Thoughts on Star Trek

The new Star Trek movie has been heavily reviewed, lately, and has been winning almost-universal praise.  (It currently has a 95% fresh ratintg on Rotten Tomatoes, which is really, really good.)  I basically agree with all the praise.

The movie looks beautiful, the story is fast-paced and fun, and the casting is more solid that anyone could have hoped for.  Karl Urban is rock solid as McCoy, Zachary Quinto—surprisingly—does a good enough job as Spock to make me forget he is also Sylar, and Pine is actually okay as a cocky young Kirk with daddy issues.  The rest of the cast are also solid, although they received much less attention and development than the big three.  (We did get to see Sulu with a sword, which was most excellent.)

The action sequences were also very cool, if cut together a little too quickly and thus making it hard to follow at times.  Having a young cast and a budget for a stunt crew means the action can be more intense and fast-paced than in most of the Trek movies we’ve seen.  It all works together to provide an extremely fun and entertaining movie that sucks you in while you’re watching it. Star Trek is also, I think, accessible to new audiences, while rather cleverly showing a connection to the original series and its spin-offs in a way that explains and justifies the differences.

That said, it doesn’t hold up quite so well once you stop and think about it.  You don’t really notice in the theatre, because the pacing and action and visual excitement keep you off balance, but there are a number of issues that challenge the verisimilitude of the movie and problems with the nature of the story and the common sense of characters.

From here on in, things will get full of spoilers, so I’ve moved that behind the cut.  Before that, I’ll leave you with my mini-summary: Star Trek was a good, fun, summer movie, that I think almost anyone can enjoy on some level.

SPOILER WARNING

So, they really don’t explain any of the backstory—at least, not until much later in the film—but when they do, the villain, Nero, comes across as, well, stupid.  He is (understandably) angry at the destruction of his homeworld, and somehow decides this is the fault of the Vulcans and Federation, so when he finds himself in the past, rather than go and pre-emptively stop the destruction of Romulus, he sets out to get his revenge.  Not the sharpest crayon in the box, apparently.  Even if he planned to save Romulus after getting his revenge (as he had 140 years to work with), it was still stupid to risk pissing off everyone else in the galaxy before doing it.

Also… red matter?  WTF?

Apart from some issues with set design (I heard the engine room of the Enterprise described as having been designed by Willy Wonka), I also question some logistical issues, such as the speed of promotion and fluidity of command.  The Enterprise seemed to have only 4 actual officers on board (Pike, Spock, Sulu, and Chekov) with the rest of the crew consisting of freshly-graduated cadets, one of whom (Kirk) is inexplicably made First Officer, and later Captain—a job he gets to keep at the end of the movie.  I suppose saving the world does grant you some perks, after all.

There were other quibbles—the Phantom Menace-esque monster chase on the ice planet, the heavy coincidences involved in how some people keep running into each other, why a Romulan mining ship is so heavily armed, technological inconsistencies with existing Trek canon—but they didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the movie.

I actually rather enjoyed how they explained the reboot and divergence from the known Trek history—the arrival of the Romulans and Spock from the future must necessarily alter the timeline, and thus create a parallel universe diverging from the original.  This is actually consistent with the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, and thus one of the more scientifically-accurate elements of the movie.

It has been brought to my attention that the backstory was more fully explained in a prequel comic series, Countdown, and that some of the more obvious questions (eg. why is a mining ship so heavily armed) are answered there.  This is all well and good, but it doesn’t excuse the movie for being fuzzy on this.

Anyway, I think this Star Trek movie had a tough task to handle—bringing the classic ensemble crew together, trot out some of their history, present an interesting story in and of itself, and set the foundation for a new franchise—and it handled it pretty darn well.  I am hopeful, now that the groundwork is set, that future movies in the franchise can focus on developing the characters and telling tighter, more consistent stories, while still cramming in lots of cool action.  I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right, but also to seeing the current Star Trek movie again.

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