This review isn’t exactly timely, as Star Trek was released in theatres over six months ago, but having just watched it for the fifth time (four times in the theatre, once at a friend’s house a few nights ago), I think it’s high time we had a writeup of one of the best science fiction movies in years here on Walking Taco.
My history with Star Trek dates back nearly twenty years: the first episode I remember seeing was Final Mission, with my cousins Jason and Nathan at their home in Saint Louis when I was only about ten years ago. Since that young age I have been hooked on Star Trek, not just for its portrayal of science fiction, but for the characters. The genius of Gene Roddenberry’s creation lies not in fantastic tales of starships exploring the galaxy, but in using that backdrop as a canvas to paint a tapestry of human interactions and as a way of exploring the human condition in 45-minute chunks every week. Several spinoffs and ten movies later, it’s this core strength of Star Trek that keeps it relevant in a world where many of the futuristic gadgets and fiction elements of the series are now most decidedly fact.
Part of Star Trek movie lore is that the even-numbered movies are generally the best: Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country, and First Contact are the better of the celluloid-based incarnations of the series. The cycle was broken…no, entirely blown away, with Star Trek Nemesis, though, a film that debuted at #2 on its opening weekend, next to Maid in Manhattan. Yes, any time a movie series opens below a Jennifer Lopez movie, you know there’s trouble. And so the series stagnated, and after seven years it was time for a reboot–not only of the franchise, but of the entire Star Trek timeline as a whole. Star Trek (no subtitle this time, folks) is a reinvention of the franchise that turns everything we know about Trek on its head, while staying true to the core concepts so deeply rooted in Roddenberry’s original series in such a way that most of the newer TV spinoffs and movies have never even done. It makes Star Trek relevant again, and updates the series for a new generation of youngsters raised on the science fiction movies and TV shows that have cropped up in the wake of Star Trek, but unaware of how amazing the source material, when peeled back to its basic fundamentals, can truly be.
The movie, directed by J.J. Abrams, begins aboard the U.S.S. Kelvin, a starship out exploring during the early days of Starfleet. Upon investigating what is described as a lightning storm in outer space, the crew realized it’s actually a black hole-type of anomaly with a giant ship emerging from it. The commander of the ship orders the captain of the Kelvin to come over for a chat, which leaves George Kirk in charge of the Kelvin. Shortly thereafter, the captain of the Kelvin is killed, a battle ensues, everyone abandons ship including Kirk’s pregnant wife who has just gone into labor. But wouldn’t you know it, Kirk is the only one who can fend off the incoming torpedoes long enough to provide an escape for the exiting shuttlecraft. Sure enough, Kirk ends up sacrificing his life for his crew, but gets just enough time to go over baby names with his wife before he kicks the bucket. And yes, their son, born amidst the chaos of a space battle, grows up to become the famous James T. Kirk we all know and love.
Right away the movie deviates from established canon of the series, as any Star Trek fan knows Captain Kirk was born in Iowa and knew his father rather well–a fact that is actually acknowledged by the movie at one point. But the appearance of the mysterious spaceship (which, we find out, came back from the future to prevent a planetwide catastrophe) serves to alter the history of Star Trek lore altogether. This genius move by Abrams and co. allows them to have near-total creative freedom within the Star Trek universe–no longer constrained by what *should* happen, according to the hundreds of hours of existing Star Trek TV shows and movies, they are free to have the characters we know and love do anything they want to. And yet Abrams
plays this mechanic with a very even hand, not having the familiar characters deviate from their expected norms, but at the same time crafting a Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and the rest of the bridge crew, who are familiar and brand new at the same time. In fact, the actors do an amazing job of inhabiting their characters throughout the movie, especially Zachary Quinto in the role of Spock. His every nuance is so dead-on that it’s almost as if Leonard Nimoy himself were playing the role, and when Quinto’s Spock meets up with Nimoy’s Spock at the end of the movie, it is as if we really are watching the exact same character, to the point that it hardly even seems like two different actors.
The plot is outlandish and far-fetched, but fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Planets are destroyed, armadas are locked in combat, ships explode, people are chased by giant monsters, and in the middle of it all are two time-traveling spaceships whose existence changes the entire fabric of the universe. And even after watching the movie five times, I am still amazed at how much action there is. Hardly a minute goes by when there’s not a fistfight, firefight, spaceship battle, or black hole sucking in everything in its path. But at its core, the movie is not about action, explosions, or spaceships: it’s about a young man coming face to face with his own destiny. It’s a retelling of the Hero Myth we have heard time and time again from infancy–a myth that is forever immortalized by Luke Skywalker staring at the twin suns of Tattoine as he contemplates what the future holds. Indeed, Star Trek even acknowledges this with young Kirk gazing at the Enterprise while it is still under construction, pondering what lies ahead for him. My only thought now is what lies ahead for the series, and this movie leaves me with more hope and excitement for Star Trek than I have had in quite some time.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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- House of Cards - May 9th, 2013
- Academy Awards 2013 Liveblog - February 23rd, 2013
- Why JJ Abrams Will Save Star Wars - February 19th, 2013