Friday, May 08, 2009

"Star Trek": Not bold, but still brilliant

As I was waiting for J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" to start last night (I showed up plenty early, expecting, frankly, a much bigger crowd), I was trying to remember the last time I had even bothered to watch a movie based on an old TV show, and I really couldn't think of one.

"Bewitched"? Why bother? And despite the presence of both adorable Anna Friel and veryfunnyman Danny McBride, I really can't see myself getting into Will Ferrell's upcoming "Land of the Lost."

In most cases, even if its called a "reimagining," it usually just means adding tired jokes about all the anachronisms. What Abrams has accomplished with "Star Trek," however, is something entirely different. By embracing the best elements of the original animal but adding a fresh and almost uniformly appealing cast and enough of his own touches to give the series a big jolt of new blood (and adrenaline), he's created something so entertaining that it should relaunch the series and have it thriving (or, if you must, prospering) for a long time to come.

Though our 7 p.m. showing was only a little more than half full, I could tell from the crowd that we were in for something thoroughly fun. Despite the absurdity of a local country station giving out Trek t-shirts (to the only two people who bothered to come in costume), all the good-natured "Star Wars" jokes ("I should have come dressed as Vader") just set the stage perfectly.

So, what about the movie itself? Well, after a superb opening sequence that simultaneously features the birth of Kirk and introduces the movie's big bad, the Romulan Nero (Eric Bana, not really all that menacing except for the fact that - with all the Romulan facial tattoos - he looks a lot like Mike Tyson), Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wisely spend a lot of time introducing the new members of the Enterprise crew-to-be.

And though the types are already well set in stone, the new players are all just about perfectly cast (with the glaring exception of Simon Pegg, but more on that later.) The only thing I could remember seeing Chris Pine in was the mildly disappointing "Bottle Shock," but here he captures the combustible mix of anger and potential that makes the young Kirk intriguing, and though I gave up on "Heroes" during the disastrous second season, Zachary Quinto finds the soul of Spock rather than making him the cartoon it would have been easier to become.

Among the supporting crew, Zoe Saldana smolders just enough as Uhura, and gives the movie its most tender moment along with Quinto. Karl Urban's McCoy (a truly eerie dead ringer) and Anton Yelchin's Chekhov are mostly there for very effective comic relief, but my favorite crew member of all was John Cho's Hikaru Sulu, perhaps mostly just because it was so much fun to see him do something besides get incredibly stoned.

The main (and just about only) beef I had heard from the minority of critics who at least kind of panned this was that the story was lacking, but I have to disagree. Though it is indeed a fairly standard revenge tale with enough wrinkles thrown in to keep it interesting until the end, I have to wonder, just how intricate could you really expect what amounts to the first mission of Kirk's Enterprise crew to be?

As it is, Abrams keeps the tale moving at a very fast but fluid pace, enough so that - for once - I really didn't mind the occasionally shaky camera work because it really does set up some simply stunning set pieces. Kirk and Sulu get the best one of all, as they dive from the Enterprise to take out a crazy giant drill that Nero is using to assault the Vulcan planet. I guarantee it will be the best action sequence you'll see this summer (or at least I welcome the challenge from "Terminator: Salvation" trying to top it in two weeks or so.)

My only quibble (and I hesitate even to bring it up, because the movie really was just about perfect summer fare) was that, after producing a script that set up the natural dynamic of the young Enterprise crew, it really felt like they went back at the end and crammed in the catchphrases that any Trek fan (and even a casual admirer like me) expect to hear. They're very funny at first, but exceedingly just a little annoying as it feels like Abrams and crew are working from a checklist.

And the introduction of Pegg's Scotty unfortunately feels right in this vein too. You know going in that he can't be a member of the Star Fleet Academy class with Kirk and company, but he just feels tacked on when he's finally brought in, and it doesn't help matters that Pegg - shockingly - just doesn't seem to fit the part at all. It's the first time on the big screen that I just really haven't much liked him at all.

But all that said, the bottom line is that this is a thoroughly fun flick that will thrill "Star Trek" devotees and newcomers alike. And with that, I have to go pay $70 to keep from having my power cut off and then to the job that pays me just enough to put me in that admittedly rather sorry position. Peace out.


Bob said...

I'm really excited to go see it again. I just had a lot of fun. As for Pegg, I really liked him and not just because I'm biased as a big Pegg fan. I thought he did a fine job with it and I'm looking forward to seeing him get more to do in the next movie. Hopefully Sulu will get more to do as well because I'm right there with you on John Cho.
My absolute favorite touch had to be getting to see the moment Kirk takes the Kobayashi-Maru. I'd always wanted to see how that played out and it did not disappoint.

Reel Fanatic said...

You're certainly right there about the Kobayashi-Maru ... As these things tend to go, the second movie in the series (I realize this is actually far from the first "Trek" movie, but you know what I mean) is usually the best, so I can't wait to see what they come up with next

Bob said...

True. Because "First Contact" is the best of the "Next Generation" movies. And of course "Wrath of Khan" is far and away the best "Star Trek" movie ever.

Bob said...

Just posted my review for the first "Star Trek" movie without a colon.

Cullen said...

I, like Bob, loved Pegg too. He was probably my favorite of the new actors.

Star Trek Online said...

I had a great fun watching this movie. I watched this movie two times and still seeking to watch it once more. Not only the cast is good but plot was interesting too.