Friday, June 21, 2013

Star Trek (2009) review

   Star Trek wasn't dead, but was on life-support after Star Trek: Nemesis. This isn't because Nemesis was bad, I don't think it was as bad as Insurrection, but because it was plain that everyone in charge had run out of ideas.

    Both Voyager and Enterprise exhausted what I feel was the wellspring of, "doing it like we've done before" with a healthy dose of the audience being too jaded to appreciate what they were doing. Star Trek lived on in novels, comics, and an MMORPG but its absence from both types of screens was keenly felt.

    The real question needing to be asked was simple: why is Star Trek fun? Followed by: how do we bring that fun back? There was a third question too: What made Star Trek great? Sadly, the third question was ignored.

The movie has some truly breathtaking visuals. This scene just sends tingles down my spine.
    Still, as Meatloaf would say, two out of three ain't bad. Star Trek (2009) is a movie which is tremendously fun but doesn't reach the heights of greatness Gene Roddenberry aspired to. Indeed, it doesn't even try. It's a movie whose ambition is limited to being a fun popcorn movie and is more or less a complete retread of the Wrath of Khan. Nevertheless, unlike Nemesis, it actually understands vengeance so it's not a bad remake of TWOK.

The updating of the Original Series aesthetics to modern production values is a beautiful display of special effects wizardry.
    For those unfamiliar with Trek canon, TWOK, is the most remade Star Trek property ever. The thing is, almost all of TWOK remakes are about spectacle or spaceship battles. Very few directors remember the heart of TWOK. Specifically, that one of our heroes has REALLY ****ed off someone. That the villain is, literally, insane with fury.

    The Wrath of Khan worked because you understood Khan's logic. Indeed, he had been genuinely wronged by our hero, even if it was through negligence rather than design. Which, honestly, is what elevates Star Trek (2009) above most odd-numbered Trek movies. It's villain is crazy, out of his mind with rage, but he has a reason to be. Nero's planet was blown up with his wife and unborn child.

    That's a primal and sympathetic motivation even if his actions are beyond disproportionate revenge. More understandable than trying to join with a magic ribbon or replacing your lost organs with your pseudo-father. If you give a grieving man the keys to the Death Star, he's probably not going to use it wisely, which is exactly what happens in this film.

Quite possibly, the angriest man in the universe. Yeah, I know he just looks hung over, but believe me--he's angry!
    If you're looking for applicability, there's no intentional parallels, but Nero makes a better analog for today's terrorists than most. He's not a state-based actor, simply a man with nothing to lose and a willingness to inflict as much pain as possible. Sadly, as the movie shows towards its very end, JJ Abrams doesn't believe there's any way to deal with a man like Nero other than putting him down.

    But now to discuss the movie itself. As a reboot of the franchise, it serves its purposes admirably for the non-Trekkie audience. This is Captain James T. Kirk, his rebellious and lecherous streak exaggerated for comic effect. This is Spock, his human-Vulcan duality exaggerated for dramatic effect. This is Uhura, her eye candy role exaggerated for, well, eye-candy. This is Bones, more or less the same.

Romulan mining vessels are apparently manufactured in Mordor.

    Everyone is recognizable but a lot more combative, angry, and emotional. This is the college years of Star Trek, appropriate since everyone is a cadet, but I couldn't help wish Bruce Greenwood's Pike was on-screen more. The Wrath of Khan had a crew of cadets but at least there were adults in the room. I'd have less of a problem with James T. Kirk's position as Captain if I actually thought he could do the job without getting half of his crew killed.

    JJ Abrams' love of Star Wars is littered throughout this movie and hardcore Trekkies, such as myself, will either react to the obvious homages (Alderaan, Hoth, Mos Eisley Cantina, blasters, and starfighter combat) with amusement or annoyance. He's openly admitted he prefers the pacing of Star Wars to Star Trek. Which, honestly, isn't that bad when the recent Star Wars movies had the speed of a drunk turtle.

Sometimes fanservice is both ways, too!
    Despite this, the sheer amount of fanservice was pleasing. The Kobayashi Maru, Starfleet Academy, Vulcan, Spock's bullying, Tribbles, Sulu's love of fencing, Orion women, and even a reference to Admiral Archer's dog (Porthos XVII?). JJ Abrams may not be a Trek fan but, at least, he respects we're the original insane fandom.

    With the exception of the Sherlock Holmes fans who drove Arthur Conan Doyle to revive the titular character, no one else has ever cared about their fandom as much as us. The movie is an excellent "jumping on" point for new Trek fans. My wife, who looked at my love of Star Trek like it was some sort of toxic curse I'd inherited, 'got it' after watching this movie. So there's that.

    Star Trek (2009) is an entertaining movie. It's got some great character moments, emotion, action, comedy, and special effects. Sadly, it doesn't have anything to say about the future or ourselves. Which, unfortunately, is what Star Trek is supposed to be about.

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