So we have a young hero who never knew his father, a mad-dog villain who prefers black, a saloon with an interplanetary clientele, an ice planet with killer beasties, an out-of-nowhere last-minute appearance by the good guys' starship to save the day, and a lavish medal ceremony to wrap things up. Is it just me, or is this remake of the Star
Actually, J. J. Abrams has more going for him than George Lucas nowadays -- namely a refreshing interest in human beings, or at least those who look like supermodels. (All the better to further the human race.) Like Joss Whedon, he has a knack for both character and story, for summing up an individual or a situation with as little exposition as possible; and these traits work fairly well for at least the first act of the new Star Trek, when we meet icons Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) in younger, greener days. The workable screenplay, by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman (who wrote several Alias episodes together), sets up the impulsive Kirk and hyperrational Spock as rivals who become friends; and Pine and Quinto play their roles with enjoyable relish, particularly in the film's funniest scene, when Kirk shrugs off a simulated attack scenario designed by Spock to scare him.
There is, unfortunately, an excess of silliness here and there (e.g., Kirk's allergic reaction to one of McCoy's injections), and a misguided insecurity about holding still long enough for anything to register. The Shatnerfied Star Trek tipped so far into contemplative inertia I'm not sure I ever sat through an entire episode. (My grad-school roommate was a fan of Next Generation and so I probably watched most of its episodes, finding them a mix of the diverting and the doldrums.) This is the ADD version, shot on slash-and-blur digital video, and the action scenes suffer as a result.
But the most consequential aspect of Abrams' style is, unlike Whedon, he falls short in striving for myth. The mind-bending plot involves an obligatory black hole from which the Romulan heavy (Eric Bana, resembling his breakout role in Chopper but still a vortex of charisma) proceeds to wreak havoc on the natural order of history. This alternate-reality scenario produces a few tingles (as when a familiar face from the original series appears), and the performers -- including the arrival of the great comic actor Simon Pegg as Scotty -- are ready for bear. But the movie gets balled up with too much busy-ness, the filmmakers botch some potentially resonant parallels (shouldn't it be Kirk the Younger attempting to collide with the Romulan ship, as did his father, rather than Spock?), and like this season's finale of Lost (a show Abrams created, though is no longer affiliated with), Star Trek finally loses its fizz.
Abrams has the mojo of a gifted director, and for the most part I liked his light touch (not to mention the sensation of leaving the theater under two hours). The "Rule of Sequels," however, poses a need for more -- not, God forbid, less. It will be interesting to see where the new series take these characters, if this young troupe's range will be allowed to expand along with their paunch, and if together they come to understand that going boldly does mean going where Roddenberry, Lucas and others haven't gone before.