December 14, 2009
J.J. Abrams's reboot of Star Trek (2009) is a non-stop pastiche of eye-rolling hand-waves, each one more unbelievable than the last. A compilation of cliffhangers straight out of B-movie serial land. A script that makes Star Wars looks Shakespearean by comparison.
And yet the sum of the parts of this two-hour cinematic train wreck--the scattered pieces recycled from (exactly) thirty years of theatrical releases--is the most enjoyable Trek in two decades, worthy of being considered in the same canonical company as II, IV and VI.
Abrams's snappy pacing deserves a lot of credit, never dawdling long enough for the sheer absurdity of a scene to sink in. But the lion's share goes to the pitch-perfect casting and well-designed sets the actors appear at home in. Chris Pine as Kirk settles into that captain's chair like he owns it.
Zachary Quinto as young Spock achieves what Jim Parsons does as Sheldon on Big Bang Theory (albeit as a dramatic character), capturing the mien of a man who lives too much in his own head, but doesn't begrudge yielding the spotlight to a driven extrovert who lives too much outside his own head.
I wouldn't have expected the Spock/Uhura relationship to work, but it does. There's a lot of dramatic potential here if they don't mawkishly mess it up.
The other backstories ring true too. McCoy running away from a bad marriage (and implying that he comes from old money). Scotty as an eccentric scientist who's found a himself a great new toy. When Chekov jumps up and excitedly declares, "I can do this!" I bought the emotion completely.
Even the gimmick of Nimoy's cameo works, Nimoy having achieved the kind of on-screen gravitas usually reserved for bearded British actors. I hope they find an excuse to use him again.
Only one thing worries me. In the (hoped-for) sequels, Abrams must come up with stories that do not involve the end of life as we know it. I couldn't helping thinking of The Jerk, where the sniper keeps missing Steve Martin and hitting cans on the store shelves, and Martin yells, "He hates cans!"
Star Trek villains really hate solar systems. Destroying stars and sundry planetary objects in order to get even with somebody--it's time to retire this plot device permanently. Time travel too. We've been there and done that and done that enough times for several lifetimes already.
The real attraction of police procedurals like Bones (which is really Star Trek: Booth as Kirk, Brennan as Spock, Saroyan as McCoy) is watching a competent team working together to get something important done. Star Trek needs to get back to that: bigger team, smaller problems.