2009 marks the return of Star Trek franchise to the big-screen. It has been seven years since the last entry in the series with Star Trek Nemesis. The critically-panned and box-office failure of that tenth entry in the film series marked a major low-point for the franchise. The franchise was dead in space with no one seeming to be able to figure out a way to bring the franchise back to big-screen prominence. So, it comes as a surprise that it’s eventual savior happens to be a non-fan of the franchise. J.J. Abrams has confessed to not being a major fan of the series, but wanted to see how he could bring back the franchise to a high bar of standard it had set for itself through the decades of its existence. This latest and eleventh entry in the Star Trek film series marks a drastic improvement over the past decade of film entries in the series. Abrams has crafted an enjoyable and fast-paced film which includes equal amounts of details fans of the franchise love, but also creating a film which would appeal to non-fans as well.
To start off, I’m what one might call a Trekker who has pored over all the details of the franchise. Backstory, character bios and details of the expanded universe is bread-and-butter. When first announced that Abrams would be in charge of trying to bring the franchise back to prominence I was quite skeptical. I’m not the biggest fan and admirer of J.J. Abrams and his work. It didn’t help that his idea to bring in more non-fans to the fold smacked of pandering. I will say that I will be the first to eat my words as Abrams’ Star Trek has been the best entry in the film series for the last 15 or so years. It’s a fresh new take on Gene Roddenberry’s universe which has spanned over four decades starting with the original TV series and continuing with the many novels which continue to churn out year in and year out.
The casting of a relatively unknown actors by Abrams and his crew was a bold move as their performances of iconic characters beloved by tens, if not hundreds, of millions of fans could sink the film and put the final nail in the film series’ efforts to stay up on the big-screen. Fortunately, it is this cast of unknowns who make this film so fun to watch. Chris Pine as James T. Kirk does a fine job of not apeing and micmicking the Kirk of Shatner but instead makes the character his own while at the same time bringing enough of the self-confidence and charm Shatner brought to the role. As good as Pine’s performance as Kirk was the film really belongs to Zachary Quinto’s portrayal of a more conflicted and darker Spock. Where Leonard Nimoy’s work as Spock was more of a mature character whose conflicting dual-nature as an emotional human and logical Vulcan would resurface here and there throughout the decades Quinto’s Spock has that conflicted nature simmering right on the surface. We get a much darker Spock who hasn’t fully accepted his two warring sides. One might even say that this Spock was a much darker portrayal than what had been previously done of the character. Quinto’s performance was a star-making one and should make fans relieved to know that an iconic character was in good hands.
The rest of the ensemble cast do a commendable job in their roles with other stand-out works by Karl Urban as Bones McCoy and Bruce Greenwood as Capt. Pike. Urban, especially, does a remarkable job of channeling DeForrest Kelley’s McCoy without seeming to copy the man. Like Quinto’s Spock, Urban’s McCoy should resonate with fans and non-fans alike. Simon Pegg as Scotty, John Cho as Sulu, Zoe Saldana as Uhura and Anton Yelchin as Chekov all do good work but are not on the screen enough to show what they could really do. With the seeming success of this film I’m sure they’ll have more chance to grab a hold of their characters and make them their own. If there’s a weak link to the cast it would be Eric Bana’s Romulan Nero. The character of Nero wasn’t fully realized beyond the maddened, revenge-fuelled archetype for Bana to truly work his skills on. There’s just not enough in the character to make him a great Star Trek villain. There’s hints of Khan in the role but also hints of weaker villains in the franchise’s history. If the writers had done a better job fully realizing the character for Bana I think Nero would be spoken of on the same level as Khan, but he won’t be and that brings up the other weak link in this film: the writing.
I say the writing is a weak link not because of the dialogue spoken but of the the overall plot of the story. There’s a simple enough plot to hold the film together but writers Orci and Kurtzman tried to create an epic storyline which would keep both loyal fans and new people to the franchise happy. By doing this they oversimplified the story where details were left out that created huge plot holes in the story. Also, the way Kirk’s character meets up with each member of what would become his core group relied too much on timely coincidences. They tried to make each meeting to be a memorable one which ended up with action-sequences that could’ve been left out but added to make the next meeting interesting. Like another origins film of the summer, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, both Orci and Kurtzman tried to lump too much origin details into this prequel. The finished screenplay could easily have used one or two more doctoring to make it a much more leaner and streamlined story.
The good thing was that as simple and pedestrian the story ended up being it did create a way for Abrams to connect both the original stories created by previous films and tv series to this new film which now has given the franchise a new path to move forward on without forgetting the canon established in the previous four decades. Star Trek by Abrams could be compared closely to the James Bond reboot in Casino Royale and the Batman reboot with Batman Begins. All three films share similarities in that all three honors the canon of the expanded universes of their respective franchise but brings enough new ideas and changes to re-imagine the franchises to a new generation of fans. Like those two other films Star Trek has laid the foundation for new stories to be told and not having to worry about continuity problems. Now any future films in the franchise have carte blanche to boldy go where the series hasn’t gone before.
In the end, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek turned out to be better than expected as he has created a film that is a fun, action-filled ride with a wonderful performance by the ensemble cast of unknowns. Even a weak villain and premise fail to damper and bring down the film. While it is not a great entry to the series it does bring back the franchise to a resounding return to the big-screen that should please most of its loyal fans while appealing to the casual audience. I, for one, cannot wait to see what Abrams has in store for the forseeable future of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.