Chris Pine, Zackary Qunito
4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Star Trek is a science fiction dynasty. Even though it aired on TV in the late 60s, there's a legion of fans that can quote you entire passages from episode six, season one. They're called Trekkies (or is it Trekkors?) and they made so much noise after the TV series was cancelled prematurely in 1969 that their cards, letters and conventions finally prompted Universal Studios to bring back the cast for a big screen adventure in 1979's "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Trek revisited was an extravagant bore, but was enough of a financial success to warrant a second classic film, "The Wrath of Khan," which featured Corinthian leather King/Fantasy Island father figure Ricardo Montalban chewing up the scenery alongside a very hammy William Shatner. Unfortunately, the cast got too old to pretend to be thirty something's gallivanting around the universe, and sadly, two members of the crew, DeForrest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty) have been beamed up to that great transporter room in the sky.
The franchise was revived when "The Next Generation" crew hit the screen, but age and lukewarm plots caught up to Patrick Stewart's bunch as well. As the new millennium dawned, what Star Trek needed was new blood - an entirely new cast of young guns that could bring the next generation of movie goers back into the theaters.
Well, I'm happy to say the remake of "Star Trek" lives up to the lofty reputation of its namesake. The new cast may not be as accomplished as the originals space truckers, but the action is non-stop. It's no "Wrath of Khan," but it won't incur your wrath either.
The plot takes place in a galaxy far far away. (Wait a minute, that's the wrong franchise.) The starship U.S.S. Kelvin, with first officer George Kirk and his pregnant wife on board, is attacked by a ship captained by Romulan renegade Nero. The Kelvin gets the very short end of a hull-crushing fusillade. George nobly sacrifices himself and the Kelvin by ramming Nero's ship and lives long enough to hear his son, James, being born. Flash forward to scenes of James Kirk's misspent youth and Spock being emotionally tormented because he's half-human and half Vulcan. Barroom brawler Kirk is straightened out by Captain Christopher Pike, a revered Starfleet officer, who challenges Kirk to follow in his father's footsteps: "Your father was Captain of a starship for twelve minutes. He saved eight hundred lives, including your mother's and yours," Pike says. "I dare you to do better." Meanwhile, Spock declines an offer to serve on the Vulcan high council and joins Starfleet, where he quickly rises through the ranks and devises the Kobayashi Maneuver, a test for cadets with no solution that Kirk manages to solve by cheating. As a result, the two become adversaries; but their personal war will have to wait - word comes that Spock's home planet, Vulcan, is being threatened by a strange anomaly (is there any other kind?)
The starship Enterprise, commanded by Captain Pike, is sent to find out what's threatening Vulcan's atmosphere. The anomaly is a trap and they're attacked by Nero, who has reappeared, intent on making Spock, the man who destroyed his planet, witness the destruction of his own world...
There are a few creative twists and turns in the plot that plays fast and loose with Star Trek lore. There's from out of left field Ulhura/Spock romance, and the death of Spock's earth-born mother ("Father Knows Best" mom Jane Wyatt played Spock's very much alive mater in the TV series.) And I'll let you try and figure out how an alien that lives zillions of light years from Earth wound up with the name of one of our most nefarious ancient rulers. But the biggest busting of a Star Trek sacred cow is the main plot itself. In an episode of the original series, "The Balance of Terror" (which featured Mark Lenard, who would later play Spock's father, Sarak), the writers took great pains to tell the viewers that it was the first time Romulans and humans had made contact. (I remember this because "Balance of Terror" happens to be my second favorite "Star Trek" episode.) Since the action in "Balance of Terror" took place in the future when Kirk and his crew are seasoned space travelers, and the plot of the new Star Trek movie takes place in their past during the crew's first assignment when they encounter the Romulans, it's safe to say that the movie messes with a sacred time line. It's kind of like finding out that Patrick Duffy dreamed a whole season of Dallas, or the equivalent of sneaking Dick Sergeant in to replace Dick York on "Bewitched" hoping no on would notice. Yeah it's a gyp if you're a Star Trek purist, but the fast-paced action might make even the most die hard Trekkie forgive the revisionist plot line.
In the battle of who's better, the original cast is light years ahead. By the time the first "Star Trek" flick hit the theaters, the original cast had lived their roles for so long we forgot they were acting; fans really believed that Canadian James Doohan ran around shouting "I haven't got the power, Captain!" in a Scottish brogue and that sword-wielding George Takei was really a man's man (no, not that way). In time, fans may come to feel the same way about the new cast.
Chris Pine's Kirk is an arrogant, hard-headed brawler who cranes his neck like a horny teenager every time a pretty woman is within hailing frequencies. If you think William Shatner's Kirk was over the top, wait till you see Pine go to warp factor eight on the over-acting scale. The role of Kirk calls for a bit of brag adagio and a heavy dose of libido, but Pine turns Kirk's into a swashbuckling superhero, making him more like an intergalactic roadrunner than a human being. Pine has a knack for comedy and brawling, but tends to shout his lines like "Saturday Night Live's" Garrett Morris providing closed captioning for the deaf.
Seeing an emotional Spock is, as he would put it, "fascinating," but having him act squirrelly at inopportune times does not compute. Zackary Qunito is more in control of his performance when he taps into Spock's more expected stoic nature. Quinto's Spock is so unstable, Don Knotts could hold it together better than he could. Plus having the original Spock on board as a wizened version of himself just shows that Leonard Nimoy owns the role.
Simon Pegg's Scotty serves as Trek's quirky comic relief. But Pegg's appearance is a near cameo and his screwy Scotsman act comes as the action is building toward a dramatic showdown, so his amusing appearance is a welcome, but an ill-timed distraction. It would have helped the flow of the action to have Scotty introduced at the same time as the rest of the crew. James Doohan played the role with the right amount of pride, panic and passion. Pegg's Scotty is a fool; a boozy buffoon who seems incapable of coming up with a theory that people can be teleported from one place to another.
Karl Urban matches up well with DeForrest Kelly's snide Southern sense of humor. The scene in which he sneaks Kirk on board The Enterprise by repeatedly injecting him with a virus in order to make him appear sick is one of the most amusing scenes in the movie. Zoe Saldana doesn't have Nichelle Nicholas' exotic looks, but she's not a Horta either. This Ulhura is part Ninja warrior, more in-your-face than the original, which goes along with the film's action environment. Her interspecies affair with Spock is an interesting but awkward idea that's bound to be fleshed out in future flicks. Anton Yelchin's Chekov is a badly accented caricature of Walter Koenig's blustery teen idol original. Say Das vadanya, Anton. John Cho's Sulu is less steeped in Asian lore than George Takei's version, but he handles a sword better (no, not that kind of sword) and is given a more personable relationship with Kirk.
Bruce Greenwood ("St. Elsewhere," "Nowhere Man") is an excellent actor, but, in my opinion, Captain Christopher Pike is was and shall always be the property of Jeffrey Hunter, who was so ridiculously handsome and viral he starred opposite John Wayne in "The Searchers" and played Jesus Christ in "King of Kings." (Hunter also happened to star in my favorite Star Trek episode, "The Cage.") Greenwood humanizes the role in his early scenes with Chris Pine that focus on the Pike-Kirk/mentor-grasshopper relationship, but Hunter put his indelible stamp on the role by making Pike look even more heroic than William Shatner's Kirk. (The original TV series was supposed to star Hunter as Captain Pike. When NBC demanded the pilot be reshot because it was too cerebral, Hunter pulled out to star in a movie and Shatner was called in.)
As for a tightly-wound Eric Bana, who sports a Mike Tyson-like facial tattoo as Nero, he's a credible actor, but he's given little to do except sneer, threaten and grit his teeth. He's really good at it, though. Tyler Perry, who's everywhere these days, gets in two scenes as Admiral Richard Barnett, but looks a bit befuddled. Stay behind the camera, Tyler. Wynona Ryder impresses as Spock's soft spoken loving, human mom. Welcome back to the acting world, Wynona.
The new franchise has a way to go before they make a film that matches the quality of "The Wrath of Khan" (which is rumored to be the next remake on the launch pad). "Star Trek's" action is invigorating, which helps mask the dubious storyline. Still, the maiden voyage of the new crew shows a lot or promise. If the cast and crew keep improving, then the new "Star Trek" will live long and prosper.