As a child my Dad used to watch a fair amount of Star Trek. He watched the original Battlestar Galactica too, as well as Star Wars on video – repeatedly. I have to say that of all the sci-fi he watched I liked Star Trek the least, and that was for one simple reason: it didn’t have any robots (at least not that I saw). It’s the future for God’s sake! Why would they not have robots doing the menial stuff? The reason I say this is that this very simple childhood logic has meant that I have spent my whole life ignorant of the Star Trek phenomenon. I didn’t get into it when I was young and have never bothered to try since.
So when the best robot of them all – the J.J. Abrams hype machine – began clunking into action I was not bothered. When the trailers came out I just thought it might be a corny action film that would mobilise Trekkies, but I could not guess whether it would be for good or bad reasons. Once the whole secret screening marketing campaign began I did become intrigued. Why hide it as The Wrath of Khan?
Is this just a film for original fans? Does it desperately need hype? These questions needed answering, and consequently I decided to get to a screening as soon as I could so that audiences would get the opinion of a man watching as a lover of movies: not of the franchise. So all you Trekkies out there, forgive my ignorance. I make no attempt to mascarade as a Star Trek fan, and offer my opinions merely as a humble filmgoer.
After the dark, brooding, and brutal worlds sculpted (or re-sculpted) from Batman and the Watchmen, Star Trek is a welcome return to the flippant, big-budget bonanza that exists purely for the spectacle. Massive explosions and extravagant fight sequences punctuate the CGI landscape with welcome regularity as the crew of the Enterprise gradually form the bonds that will tie them together for the endless sequels that will no doubt be gracing our screens from 2011 onwards.
The cliched lines cut together for the first trailer are also far less painful than I had envisaged. The first 15 minutes or so contain some wince-worthy set-up moments which attempt to build Kirk up from a young age, but once this task has been completed the film settles into a comfortable rhythm that works well. By the time he appears even Simon Pegg’s excessively chipper Scottie isn’t as annoying as I expected, and these witticisms are, on the whole, timed as well as anything that passed the lips of Mr. Bond in the 60s. This makes a light-hearted atmosphere that is a complete change of tone among recent action film peers but also, and importantly for folks like me, stops the franchise being treated too seriously in order to appease hardcore fans.
As you might expect J.J. Abrams goes a bit nuts with time travel in his over-zealous attempts to comprehensively reboot the franchise, creating a story that occasionally tests the limits of believability – even allowing for artistic license. Wormholes from the future and alternate realities mess with worlds in many weird ways. Red matter is fired around willy nilly and black holes created inside planets by a moody miner. But on the plus side, all this stuff does show good use of Leonard Nimoy (the original Spock, right?), and any stretches of the imagination are usually followed up by a cool CGI monster (yes, better than Cloverfield), a big explosion or a decent fight, so there’s too little time to dig too deeply and that prevented me getting too bilious about the bad stuff.
The characters Abrams moulds from his source material were surprisingly likeable too. Chris Pine’s Kirk pulls off the charming rogue routine with admirable flair, avoiding becoming too much of a prick in the process.
Likewise Zachary Quinto makes Spock just the right balance between logical and emotional to serve the ‘torn between two worlds’ side of his character. As to Zoe Saldana as Uhura: she’s hot. What more do you want? The real stand out performance was a surprise though – Karl Urban was excellent as ‘Bones’. Throughout the movie I got the impression that he’d thrown himself into the role at full speed, and it really paid off. The presence of Simon Pegg and Winona Ryder was somewhat less welcome, but I managed to get past the weirdness eventually.
If there was a weak point it is probably Eric Bana’s villain: Nero.
The fault is not Bana’s, at least not primarily. It’s simply that the script works so hard in establishing the crew of the Enterprise that it neglects the villain of the piece. Adopting a simple revenge plot, Abrams allows little range for his bad guy and so Bana’s acting range stretches from angry to furious. That’s about it. But it doesn’t drag the movie down too far.
Overall, if you’re a fan of old-school action movies with maverick heroes, awesome visuals and mega-tons of bang for your buck then you can’t go wrong here. Far from being a re-vamped geek-a-thon Star Trek has succeeded in proving that the dark anti-hero is not the only decent source material for our time. Just as important is helping people forget the recession and escape somewhere. This movie does just that, and it does it well. I’m strangely looking forward to the next one, when I may well have lost the vantage point of my Trekless experiences.
Stark Trek opens worldwide May 8th.