Make it so, Mr. Abrams ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Make it so, Mr. Abrams

Star Trek: The Future Begins
My rating:

(Where did that subtitle come from? Whose idea was it? Same people who turned Hellboy into Super Sapiens?)

The venerable Star Trek franchise was dying. It had survived for 43 years through 5 TV series and 10 movies - but the last movie in 2002 was a flop, and the last series had been canceled in 2005 after struggling for ratings. This new film, spearheaded by director J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible 3, Cloverfield, TV's Lost), is a last-gasp attempt to revive Gene Roddenberry's creation for a new millennium - if it fails, Trek would most likely be dead for good.

Fortunately, it succeeds handily.

We open on a rousing space battle, in which the Federation ship U.S.S. Kelvin is destroyed by the mysterious and massively powerful Romulan vessel Narada - but not before crewman George Kirk manages to save his newborn son Jim. This event is the result of time travel, creating an alternate timeline in which the legendary James T. Kirk took a very different path in life. But an equally legendary figure who also came back in time will help Kirk - and Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov - confront the villainous Nero, save the day, and go on to become the intrepid crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Yes, this new instalment is a sequel, prequel and reboot. The characters are all played by new actors, but Leonard Nimoy is present as the original Spock, and we see Kirk and Spock (the younger) in their days as cadets of Starfleet Academy before they take up their posts as Captain and First Officer of the Federation flagship. It's one of those movies that aims to be accessible to newcomers as well as satisfying to long-time fans, and it pulls this off as well as it does anything else.

This movie is, first and foremost, a sci-fi action adventure. It's fast-paced, action-packed and thrilling without being dumb. At its heart, though, is the relationship between Kirk and Spock, which takes a rockier road than it did in the original timeline. This timeline's version of Kirk starts out as an arrogant, rebellious ne'er-do-well who gets in bar brawls with Starfleet cadets, and he and Spock rub each other the wrong way at first glance. But he's still James T. Kirk, and he's still destined to become the Federation's most famous starship captain - as well as Spock's lifelong friend. The movie does not sacrifice characterization for slam-bang action.

And how does Chris Pine do in the iconic role? Pretty good, actually. The William Shatner Kirk has always been cocky and swaggering, and Pine pulls it off without becoming dislikeable. Zachary Quinto is (literally) inhumanly serene most of the time, but his is a fine performance. Karl Urban surprisingly nails the role of the irascible Dr. McCoy (Urban usually plays action heroes). The rest of the crew each have their moments to shine, and none of them squander it. In fact, that's one thing I liked a lot - previous Trek films tended to focus too much on the captain, and rendered the other crewmembers redundant. Star Trek has always been an ensemble, and Abrams (and his screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) remember that. Even the Enterprise has its Big Damn Hero moment - and yes, the ship has always been as much a character as any of the crew.

What flaws this film has are few. The time-travel mechanics are somewhat murky. The meeting between Kirk, original Spock and Scotty is a little too coincidential. The chase scene between Kirk and a Cloverfield-like monster is pure padding. And Eric Bana's Nero did not make much of an impression - he took the role too seriously, whereas Trek villains have always tended to chew scenery (albeit with various levels of success). None of these hurt the film substantially, and I found it easy to overlook them.

There are in-jokes and references galore for the faithful Trek fan (Pine does a Shatner-as-Kirk impression right at the end that I found hilarious). But anyone who enjoys smart and thrilling cinema would enjoy this film, regardless of your familiarity with the franchise. Bravo to Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Paramount - Star Trek is alive and well again, and I can't wait to see more.

Anticipation level: fingers crossed


McGarmott said...

Hey, you're doing a good job with the reviews. Sensible, well-argued, and much better than virtually any local newspaper film reviewer I've come across.

Or I could just be saying this because I agree with your reviews. I've been reading some moronic reviews of Sell Out! and they've been giving me mini-strokes because of how ignorant and stupid they are.

TMBF said...

Thanks - though I think I can still do better. I'm learning as I go. :)

deck said...

I got around to watching it and posting, well, not a review but more a collection of my personal thoughts, on this film on my own blog. I'd appreciate it if you took the time to check it out.

Thanks in advance.