Warning! The next three paragraphs (after this one) fairly explode with “spoiler” details concerning the plot of Star Trek XI. This seems to me the best way to describe my actual experience of watching the full movie, which is an energetic but maddeningly choppy, severely ADD-afflicted affair best described as a series of expensive setpieces and cheap narrative stunts in search of a film. But first, I’d like to make clear that I like this franchise a lot, and that I heartily encourage Paramount to make more of this movies so we can watch Star Trek online, as I happen to like ‘em all (including the unjustly maligned Nemesis, which is actually pretty cool). I just happen to have departed this Star Trek movie feeling unsatisfied, and more than a little disappointed in the script and direction. True, at the first announcement of this sequel-prequel-reboot’s production, I felt wary, and even annoyed — however, once I experienced the enormous relief that Adrien Brody (or, worse, Damon & Affleck) would not be involved, my generosity toward this new…er… Enterprise… expanded significantly. I was willing to like it! Woe that my hopes were not rewarded.
This ain’t your daddy’s Star Trek
This new Star Trek opens with a great big spaceship attacking a smaller, more vulnerable and morally righteous ship (just like in Star Wars: A New Hope), and then a baby is born in space amidst much sappy melodrama (just like in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Inside the great big spaceship (which resembles a sideways tulip gone evil) is an angry Romulan villain guy (Eric Bana attempting to channel Khan Noonien Singh and Darth Maul; failing at both) who totally hates Spock (even going so far as to yell “SPO-O-OCK!” just as Bill Shatner famously yelled “KHA-A-AN!”) because Spock (Leonard Nimoy in charming nonsense near the end; Zachary Quinto, not bad, throughout) invented some kind of gelatinous red rubber ball aboard a ridiculous whirligig Federation ship. This “Red Matter” (which gets its own weird close-up late in the movie) is designed to turn supernovae into black holes (??), which Spock apparently tried, but accidentally made Romulus (note: a planet) go boom or something (???) — thus there’s the miffed Romulan with the heavily-armed mining ship which, inside, resembles the seedier neighborhoods of “V’ger.” For reasons far too narratively convenient to explain here (or anywhere), the Romulan guy goes through said black hole (into the past, natch), then hangs around for twenty-five years waiting for Spock to come through it (Romulans, apparently, do not age) — then immediately sends Obi-Spock Kenobi to Hoth (a la Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), where he hangs around in the cave of the Wampa (ibid.) until Young Kirk (Chris Pine; barely noticed him; not a patch on the Shat’s garment) is also dumped on Hoth by Young Spock, in a totally unorthodox move involving jettisoning him from the still-squeaky starship Enterprise (which resembles my pricier Nikes in its flagrant over-design) for disciplinary reasons, but mainly so Young Kirk and Old Spock can happen upon Young Scotty (Simon Pegg) and his assistant (jolly good Deep Roy) who resembles an Ewok (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) with full-body psoriasis, that they may all haphazardly beam back aboard the Enterprise at Warp Speed (as if), with Scotty (I am not making this up) abruptly and quite pointlessly getting stuck in large transparent pipes not unlike those which threatened Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Watch Star Trek online
Want some more? Good. Meanwhile, in Iowa, an uppity farmboy (did somebody say “Luke Skywalker”?) steals his step-dad’s centuries-old Corvette (did somebody say Corvette Summer?) and blasts “Sabotage” by the Beastie Middle-Aged Men (in the 23rd century???) as he rockets said Corvette into one of those, you know, gigantic canyons which proliferate throughout the cornfields of Iowa. (!!!) This kid is Kirk, and he promptly grows up, makes lurid talk at an alarmingly light-skinned Uhura (Zoe Saldana, shrug), and gets into this movie’s first of a few homoerotic brawls, inside a Cantina (natch)… which happens to contain Creatures (double-natch). Soon enough, a completely rewritten Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) convinces Kirk to join Starfleet — and apart from a brief scene involving Kirk famously (and cartoon-smugly; chomping the apple is way overboard) cheating the Kobayashi Maru space-battle simulator (for which the seeming entirety of Starfleet, including Tyler Perry as outside-demographic audience-bait, turns out in formalwear to pass judgment — is this protocol in your school when you cheat on a quiz?) — we are then treated to the very, very irritating caption: “THREE YEARS LATER.” Why is this irritating? Because it would have required imagination and effort to come up with ANYTHING interesting during the training of these cadets — imagination and effort (and I truly hate to say this) which this script profoundly lacks (if young space cadets are what you want, go for
the Trek comic books and novels, which, honestly, are much better written — or, for that matter, rent Paul Verhoeven’s grossly underrated Starship Troopers, which is a smart, satirical, terrific movie, and a masterpiece compared to this).
Lost, in Space
To wit (or severe lack thereof): When these cadets depart canyon-laden Iowa just prior to the “THREE YEARS LATER” tag (grr…), their Starfleet shuttle bay looks exactly like the fighter hangar in Star Wars: A New Hope. When Kirk battles the generic henchmen near the end, we get fun-to-leap catwalks more or less like those in The Empire Strikes Back, The Phantom Menace or Super Mario Brothers. Naturally, although there’s no payoff whatsoever, the evil Romulan has to use one of those mind-control insects from Wrath of Khan — except he sticks it in Pike’s mouth (alas, not his ear), and there’s no drama or tension to the scene (for shame). And what of all this planetary destruction: Alderaan, anyone? Please note, I’m not fabricating these lifts; they’re obvious: From Jurassic Park (the Romulans’ “raptor” attack trick) to Alien (the heavy breathing in the suits) to Rain Man for crying out loud (the exotic chick kissing the dork in the elevator). More tediously, it is dramatically announced (for no reason other than screenwriting convenience) that gigantic planetary drills (doesn’t “Red Matter” totally screw a planet if you just throw it at it?) happen to block transporter beams — which leads to some visually exciting CG crap (drop-suits courtesy of Heinlein), but, once again, total nonsense (plus the transporter effect now looks like whipped cream). Topping it all off, Sulu (John Cho) is now inexplicably Korean (have collapsible sword, will travel; but wasn’t Sulu’s fantasy of becoming d’Artagnan just that — a fantasy?), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) has adopted a “Russian” dialect so absurdly cartoony that he makes Walter Koenig sound like Putin.
After my screening was over, and the pleasing galactic imagery coupled with Alexander Courage’s (and Gene Roddenberry’s) original Star Trek theme finally — over the end credits! — gave me paltry vestiges of why I loved the other Trek films plus the brilliant original series (hint: pacing; wonder; put me on the payroll and I’ll show you), I wandered into the day’s second screening of the film to watch Star Trek, already in progress, just to see what I would see again. This could not have been more illustrative of the whole: I got Spock’s Mom (Winona Ryder) gazing in…severe discomfort, I suppose…at the CG planet Vulcan under attack; then I got the Romulan baddie barking some or other boring command at his generic henchmen; then I got the hot young Trek crew dashing down a way-too-white corridor with Uhura’s miniskirted bottom bringing up the rear (tasteful edit, though). In about the span of that pricey-lookin’ but ultimately shallow minute, I feel like I got the gist of the whole movie. So could you.
It’s been thirty years since I last found myself at the movies, rooting for a black hole.
Since I mentioned a generous spirit, I think what’s good about this new Star Trek is that it is energetic, not particularly offensive (it requires depth to risk offending anybody), and it delivers onto the big screen plenty of familiar iconography which I happen to enjoy and find comforting. And Nimoy’s scenes, while desperately corny, still bring some measure of gravitas. (“He is a particularly troubled Romulan” is, undeniably, a great line.) Oh — and Karl Urban does a very nice DeForest Kelley (Probably the best line while you watch Star Trek online free: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”) Not much more, alas.
As for what’s wrong, well, I think this script is crap. Bully on Kurtzman & Orci for audaciously attempting to jump-start the franchise amidst copious fanboy references — but I feel that they missed the soul entirely, settling instead for one “clever” stunt after another (again, with sheer nonsense holding them together). Next time, fellows, drop the cutesy “Slusho” reference, and take a real script meeting! As for the direction, I make it no secret that I loathe the Shaky-Cam-‘n’-Melodramatic-Glaring which is the stock in trade of many television directors — but clearly it’s J.J. Abrams’ preference to deliver most of this movie this way (call it “Lost, in Space”). Maybe some people enjoy this cinematic epilepsy; I do not. When two characters are simply sharing a dialogue exchange, it is NOT necessary to shake the camera all over the place! Unfortunate! But most stylistically distressing here: The CONSTANT LENS-FLARES.
Expletive, expletive, expletive. What is the DEAL with all those hella irritating lens-flares? Please make them stop!
So there you have it: Star Trek is watchable and contains some revved-up scenes — but all of the previous Star Trek films had something going on underneath, beyond mere scenes. Yes, this includes The Final Frontier (brotherhood) and Insurrection (immortality). Here I certainly get the message that the Enterprise has been re-launched (and, rather tritely presented, that “friendship is nice”) — and again, I support the franchise, and wish it and its shaky-handed new handlers well — but it remains to be seen if any of this new crew’s further missions will be worth joining.