Star Trek (2009, JJ Abrams)

Star-Trek

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Ninety-four years after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock is thrown back in time along with a vengeful Romulan called Nero. Their time-travelling creates a new, alternate reality where Spock’s younger self – as well as James Kirk and other familiar faces – team up to defeat Nero…

For only the third time in a Star Trek movie, we hear the famous narration. And for the third time, it’s Leonard Nimoy who delivers it. It comes at the end of the film: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing missing: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: The elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) can’t prevent the destruction of Romulus, so when pissed-off Nero travels back in time to seek revenge, Spock follows him – thereby creating an alternate reality. The James T Kirk of this new timeline is born in the opening scene: his mother goes into labour while being evacuated from a starship. Kirk’s dad, meanwhile, is killed just after he discusses baby names with his wife. We next see Kirk as a kid, where he’s clearly a bit of a wild child, then as an adult when he gets into a bar fight with some tough guys. After joining Starfleet, he cheats at the Kobayashi Maru test (as did the original Kirk), then is quickly promoted to first officer of the Enterprise during a crisis. However, after he rows with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto), he’s stranded on an ice planet where he has to evade CGI monsters and bumps into the Spock from the future. At the start of the film, we see this timeline’s Spock being bullied as a boy for being only half-Vulcan, and he kicks off when his human mother is insulted. As a young adult, he turns his back on the Vulcan Academy and joins Starfleet, where he develops the test that Kirk uniquely beats (by cheating). When Captain Pike goes off to talk to Nero, Spock is made captain of the Enterprise. Nyota Uhura meets Kirk in a bar, where he tries to flirt with her. She’s studying xenolinguistics at Starfleet – Kirk quips that she must have a talented tongue. She’s initially assigned to a different ship because boyfriend Spock was trying to avoid favouritism; she soon demands to join the Enterprise and takes over as communications officer. Also in the new crew is Pavel Chekov, a Russian who has trouble with his Ws. He does a natty bit of beaming to save Kirk and Sulu from certain death. Hikaru Sulu is a late-replacement helmsman who cocks up his first go at driving the ship, but shows his mettle on a mission with Kirk. Dr Leonard McCoy meets Kirk when they both join up. He has a fear of space-travel, and has lost so much in a recent divorce that he’s only left with his ‘bones’; during the crisis at Vulcan, the Enterprise’s medical chief is killed so McCoy takes over. Finally, after Kirk has been abandoned on the ice world, he meets Montgomery Scott, a grumpy engineer doing research at a remote Federation base. He has a mute alien sidekick, Keenser.

Guests: Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth plays Kirk’s dad. Faran ‘Warehouse 13’ Tahir plays the captain of the USS Kelvin. Eric ‘the Incredible Hulk’ Bana plays Nero. Greg ‘mate of JJ Abrams’ Grunberg plays Kirk’s stepdad. Ben ‘Dark Shadows’ Cross plays Sarek. Winona ‘Winona Ryder’ Ryder plays Spock’s mum (in aged make-up: the scene she shot as a young woman was cut). W. Morgan ‘seaQuest DSV’ Shepherd plays a prissy Vulcan official. Bruce ‘…didn’t he play JFK once?’ Greenwood plays Captain Pike. Tyler ‘Tyler Perry movies’ Perry plays a Starfleet bigwig. Rachel ‘Alias’ Nicholls plays Kirk’s one-night stand, Gaila. Deep ‘Doctor Who’ Roy plays Scotty’s sidekick, Keenser.

Best bits:

* The prologue – the wormhole, the Romulan ship, the chaos on board the Kelvin, the frenetic editing and whip-crack camera moves, Kirk’s birth and his dad’s sacrifice… It’s an 11-minute sequence that grabs you by the throat. This isn’t your father’s Star Trek.

* The graceful yet powerful incidental cue over the logo.

* Kirk as a boy, in a stolen sports car, bombing along and listening to the Beastie Boys. He’s chased by a robotic cop and ends up leaping from the car just before it careers off a cliff.

* The Harrison Ford smirk that a grown-up Kirk gives to Uhura after her accidentally feels her up.

* “You can whistle really loud, you know that?”

* Pike to Kirk: “Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”

* Kirk’s green-skinned girlfriend (a knowing nod to the original TV series).

* The Kobayashi-Maru test. A smug Kirk eats an apple because he knows he’s going to beat it.

* The reveal that Spock designed the test.

* Kirk and Spock’s first meeting – a courtroom-style clash over Kirk’s cheating.

* “Who was that pointy-eared bastard?” asks Kirk. “I don’t know,” replies McCoy. “But I like him!”

* In a brilliant run of comedy and plotting, McCoy puts Kirk through blindness, a huge tongue and ridiculously swollen hands in order to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise.

* Spock walking from engineering, into a lift and out again onto the bridge – all in one fluid shot.

* The TV-show-like lighting effect on Pike’s eyes as he sits in the captain’s chair.

* Kirk realizing what the lightening storm is, and his mad dash through the ship to find Pike. (In a wonderfully illustrative bit of writing, Spock listens to Kirk despite their antagonism and backs him up when he talks sense.)

* “I’m Christopher Pike. To whom am I speaking?” “Hi, Christopher. I’m Nero.”

* The guy in the red space suit. A red space suit. Red.

* Kirk and Sulu’s skydiving down to the huge platform above Vulcan, and the subsequent fight.

* Spock running into the Vulcan temple and telling the group that the planet will imminently explode. Because they’re Vulcans, no one quibbles with him and they all flee.

* Uhura and Spock’s moment in the lift, him grieving and her being supportive

* “Out of the chair,” Spock says in a singsong reprimand when he spots Kirk slouching in the captain’s seat.

* Spock’s nerve-pinch on Kirk.

* Old Spock! “I am Spock,” he says to a confused Kirk. “…Bullshit,” says Kirk.

* The trippy mind-meld sequence, which handily fills in backstory.

* McCoy challenges Spock’s logic: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”

* The perspective gag as Keenser, who’s about four-feet tall, runs down a long corridor.

* Scotty’s story about experimenting a beaming process with Admiral Archer’s beagle. “I know that dog!” says Kirk. “What happened to it?” Scotty: “I’ll tell you when it reappears.”

* “Can I get a towel please?”

* Spock getting angry.

* The touch-too-hard slap on the arm that Kirk gives Spock after they make up.

* The Enterprise rising out of the gas atmosphere of Titan.

* Kirk’s expression when he spots Spock and Uhura kissing.

* A computer thinks Spock is his older self. “Wow, that’s weird,” says Kirk, trying to sound casual.

* When Nero has been defeated, Kirk offers mercy, explaining to Spock, “It may be the only way to earn peace with the Romulans. It’s logic, Spock. I thought you’d like that.” Spock: “No, not really. Not this time.”

* The two Spocks meet.

* When Kirk is promoted, he relieves an injured Pike of his command. “I am relieved,” says Pike, putting about 47 different meanings into the phrase.

* The final scene on the bridge – each crewmember getting their moment in the spotlight. (The way Kirk says “Bones” is pure Shatner.)

TV tie-in: Given the presence in this movie of Captain Pike, it felt right to also rewatch Star Trek’s pilot episode. In The Cage – which wasn’t broadcast at the time – Pike is played by Jeffrey Hunter and is in command of the USS Enterprise. It’s a fascinating piece of sci-fi history, notable for both the great ideas already in place and the oddities later dropped when the series was picked up. Of the cast, only Leonard Nimoy as Spock became a regular. What stops the episode being fully entertaining is its earnestness – when the show went to a series, William Shatner took over as lead actor and added some much-needed charisma and a sense of fun.

Review: What’s immediately obvious about this movie is that there’s emotional rigour at all times. It might be a big-budget, summer blockbuster full of CGI and action scenes – but it’s constantly dealing with characters, relationships, choices, reactions, hopes, feelings, regrets and friendships… The story is built around two leads, Kirk and Spock, and actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both fantastic. They’re channelling their predecessors, for sure, but are not doing simple impressions of Shatner and Nimoy. While you can sense the original characters’ DNA in these performances, there’s also danger and unpredictability. The rest of the team are fun too. Simon Pegg doesn’t show up until the halfway point, but adds a turbo-boost of comic relief, and Karl Urban is also terrific as the tetchy and sarcastic Dr McCoy. Meanwhile, other actors move away from the established template: Zoe Saldana, for example, is not especially reminiscent of the original Uhura (this one has a personality). This familiar-yet-different tone is down to the plot’s time-travel element. It’s a wonderful example of having your cake and eating it. The film acts as both a reboot *and* a continuation. By creating a separate timeline, it can utilise all the recognisable Star Trek continuity, but it also has freedom to tell its own story. The destruction of Vulcan feels like a mission statement: in this Star Trek, nothing is safe. It means the film can appeal to both fans and newcomers. If you don’t see any irony in Captain Pike ending up in a wheelchair, then no matter; if you do, then you get something extra. But in what other ways is this one of the best films of the 21st century? Well, it looks absolutely superb. There’s real beauty in the production design. The 1960s-style costumes are a treat. The CGI is skillful and used to tell story. And the infamous, extensive lens flares keep everything alive and ‘in the moment’. There are also bountiful amounts of energy and pace and zip to the whole thing, thanks to brilliant director JJ Abrams (who has yet to make a weak film). The two hours *breeze* past. This is endlessly rewatchable entertainment packed full of vitality.

Ten cupcakes out of 10.

 

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