocide against your race, blew up your planet and killed your mom (Incidentally, Spock’s mom, as you know, is played by Wynona Rider. Coincidentally, Kirk’s mom’s name is “Wynona Kirk”.)
A Sidebar Here…
In the original series, Spock and his dad had always had a very strained relationship, starting with his dad being disappointed at how human Spock looked as a newborn, and culminating in Spock and dad not talking for twenty years or so when Spock joined the academy. Ultimately, the destruction of their planet presumably has curtailed that falling out, but frankly, I see no evidence that their fight happened at all. In fact, Sarek seemed, if anything, to be very neutral on the question of what Spock should do with his life.
Now, all this can be easily ignored; after all, we don’t actually see Sarek between Spock joining Starfleet and the destruction of Vulcan. But it gets me thinking. A few years back, Shatner wrote a Star Trek novel called “Avenger”, which expounded on the “real” reason for Spock’s falling out with his father. In Avenger, it turns out that in his wilder days, Sarek was a member of a group of eco-hippies who were Very Concerned about the long-term effects of randomly moving living stuff between ecosystems. As a protest, some of the more radical members introduce a foreign organism on Tarsus IV which causes all its food crops to fail. If you’re a giant Star Trek Geek, you’ll know that Tarsus IV was governed by a guy with the unfortunate moniker “Kodos the Executioner”, and he decided to deal with the food shortage by executing half the population. Pity his mom didn’t name him “Kodos the Guy Who’s Clever At Rationing”. A very young Kirk was on Tarsus IV, and he saved a very young Kevin Riley from being culled. All this was related in an episode of the original series. Avenger adds in two extra elements: first, that Sarek intervened to save Kirk (then used a mind-meld to erase his memory), and second, that Kodos is the guy who told Kirk that he’s going to die alone.
Anyway, in Avenger, the reason Spock joining Starfleet caused his falling out with his dad — the real reason — is that with Spock in Starfleet, he’d be duty-bound to turn his old man in as a terrorist if they ever mind-melded.
The reason I point this out is that in this new universe, Kirk wasn’t a military brat, and he wasn’t on Tarsus IV, and he never met Kodos, and never mind-melded with Sarek, so the rewriting of Kirk’s life has changed the outcome on Tarsus IV — thankfully, Kevin Riley never reached adulthood.
Back to the story… Spock snogs Uhura, and calls her by her first name, before beaming over to the Romulan Abomination Ship. Kirk and Spock fight their way through the Romulan ship, full of exciting tense scenes where we arent’ sure if Kirk shot five phaser bullets or six, and ultimately, they liberate Future-Spock’s Future Ship, which Spock can command, much to his surprise.
Kirk rescues Pike as Spock uses the Future Ship to blow up the drill, then he gets chased out into deep space. Kirk ends up hanging off a precipice again. Spock crashes the Future Ship into Nero’s ship, causing that giant ball of red matter to make a supergiant black hole which destroys Earth because it’s only thirty light-seconds away. Nah, actually it turns out that a gallon of Red Matter makes a much smaller black hole than a drop, since instead of planet-crushing-size, the black hole isn’t even as big as the Starship C’thulu, so it gets stuck in the black hole and very, very slowly gets torn apart. Again, they rely on slow transporters for tension, as Spock takes fifteen minutes to dematerialize from the cockpit. Kirk offers to rescue Nero and his crew, but Nero refuses. Spock also suggests that it’d be way more fun to let Nero die. So Kirk instead orders the Enterprise to fire on the already-doomed ship as the wormhole eats it. Of course, the Enterprise’s weapons have no effect on the futuristic Romulan ship, and the ship is already doomed, and Nero is already going to die. But it makes Kirk and Spock feel good about themselves to shoot at Nero. Clearly, James T Kirk and Spock are heroes of the highest caliber!
Afterward, Kirk is granted command of the Enterprise from the newly-promoted and wheelchair-bound Admiral Pike, who congratulates Kirk by beeping once for yes, twice for no.
Classic Spock talks New Spock into staying in Star Fleet instead of resigning to make pointy-eared babies, so he goes back to the Enterprise and applies for the vacant “First Officer” position. As the Enterprise flies off, we get one last go at hearing Nemoy deliver the “Space, the final frontier” speech, which is a nice touch, though I bet Chris Pine felt a little ripped off. Frankly, I’ve heard Nemoy do it before, and I think it woulda been more fair to the new cast to let them do it.
So. Wow. Huh.
A big, huge, universe-changing Trek Event. And it ended without a reset button. But…
Man. Everything we knew is gone.
Except Enterprise. Enterprise is still canon.
Anyway, it’ll be okay. We’ll get through this. Mommy and Daddy still love you.
More to come…