Star Trek (Advance Review)

Thanks to the much appreciated kindness of a coworker, I was able to attend an advance screening of the new Star Trek movie tonight. I will try my best to keep my remarks spoiler free. To make a long story short, I liked it. A lot.

A couple of years ago I went to see Mission: Impossible III with pretty low expectations. I liked the first movie, but the second movie was rather terrible (and has not held up well at all), so all I really wanted out of the third film was some nice explosions, maybe a pretty girl or two, and some nice explosions (did I mention explosions? Good.) The director of MI:III was one J.J. Abrams, who had at that point only directed television shows (most of which I did not watch), so my expectations were low. These low expectations might have been why I enjoyed MI:III as much as I did.

So when I learned of Abrams involvement in the Star Trek reboot, my interest was piqued. If he could resurrect the outlandish MI series, why not Star Trek? I should mention at this juncture that I never particularly cared for the original Star Trek series. I came on board with The Next Generation, which is one of my favorite TV series. I suppose I liked the even numbered movies featuring the original crew, but for the most part I never really connected with them. So I wasn't particularly interested in the reboot itself so much as I was in what Abrams would do with it. Considering that he was working with material that I never particularly cared for, it would be an uphill battle. Furthermore, the story that needs to be told here essentially amounts to an origin story, which is something I'm conflicted about. Origin stories are necessary and interesting in their own right, but they can provide a lot of challenges and are often somewhat anticlimatic. I don't think it's an accident that a lot of superhero movie series really come into their own during the second installment (not that their first installment was bad or anything).

Put simply, Abrams succeeded. I'm also pretty sure that my status as someone who never got into the original series worked significantly in Abrams' favor here. Someone who loves the original series may have different feelings about the film. I'm not an expert on the Star Trek cannon and don't know a lot of the history of star fleet, but from what I can gather, there are things here that might not jive well with people who are in love with the original series. There is an explanation built into the story for this and I was fine with it for a number of reasons, but to go into that more would be delving into spoiler territory. I will say that what Abrams did was gutsy and maybe even needed to be done, which I can respect, but I'm sure there are some who will bristle at what he's done.

The new old crew of the Enterprise
Mr. Sulu, set a course for White Castle. Engage!

In terms of the story, it works well and the origin story aspect of it is well integrated into the larger arc. I will say that the main villain of this film (played by Eric Bana) is not the most memorable in the series, but he is well drawn enough to get the job done (villains are often an issue in origin stories and this isn't really an exception, but it's not bad either). I was, however, much more impressed with the cast than expected. When the names were first announced, there were several choices that worried me due to associated with their other work. For instance, the thought of Sylar (Zachary Quinto) as Spock did not thrill me. I wasn't sure about Harold (John Cho) as Sulu, Shaun (Simon Pegg) as Scotty, nor Eomer (Karl Urban) as Bones. It's not that I don't like any of those actors (I Iike them a lot), it's that I couldn't picture them as the Star Trek characters. However, for the most part, they all work splendidly. I was pleasantly surprised at how well each character was introduced and given something to do - and this includes the ones I haven't mentioned, like Chekov, Uhura, and of course, Captain Kirk himself. Movies with ensemble casts often suffer from a lack of focus, but this movie had a good balance. A lot of people were skeptical of actor Chris Pine when it was announced that he'd be playing Kirk, but I think he did a good job.

Again, I'm interested to see how true blue trekkies will receive the film. While there are some things that might not go over so well, there are certainly plenty of in-jokes, catch phrases and references that are made for the enthusiasts. For instances, you get a nice Kobayashi Maru reference and there's a pretty memorable red-shirt moment that you just know was done purposefully. I'd also be interested in how well this movie would play with newcomers. I suspect someone who has no exposure to Star Trek would still enjoy this movie quite a bit. The other thing that surprised me about the movie was just how funny it was. I was laughing out loud quite frequently and often found myself smirking at the screen when a nice bit of snappy dialogue passed by, or when some reference was made and a character spouted off a catchphrase ("Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a theoretical physicist!"). Even though I never really caught on to the original series, there was an element of nostalgia and familiarity that the movie captured well (though again, I don't think a newcomer would be put off by this). There could have been a little more science in the fiction and there was perhaps more emphasis on action than in other Trek stories, but for the most part, it was quite a fun experience.

It's not a perfect movie, but in the end, it's a highly enjoyable, action packed, crowd-pleasing popcorn film. I think this is about as good as I could have hoped for the film and Abrams seems to have successfully revitalized the Star Trek universe. For the first time since TNG ended, I'm intrigued to see where they take this series. Here's to hopeing they don't pull a Quantum of Solace on me in the next outing. *** (out of 4 stars)