The new Star Trek movie overall is fantastic. If you’re a Start Trek fan, go see it. If you like sci-fi, action, good acting, good production, or J. J. Abrams, go see it.
I think there’s a reason why Wolverine and Star Trek each earned a huge box office: people still want to live with heroes. Sometimes in our world it’s easy to forget that there are heroes out there, that we too can act heroically. People are hungry for that. Thankfully, Star Trek delivers.
Here’s the basic minimally-spoily story: a Romulan (Nero, portrayed by Eric Bana) nurses an irrational rage against the elder Spock, who pursues Nero into the past. Nero arrives at a time just before James T. Kirk is born and sticks around long enough to tangle with Kirk as a young man.
I don’t like everything about Trek. Indeed, while I enjoyed the movie immensely while watching it, afterward I sulked about the plot inconsistencies and contrivances. Then I decided that, despite the film’s weaknesses, it is a heroic story finely made.
That said, I remain frustrated with the film for similar reasons that I’ve become frustrated with other projects from Abrams. I really enjoyed Alias, but less so after the plot became nearly incomprehensibly complex, and not at all when the Giant Magical Energy Ball appeared. I never have finished watching the series. (While Abrams did not write Trek, he worked with writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman on Alias and other projects.) I loved Lost right until the characters had to repeatedly punch a code into some bizarre machine for some unknown reason. The stories are just too convoluted to be enjoyable.
Likewise, while I enjoyed the action of the Transformers film (which didn’t involve Abrams but which Orci and Kurzman wrote), I found the basic story exceedingly tedious and stupid.
Trek is a lot better, but, notably, Spock the Elder has to voice-over substantial background to make the story remotely comprehensible.
From here on out this review includes spoilers!
Star Trek, like Alias, features a Giant Magical Sci-Fi Energy Globule. This is a device, a stand-in for real writing. It’s almost as bad as the Giant Magical Energy Ribbon from Generations. It’s the sort of nonsense takes the “sci” out of sci-fi.
Here’s another example of the occasional idiocy of Star Trek. At one point, Spock the Younger kicks Kirk off the ship; Kirk ends up on a nearby planet, in a random place though somewhat near a Federation outpost. After being chased by not one but two Man-Eating Snow Monsters (because, you know, all ice planets are filled with Man-Eating Snow Monsters), Kirk falls down an embankment and runs into a cave. Low and behold! It is precisely the cave where Spock the Elder has taken up residence after he was sent to the planet by Nero! What amazing luck. But wait, there’s more! Kirk meets not only Spock the Elder but Scotty, who just so happens to have been assigned to the ice-planet outpost! It’s so coincidental you wouldn’t believe it if it were fiction.
Once Leonard Nimoy signed on as Spock the Elder, time travel was a plot necessity (given the undesirability of mere flashbacks). As a rule I hate time travel in stories just because it makes everything so messy and disconnected. I suppose it is poetic, then, that the three greatest Trek films — The Voyage Home, First Contact, and the new one — feature time travel as a crucial element of plot.
The writers use time travel to make the new Trek not just an “origins” film, but a complete reboot. Because Nero appears just before Kirk’s birth, he literally changes the entire timeline from that point on. The Star Trek universe is literally different from the historical universe of the rest of the franchise. (I believe that Next Generations went off into a parallel universe for a while.)
What’s interesting about the film — and I actually like this — is that the writers don’t “fix” the timeline in the end. This has devastating consequences for an entire world. This adds an element of realism to the movie. The heroes win, but they can’t blow on it and make everything better in the end. The bad guy extracts a horrible price, the way bad guys so often do in the real world. While the heroes do not always have to lose something precious to drive a compelling story, in this case it’s integral to the story, though it took me considerable time to overcome the anxiety about disrupting the history of the rest of the franchise. (I finally had to ask myself, “Would I like this movie if I knew nothing else about Star Trek?”)
After it all, then, I can forgive the eyebrow-raising plot holes, because the story’s amazing heroism rings true.