If one takes the glowing reviews of J.J. Abram’s Star Trek as a representative sample of the populace, most people love this movie. I am not most people.
That is not to say that I despise this movie, either. It is, however, a deeply flawed film. This movie is like skipping a rock across a lake; it neither sinks totally, but nor does it ever manage to completely fly.
As is stated in the title of this review, there will be spoilers. Probably lots of them. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it is highly recommended that you stop reading now. Seriously, this is your last chance not to be spoiled. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
First, the good. I really liked the production design. It does a good job of mixing retro-futuristic with the functional and with a Star Trek feel. Even if Engineering did look like a sub-basement (where’s Captain Santa Claus and First Officer Sting?), and the bridge looks like an iPod exploded, it still works and works well. It feels modern, different, yet still very Star Trek.
The special effects were also awesome. Everything fit nicely and combined well, with little obvious CGI detectable. The battles were dynamic and interesting and did an excellent job of making one think that these things were firing weapons of incredible destructive power. Also, seeing the jingoistic ‘hoo-haa, lets go kick some Romulan ass’ redshirt get vaporized by the mining platform made me laugh.
I can happily say that Star Trek wasn’t boring. A chronic problem with the Star Trek franchise, thankfully this movie does not commit the sin of being just damned dull. It hits the ground running and there is always something that keeps viewer interest. Kudos to the film makers for this. Few things are worse than a boring movie.
The actors also did a fantastic job (with one possible exception that I’ll get to later). Of particular note is Bruce Greenwood as Captain (later Admiral) Pike and Simon Pegg as Scotty. These two are particularly awesome in an already awesome cast. I do wish that more was done with Scotty (he only appears in the last third of the movie and even then is mostly comic relief), but what there was of the character was great.
Now we come to the bad. And, unfortunately, what is bad in this movie is the one thing that should’ve been the best: the script. It is the very definition of contrived with huge, glaring plot holes large enough to fly a spaceship through and terrible, asinine dialog. The entire narrative is a god-awful mess, plain and simple.
First up is the main villain, Nero. He’s a Romulan captain of a mining ship who has just seen his homeworld destroyed after Spock tried to save it from its star going nova by using a substance called Red Matter to create a black hole that will… um… suck up the badness, I guess. It works (kinda), but Spock doesn’t get there in time to save Romulus and the artificial black hole transports Nero and Spock into the past (though at different points in space and time). The problem is that Nero is not a character. He (and his crew) are merely walking plot conveniences.
Why does he want to destroy all the worlds in the Federation? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why does he blame Spock for the destruction of his homeworld? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why doesn’t he warn Romulus of the impending disaster that will occur in 129 years? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why doesn’t he just give the Romulans the advanced technology of his mining ship from the future? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why does he wait 25 years with his thumb up his green ass for Spock to arrive? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why does he maroon Old Spock on the ice planet near Vulcan, rather than keep him with him so he can savor Spock’s helplessness? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why doesn’t his crew rebel against the obviously stupid and self-destructive antics of Nero? Because it’s convenient to the script. Why does he blast the holy hell out of all the other Federation ships, but leaves the Enterprise intact? It’s not because he needs Pike for the command codes that will allow him to approach Earth; any of the other Captains would do (they even explicitly say this in the movie!). If he just wanted Young Spock to witness the destruction of Vulcan, he could’ve demanded that Young Spock also come with Pike and blow the hell out of Enterprise after wards. No, he spares the Enterprise because it’s convenient to the script. Nero does some thing and not other things because the script demands it.
Nero’s motivation makes no sense. Okay, I get that he’s grieving and deranged after seeing the destruction of his homeworld, but he decides to take it out on… the only people who tried to help Romulus? Wha…? Why isn’t he pissed off at the Klingons who didn’t even TRY to help (and probably made cruel jokes about the destruction at the Romulan people’s expense)? Or the Cardassians? Or any of the numerous other empires who did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as Romulus burned? Somehow, the UPF is more deserving of death because they actually tried to save his people? Furthermore, how does destroying Vulcan (and all the other UPF worlds) in the past help him? THIS Federation has no clue why he’s fucking up their worlds, so his revenge is completely wasted. Vulcan and Earth MIGHT be excusable since he blames Spock expressly and Spock has feet in both worlds… but why the rest of the Federation? And if he wanted to do that, why didn’t he just take his Future Tech to Romulus and have a huge technologically superior force just conquer the damn Federation and probably the rest of the Alpha Quadrant as well? He could’ve still gotten revenge on Spock that way, too.
Speaking of the disaster that caused all these problems in the first place, how the hell would Spock’s plan save Romulus anyway? We are told that the SUN WAS GOING NOVA. Even if the Black Plot Hole managed to stop that, Romulus would still be orbiting a dead star and would die anyway.
As an aside, I didn’t have any real problems with the Red Matter itself. The substance is pretty typical Star Trekian Magitek Particle of the Week, so that is easily forgivable within the context of the universe. I do think that the writers missed an opportunity here by not having the black hole generated by the same technology the Romulans use to power their warp drives. This would’ve prevented the use of a poor (if Trek-standard) plot device, thrown another continuity bone to the fanboys to squeal delightedly over, and explained another glaring plot hole in that how Nero was able to know when and where Old Spock would reappear in the past (being Romulan, his engineer should know how these things work and could give a proper estimate). It should be noted that neither Spock nor Nero actually reappear in the past around Romulus due to both the conspicuous lack of Romulans and the fact that Old Man Kirk’s ship is right there when Nero’s ship appears (being a Federation ship, he wouldn’t be anywhere near Romulus).
Another problem with the whole disaster in the first place is that there was no evacuation of Romulus. Why the fuck wasn’t even a partial evacuation done? There was enough time for Starfleet to identify the problem, Spock to get approval from the UFP senate for a diplomatic mission to Romulus, go there, negotiate with the Romulan Senate, get the Senate to approve aid from the UFP, have Spock travel back to Starfleet, refit their ‘fastest ship’ with the magic Red Matter, then fly back to Romulus. And no one, not the Romulan government, not Starfleet, no one thought to try and get as many people off the planet as possible just in case this last ditch effort failed? Even if Spock was already on Romulus directing the Reunification Movement, he still would’ve needed to contact the UFP senate, arrange for the ship to be refit, and then go and get it (we are shown that Ambassador Spock is there during the refit). That’s a huge chunk of time that could be used to evacuate.
I couldn’t understand why Earth itself was completely defenseless, even lacking shuttles or fighters that could at least have tried to blast the mining platform. They pay lip-service to this in the movie: the reason Nero wanted Pike was because he knew command codes to basically make Earth open for attack. Of course, it’s really poor planning on Starfleet’s point that there isn’t a manual override, but… you have the entirety of Starfleet Academy gawking at it instead of jumping into a shuttle or hell, even whipping out a phaser and taking potshots at it.
Another problem with the script is the use of contrivances to fuel lame jokes. One example is when Kirk meets Doctor McCoy for the first time. McCoy is joining Starfleet because he has no where to go due to the fact that his ex-wife just divorced him and taken everything “except his bones”. Um, okay, but… why had Bones’ ex-wife taken everything? This is the Enlightened Crystal Palace Socialist Utopian Future! There is no want or hunger or need! How could she take his property if he has none? And even if he does have some that she acquired, why would it matter? Big Brother UFP is there to provide all the resources you could ever want or need. Of course we know the reason: so that his nickname would come up and we’d get a joke about the origin.
Speaking of property, the Product Placement in the movie annoyed me. This is the Enlightened Crystal Palace Socialist Utopian Future. You know, the one without money. Why are there corporations if there is no profit motive? What purpose do they serve? They don’t belong in a narrative like this, but are there because the respective companies ponied up the dough. It’s very jarring to the narrative.
But back to contrivances for the sake of lame humor. At one point, Kirk is marooned on an ice world in the same system as Vulcan (which has just been destroyed by Nero using a mining device to dig into the core of the planet and then the Red Matter to make a black hole at the center) and meets Old Spock who has also been marooned there. There is a Starfleet monitoring base nearby that they travel to and meet Scotty. So… why doesn’t this Starfleet monitoring outpost IN THE SAME SYSTEM AS VULCAN not notice the planet’s destruction? The planet was VISIBLE FROM THE SURFACE, but somehow the monitoring outpost missed this? They didn’t notice the sudden change in gravitation as a FUCKING BLACK HOLE replaced the planet? They didn’t pick up on the desperate distress call that was sent by the Vulcan High Command? Or notice when all communications suddenly were cut off by Jet-Engine-Drill-And-Scrambler-Device? Of course we know the reason for this: it’s the setup for the lame comic relief moment of Scotty thinking Kirk and Old Spock are his replacements.
This is really lazy scriptwriting.
Another problem is the dialog. Dialog ranges from okay to Ed Wood Jr. levels of tin-eared garbage. Of particular awfulness is one scene were Vulcan delinquents are bullying Spock.
Child Spock: “I presume you have a new supply of names to taunt me with today?”
Lead Vulcan Bully: “Affirmative.”
Ugh. You can’t have thugs also be intellectuals. It just doesn’t work. It’s like having Joe Don Baker be a likable cop. It just can’t be done.
There are also numerous things with the movie that are really just nitpicks or personal irritants. One such thing, for me, is the direction of the action scenes. The other parts were fine, but as soon as an action scene started, it felt like the director was swapped with Michael Bay. Or a 13 year old who had his Ritalin replaced with sugar pills. Which is pretty much the same thing, really. SHAKY CAM IS SHAKY! And vomit inducing. Some people like this type of direction and, really, you should expect it since Abrams also produced Cloverfield, a movie which was entirely Shaky Cam. But I still can’t stand that type of camera work.
I also thought it was incongruous that a mining ship would be so heavily armed. Okay, it’s from 129 years in the future and has superior technology, but Nero’s ship is a friggin’ battle station, not a mining ship! And the interior is continuously flooded with sluice water. It’s like the Romulan designer said to himself, “Hmm… which would be more important in a mining ship that is never expected to see combat ever, 120 banks of photon torpedoes or a sump-pump to keep water away from the sensitive mining equipment? Hmmm… PHOTON TORPEDOES!” Others have said that this design philosophy is entirely consistent with Romulan paranoia, but I personally just found it odd. Sure, throw a few weapons onto the thing just in case, but arm it to the teeth? What?
Finally, we come to James T. Kirk. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the writers, the director, the actor, or some combination thereof, but I did not like Kirk. Why? Because he’s an asshole. To be sure, Kirk (especially Young Kirk) is going to be a bit of a self-absorbed jerk, but they just go too far in that direction here. He’s not just smarmy and self-confident to the point of arrogance, he’s such a completely detestable sleazy bastard on every level that he’s absolutely unlikable.
Despite these glaring flaws, there is really only one question one must answer about a movie: is it entertaining? The answer for Star Trek is… sometimes. Sometimes everything absolutely does click and it’s very much entertaining. Other times, it is just so jaw-droppingly bad that one will feel like strangling the script team. Overall, though, I say see it. There is enough points where it is airborne to make seeing it worth it, but don’t expect to be continuously entertained.