Seeking new life, Trek’s new generation transfers the power to the core
By Jared Peterson
More than four decades ago, when a swaggering space cowboy named James Tiberius Kirk teamed up with a serene, pointy-eared super-nerd called Mr. Spock, something just clicked. It was a strange bond forged for a new age, speaking to peace, love and understanding among races—and perhaps, more subliminally, to a long-dreamed-of détente between geek and jock. And so, somewhere along its road from small screen to big, Star Trek became a bromance. Now, at the dawn of the “love you, man” era, a hard restart of this forty-year-old saga zeroes in on the making of the men that started it all.
We first find them light years apart, each struggling with his demons. Brilliant, dashing Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is adrift in Iowa, squandering his potential racing antique gas guzzlers and picking fights in the shadows of dry-docked starships like the one his father died defending. On distant Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto), a child of mixed parentage and an overachiever on a planet of overachievers, quietly struggles to embrace logic and purge the verboten emotionality he seems to have inherited from his human mother. The United Federation of Planets and its spacefaring Starfleet are in need of a few good humanoids, and Spock, partly out of spite, signs on. Kirk joins on a dare from one Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), a tough-loving father figure and soon-to-be skipper of a factory-fresh Constitution-class heavy cruiser, christened Enterprise.
Three years later, at Starfleet Academy, cadet Kirk and instructor Spock are locking rhetorical horns over accusations of some very creative cheating. Court adjourns early when a distress call from Vulcan presses the entire class into early service for a massive rescue effort. Kirk is grounded, but manages to stow away aboard Enterprise with a little help from a cranky doctor called “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). The rest of the familiar crew are thrust together in the thick of battle with a murderous Romulan captain called Nero (Hulk’s Eric Bana) who may be manipulating time and space to exact revenge on both Vulcan and Earth. Kirk and Spock will butt heads, exchange blows and trade hats while vying for control of the helm and trying to save their worlds. Will they succeed? And more importantly: Will they hug it out?
This new Trek arrives on waves of both giddy anticipation and fussy skepticism. Diehard fans have demanded a sleek and smart reboot with all their icons saved, while the blockbusting masses expect a summer-season thrill ride that doesn’t require previous coursework. Action wunderkind J.J. Abrams delivers both, using every bit of imagination and fierce enthusiasm he once brought to spy tales like Alias and Mission Impossible 3, not to mention a little castaway yarn called Lost. Abrams manages to revive at once two qualities the recent films could never quite muster at the same time: serious fun.
The film looks great, and a new realism pervades the production design from top to bottom. A fine example is the model-2009 Enterprise. If you’ll permit me to spazz a bit: It’s hot. The bridge is a digital river of gleaming metal and pulsing glass, with a busy heads-up display overlaying a huge window open to the black beyond. (A real window—someone read my letters!) In stark contrast, the bowels of the ship look like a vast, meticulously dust-busted boiler room—stories high and crammed with huge heavy-horsepower machinery. So when the captain says, “Punch it,” pistons pump, dynamos whirr and the ship goes from zero to inconceivable with a visceral thunderclap that’s probably the loudest thing on the soundtrack. Put simply: I want one. (And… exhale.)
But while fast-paced action unfolds from ship to shore and back again, the whiz-bang is tempered and reinforced with moments of genuine drama. If Kirk is the swashbuckling hero of this adventure then, unlikely as it sounds, Spock is its green-blooded beating heart. Dogged by doubt and clinging desperately to reason, his inner conflicts finally boil over in the face of enormous personal loss, making his journey the most compelling, and his soul the most—dare I say it—human of all. (Can I get a “What-what” from the Trekker section?!) In good measure, though, each core character gets his or her moments, to include fresh takes on the signature quirks and catchphrases that have defined their roles for decades. And there’s room to spare for light-hearted hijinks and good-natured fun at the expense of some of the TV show’s wearier tropes. (Wearing a red tunic on an away mission? What do you want on your tombstone?)
I’m regret to inform you that, even in this bright and shining future, we still cannot all just get along. [Non-spoiler alert: All that follows can be seen in, or easily inferred from, the onslaught of trailers and television spots that preceded the film’s release. If you want to be surprised when you come out from under your rock, skip to beyond the dashes below.] The violence includes a mix of bar fights, beatings, martial arts battles and shootouts with phasers set to both ‘stun’ and ‘kill’. In space battles, personnel are sometimes consumed in explosions or swept into the vacuum of space. Oh, and an entire planet and its population are consumed by a Romulan weapon firing miniature black holes—which is a bit of a downer. On a smaller scale, there is pair of fearsome, snarling snow beasts, who roar loudly and long and are pretty scary. One bad guy’s idea of aggressive interrogation involves a scorpion-like creature that burrows into your brain through your mouth; you’ll see just enough of that to have you sleeping on our stomach for a few nights. One person is crushed by a falling pillar; another fails to rematerialize after being “beamed up.” More than one person is impaled on a blade, and a single starship crewman unlucky enough to have been assigned a red uniform dies a quick, fiery—and strangely satisfying—death.
Speaking of loveable chestnuts from the original series, Cadet Kirk is quite the player and will about-face and ogle anything in a military-issue miniskirt. He manages to catch a glimpse of Uhura (Zoë Saldana, set to stunning) stripping to her skivvies—this after trying to score with her roommate, a lively, buxom, and jolly-green alien vixen, also in her under-things. Scotty (Simon Pegg, whom my editor finds especially charming [Ed: adding the Scottish accent makes a good thing better]) makes fleeting reference to booze, and there’s some actual drinking, early on in the picture, that only leads to trouble. Characters fling two or three of the usual curses and one insinuation of an inappropriate familiarity with farm animals. Then there’s the deliciously unintentional suggestiveness of a “beaming” here and a “Giving you all she’s got, Captain!” there. C’mon, it’s fun!
For those who choose boldly (sorry, couldn’t resist), I dare you not to have fun with Star Trek. And afterwards, exchange a kind word with the nearest pointy-eared super-nerd—weird people need people, too.
At an advance screening, we were treated to a full-length trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It has spectacular action sequences featuring giant fighting robots, earth-shaking explosions, and actress Megan Fox bending over in her Daisy Dukes—each painstakingly crafted and straining the limits of both plausibility and physics.
Added Monday by editor: At a showing of the film, in addition to the Transformers trailer, audiences also saw the trailers for Terminator: Salvation, which featured a humanoid-looking robot being shot in the head, the very explodey trailer for GI Joe, and the trailer for Up.
Jared Peterson has said too much already. He does this often at http://proweirdo.blogspot.com and on the TV blog Pan & Scan at http://panandscanblog.wordpress.com. He last reviewed X-Men Origins: Wolverine.