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The Register’s film critic says the new movie ‘delivers superbly, while opening the door to the possibility of better things yet to come.’
BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS
It was the classic "Star Trek" episode "Mirror,
Mirror" that first introduced the idea of an alternate reality, like the
fictional world we know in many respects, but with key differences.
In that episode, it was certainly
the Starship Enterprise's transporter room in which
Kirk and his team materialized during that fateful ion storm — but one look at
Mr. Spock in that goatee, cruelly torturing a transporter tech for his
unsatisfactory performance, and it was obvious that this Enterprise
wasn't our Enterprise.
That episode's "mirror universe" was
in many respects pretty antithetical to "our" world, but later chapters in
"Star Trek" continuity explored a wider and more subtle range of alternate
The "Star Trek" universe was
revealed to be a multiverse of interrelated, ever-diverging infinite possibilities
— some indistinguishable from one another but for the smallest of details (the
flavor of a birthday cake), others nightmarishly distant (the United Federation
of Planets on the brink of destruction).
For too many years, the continuity
of that one particularly well-documented universe that has hosted six "Trek" TV
series and 10 feature films has been so exhaustively explored and mapped out
that there was essentially nowhere else to go with it. It had become so
mythology-bound that it was all but incapable of surprising us.
Which raises the head-smackingly
obvious yet revolutionary question: Why stick to that universe?
And so, for the first time in
forever, we have Star Trek really and
truly boldly going where we haven't been before — taking Kirk, Spock, Bones,
Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov on a brand-new adventure for the very first
Before you know it, you're getting
to know old friends in an entirely new light. It's like what Alan Moore said
about Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns:
"Everything is exactly the same, except for the fact that it's all completely
You can call the new film, from
director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, a reboot, and
it effectively is. At the same time, it begins with an onscreen, plot-level
mechanism diverting this continuity from the one we know all too well.
It's a bold, startling opening, an
introduction to James Tiberius Kirk I wasn't expecting, and it opens the movie
with a wallop both narratively and emotionally.
The energy of the opening carries
right into the next scene and the one after that, blending action, character
development and humor with remarkable deftness. In fact, the film's mercurial
vitality seems almost to flow from its youthful protagonist, the young James T.
Kirk, brilliantly played by Chris Pine.
Kirk's jaunty forwardness and
impulsive audacity are accentuated here by growing up fatherless in Iowa farm
country. The Kirk played by Shatner, who knew his father, evidently absorbed
similar traits from the old man, but perhaps channeled them more responsibly
and maturely. This Kirk, reckless and immature, has a way to go, though old
Captain Pike (an authoritative Bruce Greenwood) can see that the boy is his
father's son and has what it takes — if he cares to extend himself.
Whether Spock (uncanny Zachary
Quinto) has also somehow had a different upbringing in this timeline is
impossible to say, but Abrams and company explore sides of his identity crisis
growing up that I haven't seen before, including Vulcan bullying.
Spock's conflicted meta-emotions,
his desire to distance himself from his human side without distancing himself
from his human mother, and his delightfully ironic embrace of a most Vulcan
gesture as a way of expressing solidarity with his mother offer a persuasive
and satisfying take on a character that may be the franchise's most compelling
— one that holds up admirably even when the one and only Leonard Nimoy shows up
as "Spock Prime," the old Spock of the familiar universe.
It's entirely logical that when the
young Kirk and young Spock of this continuity meet at Starfleet Academy they
should have nothing but contempt for one another — particularly when Kirk pulls
his famous Kobayashi Maru stunt, beating the unbeatable test as described in Star
Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (The Kobayashi Maru scene itself is one
of the movie's few miscalculations, though, since Kirk's jokey frat-boy
insouciance in that scene makes it a juvenile prank rather than a subversively
idealistic denial of "no-win scenarios.")
Kirk's well-known womanizing gets
some comeuppance as he repeatedly hits on Uhura (assured Zoe Saldana), who
refuses to give him her full name, and there's a brief, abortive bedroom scene
that — a bit like a similar scene in Iron Man — is more
about showing up the hero's foibles and shortcomings than celebrating his way
with women (á la James Bond).
As the story swings into action, we
meet an already irascible Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban, shedding Éomer
to channel DeForest Kelley), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and
finally Scotty (hilarious Simon Pegg).
Humor runs high among the supporting
cast, though Kirk gets his share of the fun, notably in a sequence of
jaw-dropping physical humor as Bones tries to finagle a seat on the Enterprise
for the grounded cadet Kirk, and in a moment of unexpected absurdity when
Scotty's first minutes on the Enterprise almost
become his last.
There's also plenty of action, from
starship dogfights to an exhilarating space dive with retractable parachutes
and perilous hand-to-hand combat on a narrow ledge of a space drill high in the
stratosphere above Vulcan.
Eric Bana plays a rather generic
alien menace, a tattooed Romulan named Nero, and, at some point, the story
begins to falter as coincidences pile up and certain points don't quite jibe.
By the time Kirk meets old Spock on
an ice planet, it's clear that, as reboots go, Star
Trek isn't in the same league as, say, Batman
Begins. As brilliantly as Abrams and company have reimagined the
world of "Star Trek," they haven't crafted a story within that world with the
thematic resonance of The Wrath of Khan, The
Search for Spock or even The Voyage Home.
And yet compared to any but the most
brilliant origin stories — compared to the modest pleasures of Iron
Man, say — Star Trek delivers
superbly, while opening the door to the possibility of better things yet to
come. Where a typical franchise prequel like Wolverine merely hits
the expected numbers, Star Trek surprises
and delights. That's something "Star Trek" hasn't done in a couple of decades
or so. I'll take it.
Steven D. Greydanus is editor
and chief critic at
Content advisory: Much action and sci-fi violence; a brief, abortive
bedroom scene (nothing explicit); ogling a lingerie-clad woman; a few coarse
references. Could be okay for mature teens.