So I never read reviews of movies before I go see them, and I especially don’t read them after I see them, because I want my reviews to be my own ideas, uninfluenced by anyone else’s opinions, views or perspectives. But, with Star Trek, I was so staggered by what I had been hearing about the through-the-roof stellar reviews that I just had to see them for myself after seeing the movie this afternoon.
It seems the good reviews are all based on one thing: comparisons to the previous 10 Star Trek movies (if, like me, you are actually stunned that there are TEN Star Trek movies, you can look them up and be totally floored, like I was. Makes me wonder what I’ve been doing all these years.) Words like “reimagining,” “reinvention,” and “brings a fatigued franchise back to life” say to me that critics aren’t looking at Star Trek (2009) on its own, as a stand-alone piece of cinema, but, instead, are grading it as another in a series, just the latest installment and its value is merely being weighed by how it holds up to its predecessors. Of course, Bond films are like that too I suppose, the only franchise that actually has more in its series than Star Trek, so I guess I can’t say I blame them. But I just can’t relate. Unlike the Bond films, I have never seen one of the previous 10 Star Trek films, so this current one had only itself to compare itself to, and that may explain why I am seemingly standing alone on this side of the critical divide.
Now don’t get me wrong, Star Trek is a fine summer movie. And, after seeing the previews for a couple other summer action films that are rapidly bearing down on us (Transformers and G.I. Joe), Star Trek is certainly a far cry from the disasters, jokes and complete wastes of time and space those surely look to be. However, what I feel makes Star Trek work is also what really holds it back. Star Trek, like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is about beginnings. It is about the evolution of Captain James T. Kirk from a feisty kid to a feisty commander. And it is about how the crew of the Starship Enterprise comes together for the famous ship’s maiden voyage. And all of this is well and good. There are, as we know, many fans, both die-hard and casual, of the 1960’s television series, and it would be hard to be versed in popular entertainment and not know the characters of Kirk and Spock, and, to lesser degrees, the rest of the crew: Bones, Sulu, Scotty, Chekov and Uhura. They are all here and we get to meet them and see how they meet each other, and that is fun. Obviously, the main character is Captain Kirk, but, unfortunately, as played by Chris Pine, this Kirk doesn’t have the depth of character as was played by William Shatner in the television series and the earlier movies, and this Kirk comes off as an arrogant, bombastic jerk who you never really warm up to.
But the rest of the crew is great and full of character, as much as they can be, especially Dr. “Bones” McCoy, played wonderfully by Karl Urban. But, that’s just it. The characters, and the whole rest of the movie itself, are hamstrung by their own limitations. They can only go so far and can only do so much to stay within the bounds of what Star Trek is and what Star Trek fans want to see. So, as a result, there is emotional detachment and a lack of depth to all of these characters, because they are each drawn simply, although, together, they form a more perfect union, as was originally intended. They are intended to be seen as a sum of the parts, not as individuals.
But let’s not kid ourselves. There was one star. It was and still is Spock. That truth is so evident, in fact, that most of this movie is about Spock. And, on the surface, that’s not such a bad thing. Spock certainly is an interesting character— more interesting than Kirk (at least in this movie)— and he is certainly played by a more interesting actor, Zachary Quinto. Here, we get to see Spock’s evolution from child to adult, from student to cadet and, eventually, to a member of the Starfleet command. And, certainly, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is one of the most interesting and complicated fictional male friendships in pop culture history. I wouldn’t have had a problem with Spock being such a focus here if I felt it was purely for any or all of these valid reasons. But there is a plot device that comes about two thirds of the way through the film that makes me realize that the entire plot has simply been a device to set up something else and it ends up being so transparent almost to the point of being ridiculous. It is clear that the writers wanted Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the original Spock, to be in this film, so they did what they had to do to make that happen. And that, for me, is where what had the potential to be a good movie went completely south and it lost me.
I am telling you, there is no way George Lucas would have brought back Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill into his Star Wars prequel films just to pander to the audience. This stunt, and I perceive it purely as a stunt, says to me that the producers didn’t have the confidence in their material to stand on its own, without Nimoy’s presence to carry it to the real fans. If I were a fan, I’d be insulted by that. And, for those of who aren’t fans, I feel cheated. People can justify it all they want by claiming the storyline reflects a legitimate plotline from a real Star Trek episode, blah blah blah. It is a gimmick, through and through, designed to make the Trekkers giddy as schoolgirls and make lots of money. Let’s call a spade a spade.
So…..what? A big summer action adventure movie with a gimmick? No surprise there. Of course, this gimmick turns into one of the stupidest and hardest-to-follow plots in recent memory, but that can all be accepted in the realm of Star Trek and their wild and wacky plots and themes. So you go with it. And there still is a great villain, played wickedly well by Eric Bana, and all the production elements are first-rate. In fact, the best part about Star Trek is it looks absolutely amazing. I’m assuming almost everything was digital, but you certainly wouldn’t know it or be able to tell what was or what wasn’t, it all is so seamlessly done. The spaceships, the effects, the details, everything is so vivid and spectacular, crisp and defined. You really get what you pay for.
Unfortunately, what you also pay for is a story somewhere in amongst the cool spaceships and familiar characters and, unfortunately, once we’ve met everyone and they’ve gotten the Enterprise off into hyperspace, the wrong turn it takes makes us almost regret we went along for the ride.