Star Trek (PG-13)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
Well, there are two ways of looking at this. As the 11th film in the Star Trek franchise, or as the first film in a rebooted franchise. Officially it does seem to be the 11th, though I prefer to think of it as the first. Either way, it's definitely a reboot. From this point on, everything you know about Star Trek is changed. And as I love everything about Star Trek, I have to hope that in the future, even if I look forward to subsequent films within this new continuity, well... I really hope there will be other TV series and/or movies which completely ignore the changes introduced in this one. Don't get me wrong, I liked this movie... it's just that it's an alternate timeline. This is something which is hardly a new concept to long-time Trek fans, of course, but... any alternate timelines that normally get introduced ultimately do not change the timeline that the ongoing continuity of shows and films follow. (Well... that may not be 100% true, but, it's too complicated to get into, for present purposes.) But before I say anything about the actual plot of the film, I'd like to mention that prior to its release, IDW put out a 4-issue "Countdown" prequel comic book (which I picked up collected in a trade paperback to read before seeing the movie), which you can get from Amazon.
The story in the comic is set several years after the events of the 10th Star Trek film, Nemesis. We get to see a few familiar characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation, as well as Spock, from the original series. We had learned at one point in The Next Generation that for some years he had been on Romulus, part of an underground movement to reunify Vulcans and Romulans. (Trek fans know, of course, that Romulans- one of the major enemies of the United Federation of Planets- were descendants of Vulcans, who had long since lost ties with their original homeworld, and started their own Empire.) We also meet Nero, captain of the Romulan mining ship Narada, and his crew. And... well, I'll say that in the movie, the cause of everything that's going on is eventually explained... briefly. But the comic explained it in far greater detail, and I was definitely glad that I had read it. I think anyone would have a greater appreciation for the movie if they read the comic, though it's certainly not necessary. I don't consider anything from the comic to be spoilers for the movie, but I can see how some people might. So I won't delve into any details, other than to say that it paints Nero (the movie's villain) in a bit more sympathetic a light, explains why he's so pissed, and pretty much ties up a lot of the scientific plot points that aren't adequately explained in the movie. And at the end of the comic, the Narada enters a singularity (a word familiar to Trek fans, which I won't even bother explaining to nonfans). It is followed by a much smaller ship, the Jellyfish, piloted by Ambassador Spock.
At the start of the film, the Narada emerges from the singularity, 154 years in the past. It attacks a nearby Federation starship, the Kelvin. Among the casualties is Lt. George Kirk, who becomes the ship's acting captain, and fights off the Narada as long as he can, giving as many of his crew time to escape as possible. Among those who escape is his wife, who gives birth to their son, James Tiberius Kirk, while on a shuttlecraft, in audio communication with her husband. A very touching scene, I felt, simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. At least George gets to hear his son's crying and choose a name for him, as well as telling his wife he loves her, before he dies.
The Narada sits by the singularity and just waits, for the next 25 years. It does seem odd to me that, as far as we know, neither the Federation nor any other galactic power sends anyone to the site to investigate or retaliate. But whatevs. Meanwhile, Jim Kirk grows up without a father. (Trek fans may also wonder why there's no mention of Jim's brother Sam- George Samuel Kirk, Jr.- in the movie; I read on Wikipedia that a kid named Johnny was originally supposed to be Sam, which I think would have been better, even if his other scenes were cut and we just heard his name.) We see a bit of rebellious young Jim Kirk, growing up in Riverside, Iowa (a reference serious fans should appreciate), as well as young Spock growing up on Vulcan, being tormented by his peers (for being half human; I thought his parents, Amanda and Sarek, were both portrayed quite well by the actors in this film, very reminiscent of the original actors from the series).
Well. There's... a great deal of stuff in the movie that would be easy for die-hard Trek fans to hate, things that don't seem to fit with established continuity, not that we really know that much, in a canonical sort of way, about the early years of any of the familiar characters from the original series. But I for one am willing to overlook most apparent inconsistencies, just because the timeline had already been altered by the destruction of the Kelvin, and in particular, the premature death of George Kirk. There are other things which it is not so easy to overlook. Even so, I thought it was a pretty fun film, with great effects, action, humor, emotion, and plenty of nods to fans, which may not be picked up on by nonfans. So... as long as we just consider this completely separate from the previously established stuff, I say what the hell? Just go with it, and enjoy the ride. It's not like any of it really matters.
Anyway, before too long we see the adult James Kirk, as reckless as he was when he was a kid. Prone to getting in trouble, and hitting on every woman he sees. One of these women is a Starfleet cadet named Uhura (who we like), who isn't interested in him. (There's a running gag about her not telling him her first name; many fans have probably heard in the past that her name is Nyota, though I don't believe that had ever been established as canon.) He gets into a bar fight with some of her fellow cadets, and in the aftermath, has a conversation with Captain Christopher Pike, whom fans know as the captain of the Enterprise prior to Kirk. (He's played here by Bruce Greenwood, of whom I've been a bit of a fan since a TV show called Nowhere Man.) Pike convinces Kirk to join Starfleet Academy. We see very little of his time there, but there are some fun scenes, including Kirk's famously cheating on the Kobayashi Maru test, as mentioned in the second film, The Wrath of Khan. (If you don't love this scene, I can't imagine you're a fan of Star Trek in general.) We also see Kirk become friends with Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy.
Well, three years after Kirk joins the Academy, there is a distress call from Vulcan. Spock had finally emerged from the singularity after 25 years (which had been mere moments for him, cuz that's just how singularities roll, okay?), and this is what Nero had been waiting for. He wants Spock to witness him destroying Vulcan... and after that, he plans to destroy Earth, and then every planet of the Federation. His reasons for this are later explained to a captive Captain Pike by Nero, as well as shown to Kirk by Ambassador Spock via mind meld. But as I said before, the comic explains it all a lot better, and anyway I'm not going to reveal the reasons to you here.
But I get ahead of myself. A group of starships, including the brand new Enterprise, the new flagship of Starfleet, is dispatched to Vulcan. The Enterprise is commanded by Pike, with the younger Spock of this era as his first officer. The crew also includes a number of cadets and young officers familiar from the original series. Aside from Kirk, McCoy, and Uhura, there's also Chekov and Sulu. (In case I haven't mentioned it, I have trouble with the respective ages of various characters, and exactly how far each has come in Starfleet thus far, and the fact that they all manage to come together at the same time, which doesn't really make sense. Nor does the fact that cadets are given such important roles, but hey... just roll with it, okay?) Anyway, Kirk... wasn't even supposed to be on board, but it's lucky that he was, because he knew before the Enterprise even reached Vulcan that the planet was being attacked by the same Romulans who had killed his father 25 years ago.
Well. Pike ends up heading over to the Narada to talk to Nero, while Kirk, Sulu, and some dude named Olson who was wearing red had another mission to accomplish. (Oh, Trek fans know what red means.) Anyway, with Pike held captive by Nero, Spock becomes acting captain of the Enterprise, and he has a disagreement with Kirk, the result of which is Spock jettisoning Kirk onto nearby ice planet Delta Vega, where Nero had previously deposited the old Spock from the future. Soon after young Kirk meets old Spock, they both meet Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, who had some time ago been relegated to this isolated Federation outpost because of a certain ill-advised experiment he had conducted. (There was also an alien whom I had previously seen in animated form in an online video game on Esurance.com, though the game is no longer there, and the alien is of no importance to the movie.) Anyway, Scotty was the final member of the major seven original series characters to show up in the film. And he was probably my favorite character in the film. Very funny. But if I haven't said it, all the actors did a good job of playing the familiar characters. Zachary Quinto was awesome as Spock (I totally forgot to think of him as Sylar from Heroes). Karl Urban was a good McCoy, Zoe Saldana was a good Uhura. Simon Pegg as Scotty... not exactly the Scotty we knew, but like I said, funny... boisterously so, which does rather remind me of Scotty. Anton Yelchin was a good Chekov (very eager, young, and with the trademark thick Russian accent). John Cho was probably the one actor I found least similar to the original, in both looks and voice, but he was okay. And of course, Chris Pine as Kirk... well, I could certainly believe a younger Kirk than we've seen before would be like this, and by the end of the film he reminded me a bit of Shatner.
Anyway, from this point on I really don't think I want to say much of anything about the plot, too many spoilers. I can say that in the end, Pike becomes an admiral, and Kirk becomes captain of the Enterprise, with Spock as his first officer, and the familiar crew in place, ready to engage in new voyages. (I don't think Kirk really should have become a captain straight out of the Academy, in spite of saving an entire planet and potentially the whole Federation, but whatevs. Can't very well have a franchise if we have to wait years for him to become a captain the normal way, I guess.) I won't say how Nero and the threats he posed actually turn out. But I will say... as I have before... there are plenty of differences in this timeline, that surely mean not only is the past 25 years different, but everything that is to come, pretty much forever after, is going to be different. Could be fun to see how things happen differently in this alternate timeline, even if I don't consider it canonical....
Aside from all that... clearly, the writers and producers and everyone want this film to appeal to fans and nonfans alike. I personally am a longtime fan, and I liked it. I prefer the old continuity of series and movies, which over the decades itself changed in any number of ways (including improved visual effects and generally more dramatic and serious storytelling), though I never felt that it lost anything that it had since the very beginning. Certainly I have rarely had trouble with accepting the continuity from series to series, though I was never entirely happy with "Voyager" and I like to consider "Enterprise" apocryphal. Whereas this movie... does a fair job of being hypothetically canonical, albeit in an alternate timeline, but also... totally different.
Anyway, I digress. There's probably a certain concept nonfans have of Trek (basically, thinking Star Trek is just for geeks- which I confess to being, but that doesn't mean I agree with the assessment that it's just for geeks)... The concept is perhaps not entirely unjustified... though I do feel it's mostly unjustified. Whatever. This is a movie that should appeal to nonfans in a great many ways, as long as they like big budget effects-laden scifi epics. (But hey, I've always enjoyed the effects in Trek movies; this one is probably better in that respect, though. It's certainly the most modern look we've ever seen for the original series era.) It also might be considered sexier than most people think of Trek. (But I have always thought of Trek as very sexy, and for example, I consider Zoe Saldana's Uhura to be only nearly as sexy as Nichelle Nichols' Uhura. And her Academy roommate in the film, an Orion named Gaila, is certainly very sexy, but not necessarily the sexiest Orion woman I've ever seen).
Um... I may be forgetting what all I wanted to say. But the main point I wanted to get to was that there are things about this film that I think should appeal more to nonfans than to fans, and things I feel should appeal more to fans than to nonfans. *shrug* Either way, it's kind of the best of both worlds (not to be confused with "The Best of Both Worlds"). A fun, cool, exciting, sexy film... with some points that might be considered flaws by some, and improvements by others. Of course, perhaps the most important aspect of the film is gradually getting to see the start of the friendship between Kirk and Spock, as well as the beginning of the famous dynamic between them and McCoy....
The reboot is continued in Star Trek Into Darkness.