Star Trek (2009) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, brief sexual content and language
Running time: 126 min.
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison
Cameo: Tyler Perry
Director: J.J. Abrams
Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Review published May 10, 2009
Possibly one of the most adept reboots in popular cinema, Star Trek isn't even a strict reboot, as it arguably exists within the same universe as the classic "Star Trek" series of TV shows and movies. Or, one might also argue, an alternate universe created through the use of a time machine that sets the original Enterprise crew on a different path, though the core of the main characters remains intact. Working with the script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (it's difficult to believe this duo is responsible for Transformers and The Legend of Zorro), director J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III) manages to, at the same time, pay enough homage to the original creations to appease longtime fans of the series, while serving as a solid introduction for those who've scarcely been exposed to the legendary science fiction institution. No doubt this film is more meaningful, and more emotional, to those who've followed these characters over the last few decades (Nimoy's portrayal of "Spock Prime" alone is rife with underlying value for Trekkers), but it's still top-notch science fiction entertainment regardless of how invested you are prior to watching the first frame.
Set in the 23rd Century, the film starts off with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk (portrayed as an adult by Chris Pine, Smokin' Aces). Kirk's mother (Morrison, Flourish) became a refugee after the ship, captained by his father (Hemsworth, "Home and Away"), is destroyed by a Romulan vessel, commanded by a vengeance-seeking rogue warrior named Nero (Bana, The Other Boleyn Girl), who has traveled back in time on a mission of revenge. We catch an early glimpse of what they're after -- a Federation officer named Spock, and the Romulans are none too pleased that they've overshot their intended date by a bit.
Much of rest of the film's early action takes place in futuristic San Francisco, where the Federation's new recruit base of operations is located. A young Spock (Quinto, "Heroes") is a half-Vulcan, half-human who finds his calling there and his vast intellect and unsurpassed calm under pressure makes him an ideal candidate of captain one day. Kirk, on the other hand, is shown to be impulsive and a cheat, and not suitable despite some very admirable qualities in terms of leadership. Undaunted, and unwilling to accept failure, Kirk sneaks aboard the Enterprise prior to departure. It's up to him to prove himself, but what he doesn't realize is that the Enterprise is on a deadly mission against its most dangerous and deadly adversary to date, and this is a scenario none of them will be able to cheat their way out of.
Most who will see the film will already know the cast of characters well. The only question remains as to how they will finally all come together, and whether the actors portraying them will live up to our expectations. I think that, though there may be some differences between the actors of today and the ones of the original television series, Abrams and company took great pains to make sure all of the actors at least represent the basic requirements the characters possess. I may have been a bit hesitant on first notice of Chris Pine's portrayal of Captain Kirk, but it doesn't take long before he owns it, mostly because he imbues the character with the same energy and exuberance that William Shatner once did (one might say he plays it more as Shatner than Kirk). Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban (Pathfinder, Doom) as Dr. McCoy happen to also have some physical/facial resemblance to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, in addition to copying their pitch and mannerisms. There's no doubt as to who their characters are before they are formally introduced.
The rest of the cast doesn't have as high a bar to clear, and offer different dimensions. Uhura is African-American and the only female main player, so Zoe Saldana (Vantage Point, Premium) meets both requirements, but she is also attractive and has shown herself to be a very good actress in romantic films, the possibilities for the character open up immensely, which the filmmakers use to kindle a potential relationship between her and Spock, and potential love triangle with Kirk. Comedian Simon Pegg (Run Fatboy Run, Hot Fuzz) inhabits the role of Scotty, which only really requires the Scottish brogue, but rather than just mimic the personality brought forth by James Doohan, he plays to his personal strengths as the comic relief, stealing most scenes he is in. John Cho (Harold & Kumar, American Dreamz) is Asian-American and plays Sulu, though not Japanese (which some might nitpick about). His character, and that of Chekhov (played by Anton Yelchin (Along Came a Spider, Hearts in Atlantis), an American actor born in Russia, with his thickest stereotypical delivery), aren't as fully fleshed out in this film, so what they will bring to their roles awaits to be seen in future entries.
Lest I forget, Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek VI, Star Trek V) plays Spock of the future who now exists in the past for reasons that are elaborated upon later in the story. This isn't just one of those perfunctory cameo appearances for fans though. He is actually one of the supporting cast members in this film. I have to be honest about one particular thing that does jade my review somewhat, and I freely will admit to fanboy-ism here. I tried to view Star Trek from an objective eye and divorce my feelings about all of the things that have come before. I feel I had been successful up until the point that Nimoy makes an appearance. My emotions hearing him say to young Kirk, "I am and always will be your friend," which every "Star Trek" fan will recognize as his dying words to Kirk in Star Trek II, got to me. As does the moment he says, "Live long and prosper," the credo of the Vulcan existence, which are words with particular tragic ironies in this film, as there is a great question as to whether Vulcans, as a race, will get to live long or prosper due to the bloodlust rampage that Nero goes to great lengths to fulfill.
Star Trek dips in excellence when Abrams throws in extended action scenes just to have them. A scene of Kirk on an arctic-like environment being chased by carnivorous creatures feels more at home in one of the Star Wars prequels than in even this higher action-oriented version of Gene Roddenberry's creation. That the end of the sequence, when Kirk meets and old friend -- or I should say, meets a new one -- generates much more interest and audience buzz than the gargantuan chase scene that precedes it only shows where the film's strengths really lie. Sometimes scenes are a bit overdone, such as an early scene of Kirk as a youth, stealing the vintage family convertible. It's a good scene to establish the reckless character, his defiance of authority and feelings of invincibility, but Abrams takes it a little too far when the lad heads toward a precipice in the vehicle and ends with the first of many scenes in the film of someone clinging on the edge of a ledge, fast becoming an overused device to be avoided (hopefully) in future Abrams productions. The action scenes in general are on the frenetic and shaky side, which can be disconcerting to many viewers who dislike today's stylized action. On the plus side, while it isn't always easy to tell what is going on during the extended fight scenes, once the characters are established, they do still manage to ultimately emerge as exciting.
As this is a film of many introductions, the main plot at hand involving the revenge of the ruthless Romulan Nero does play a bit of a secondary role in terms of importance to that of establishing the main characters. This isn't a gripe, per se, but I mention it only to establish that Star Trek is a bit more forward thinking, already laying its claims as the first film in a new series, and the function of Nero and his band is mostly utilized as a story device by which to bring all of the elements together and to allow for an easy and plausible "alternate universe" premise. The enemies are utilized well in this regard, and no more time is spent with his character than necessary.
Hardcore purists may nitpick, but their gripes are likely to fall on deaf ears to those who aren't slavish in their appreciation of why Roddenberry's characters have endured over the decades. This franchise had been considered dead in the water after Star Trek Nemesis, a good entry that failed to draw any viewers other than the most faithful of Trekkers, produced the worst results of the series at the box office. Even the video games based on the franchise were mostly put on ice. Part of the problem is that the public at large will always have primary love for the Original Series, and though the elite Trek fans may have a preference some of the other offshoots, the vast majority of those who've followed the series to any degree only wants Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest to be who they root for on the big screen. The original cast have grown old, some have even passed on, but the fervor for "Star Trek" never really has. It had just become dormant without the original cast in their prime. To reinvigorate the series, it takes is for a visionary action director who has a keen finger on the pulse of what geeks truly like to rejuvenate the series to thrill, inspire, and capture the imagination of another generation of fans. Abrams fits the bill.
2009's Star Trek may have its share of excess, but easily ranks among the most satisfying of all of the Trek films, placing it next to Star Trek II and Star Trek IV in terms of entertaining audiences beyond staunch devotees, much in the same way that the new Batman film series reinvigorated a once ice-cold franchise. It's fun, it's funny, it's heartening, it's heartbreaking. It throws it back to the beginning, going where it has been before, though no less boldly.
-- Followed by Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
©2009 Vince Leo