I’m not a huge fan of Star Trek. The original series was camp fun, and the movies that embraced that (primarily Wrath Of Khan, The One With The Whales and The One With Shakespeare In The Original Klingon*) were thoroughly enjoyable. Next Gen was largely “meh” with only a few flirtations with REALLY ANNOYINGNESS (So-called empath Deanna Troi and her ability to state the stupefying obvious – green guys with weird foreheads are blasting away at the Enterprise with a battery of Kill-O-Death Cannon, at which point Troi helpfully interjects “I sense… anger”. Come to think of it, what IS the ship’s councillor doing sitting on the bridge anyway? Also: Troi’s relationship with Riker. Also: Riker. No wonder Picard kept sending the fatuous git on every possible away team. “Captain, our sensors detect millions of ten-foot tall heavily-armed warrior-lizards whose society appears to be entirely based around the loathing of trombones, stupid beards and self-satisfaction.” “Number One, report to the transporter room.”). Deep Space 9 I actually quite liked, despite it being a poor man’s Babylon 5 and featuring the most wooden commanding officer in Trek history. Voyager was nearly unbearable, it’s only saving grace being the holographic doctor who seemed to hate every other character on the ship nearly as much as I did. And Enterprise was actually unbearable.
This disclosure isn’t coming from the sneery “Trekkie? Me? No, I Have Known The Touch Of A Woman Haw Haw Haw” place that seems in rather pathetic vogue at the moment (I really must get round to writing that post on The Cult Of Nerd that’s been kicking around in the back of my mind for the last few weeks). It’s just that a person’s reaction to the new Trek film is inevitably going to be coloured by their feelings about the franchise so I feel I should get my cards on the table right from the off. I wouldn’t want you thinking it’s just nostalgia talking when I tell you that the film’s really, really good.
The film’s really, really good.
Going in, I had some trepidation. Classic Trek given a smirky noughties shakey-cam makeover sounded like something that was potentially smug enough to provoke me to gouge my own eyes out with a spoon. Particularly seeing as it was being directed by the bloke who made the really not terribly good at all Mission Impossible 3.
Any lingering doubts were quickly dismissed. Within the first ten minutes I’d laughed, I’d cried and I’d seen the vehicle that I now want a go on more than any other in movie history. Sorry, Dark Knight-era Batmobile. Sorry, Speeder Bike. Sorry, hoverboard thingamy out of Back To The Future 2. For all the flashy whizz-bangery and unnecessary wobblycam this film looks and sounds and feels like Star Trek. More importantly, it looks and sounds and feels like a massive, epic, sweeping space-opera. There’s derring-do and a remarkable but mis-matched group of misfits battling against impossible odds with The Fate Of The World Itself At Stake. It’s as close as (almost) anyone’s come to recreating the fun and wide-eyed excitement of the first Star Wars film. Certainly closer than George Lucas has managed since 1983.
One of the big reasons Star Trek works as well as it does is the casting. Central to the original series was the Freudian relationship between Bones the irascible, emotional humanist id, Spock the cold, rational ego and Kirk’s (heh) superego resolving the two. In this film you can see that dynamic shaking into place via the three terrific central turns from Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban. The film usually remembers that the lasers and splodes aren’t the point, they’re just there to dress up what’s fundamentally a story about people. And, importantly, they’re people you really enjoy spending a couple of hours with. For the most part the performances are pitched to evoke the original cast without impersonating them, something that’s done through little mannerisms such as Kirk’s smirk and command-chair slouch, Chekov’s wide-eyed enthusiasm or Spock’s patented “Hmm, you’re right, I hadn’t considered that” expression. It’s a difficult trick but it’s pulled off immaculately give or take a dodgy Scottish accent or so.
It’s not perfect by any means. It’s pretty relentlessly white-male-centric: Uhura is set up as an interesting character then given next to nothing to do for the last half of the film. I’d have preferred a plot resolution that relied a bit more on outwitting the enemy and a bit less on peace through superior firepower. However, my only major issue we’re probably going to have to break the old spoiler warning out for:
CAUTION! SPOILERS AHEAD!
The whole baggy, slightly tedious section with the (slippy-slidey) ice world needed to go. Really? There was no more elegant and cohesive way you could have woven in the time-travel plot and Old Spock than that? A massive Exposition Dump and an even more massive coincidence that Kirk got marooned on the same world that Nero stuck Old Spock on? I’m not even sure which of the two was more of a stretch of logic. Wouldn’t New Spock just have chucked Kirk in the brig? Wouldn’t Nero have just kept Old Spock on the Death Star for fun, torture and maybe more? Couldn’t he have shown Old Spock the destruction of Vulcan from there? Hmmm and ahem and come on now.
I know cohesive water-tight plotting is hardly Star Trek’s raison d’etre, but in this case it was abusing the privilege. Thing is, the whole alternate universe, time-travel thing was such a clever and brave idea it really did deserve an awful lot better.
CAUTION! SPOILERS BEHIND!
That’s being just a fraction nit-picky, though. To reiterate: the film’s really, really good. Comfortably the best Star Trek film ever, comfortably the best sci-fi movie since Serenity. Between this and Iron Man we now have two unexpectedly terrific summer blockbuster franchises that are ready to follow the path well-trod by Pirates Of The Carribbean 2 and Matrix Reloaded right over the quality cliff.
Which’ll be something to look forward to.
* – Actually, just go here, they’re all great.