To boldly go where no one has gone before. That’s the classic tag line that has helped guide the Star Trek franchise for decades. One of the reasons why Star Trek began to lose its popularity is because Star Trek stopped going to new places. It kept going back to the same old places over and over. A reboot “Batman Begins” style was bound to happen and is thoroughly appreciated. J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek is good. It is really good. It is flashy, tactile, sexy and (sometimes) smart, bringing Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the 21st Century. However, as much as I love the new movie, and I really did love it, it is flawed because of its concept. The very nature of the new movie makes it not work in key ways, some of those ways vitally important. Spoilers ahead. I’m going to spoil this movie to the point of absurdity, so don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie yet, or if you haven’t eaten breakfast or finished your coffee.
The only problem with this movie is that it plays it far too safe. It risks nothing and gives nothing that the fans do not want. We get exactly what we wanted to get: the old crew represented with younger faces and a prettier ship. Think of it this way. If a boyfriend tells his girl that he is buying her flowers after work, it still is a nice gesture, but it isn’t surprising. The surprise sometimes is more important than the damn flowers. The new Star Trek is all flowers and little surprise. The surprises that are there are nice, but superficial and almost a non-issue. I want to remind you again that I liked this movie. I completely enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to multiple viewings. But, oddly, I still found it lacking.
Here are the parts that did surprise me. Vulcans in J.J. Abrams universe have their emotions much closer to their chests than in the Leonard Nimoy days. There is a raw, conscious effort by them to hold back their emotions. Zachary Quinto does a great job delivering this. He feels, and we see him feel on screen. His love affair with Uhura is almost obvious. What woman wouldn’t love a guy who is about to punch a wall every second? The Spock character carries the movie and brings a certain weight to this new world. Almost all the Vulcans are wiped out, leaving a mere ten thousand behind. That sort of risk makes the movie feel important, makes it feel like there are new and exciting avenues that this take on the franchise could cover.
That sense of adventure falls completely flat when it comes to James T. Kirk. With his father dead, Kirk didn’t have anyone to mold and guide him through his rebellious years. Turns out it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. This is the same James T. Kirk we’ve always seen. Women love him, he looks before he leaps and he makes allies by getting them to hate him first. Contrary to other write-ups, it isn’t Chris Pine’s fault. It is how the character is written. Nothing is different about him besides the details of how he becomes Captain. And there is never any doubt in the movie’s mind or in ours that he will be captain. There is never a risk that he can’t do the job or won’t want it. His brashness and arrogance isn’t a bone of contention or a flaw in his character and he isn’t punished for his actions or learns from any mistakes. James T. Kirk doesn’t earn his rank, it is given to him. It makes the movie feel easy and almost pointless. We don’t see a new side to Kirk, we just get another actor playing the exact same character. But this is what we want as fans, right? Abrams had the chance to great a brand new myth based off these amazing characters. Instead, he shows us the same old myth using new actors. It works, but not in the way that Batman Begins worked. This Star Trek is fresh, but not new. Its bright, but it is far from bold.
But let me stop ranting about that crap and talk about the stuff I liked. I love the Enterprise. It is a beautiful piece of CGI that I want on my wall. There is an entire scene set up just so we can see the ship in all its glory. I love how it moves, how it jumps to warp, how the phasers and photon torpedoes work, everything. Abrams has the feel of the new Star Trek down. The engine room is full of tubes and pipes. The bridge is packed full of people with hardly enough room to move. If you can’t teleport, then you jump out the shuttle pod and pull your parachutes. And the battles are a chaotic mess with weapons fire flaring in every direction. It is a wonderful sight to see on the big screen. And I have to mention Simon Pegg. God, I wish he were in more of the movie. He delivers his lines with a comic-timing that is remarkable. The movie needs more of him. Tons more.
It is a fun flick and it will do extremely well in the box office. But old fans of the series might leave feeling like they missed something, like there could have been more. Instead of thinking about the film they just watched, they might be contemplating the potential of the sequel, which always gives us what we didn’t know we wanted.