Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally Boldly Going: Review of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.” I never considered the irony of that trademark phrase in the Star Trek universe until now. After seeing J.J. Abrams’ breathtaking reboot of the Star Trek franchise this weekend, the old universe feels anything but bold. ‘Thoughtful,’ ‘clever,’ and ‘sterile’ come to mind but not ‘bold.’

Oh, no- the old Trek was a bunch of well-mannered future people talking analytically about galactic problems, which were actually metaphors for sixties-era problems, and then walking calmly to resolve them while dressed in pajama-like jumpsuits. Yeah, you had the occasional cartoon phaser fight and groovy, scantily clad space ladies, but it never really breathed. It never felt visceral. It was anything but bold.

I am happy to report that, as of this weekend, Star Trek finally makes good on its promise of boldness. Star Trek has never felt so kinetic, alive, or thrilling as it does in the reboot. People actually sprint down the corridors of the Enterprise. Instead of single photon torpedoes plopping out of the Enterprise’s innards at a time, they fly out rapid-fire accompanied by a host of gun turrets. And I haven’t even discussed the characters, but I will…

Let’s start with James T. Kirk. Even in William Shatner’s green-alien-lady-macking prime, he couldn’t muster half of the presence Chris Pine does as his replacement. Pine nimbly dances from machismo to self-deprecating comedy to fear, the whole time convincing you that this is who Kirk really was meant to be, this is the kind of guy that saves the universe, not that impish guy with the weird diction from the Priceline commercials.

Spock has always been the coolest of Trek characters, what with the mind-melding and the death-gripping and the constant sense of icy logic. But, early in the new film, Abrams shakes the Vulcan’s very core, giving us a Spock who is suddenly fallible and aggressive. He’s still Spock, but he has a weakness that makes us want to root for him even more.

The other crew members are great, too. Maybe I’ll discuss their turns in a future post. Needless to say, they take a bridge that had become inhabited by a group of jolly senior citizens and imbue it with real tension, humor, and, yes, action (Sulu swordfighting… ‘nuff said!).

It is not a perfect movie. I found the new Chekov to be more annoying than anything. I didn’t quite believe the Uhura/Spock relationship, mostly because of the lack of setup. Some major plot points are overly coincidental. Catchphrases and easter eggs thrown in from the old series do feel a bit overbearing by the end. The opening scene and the spacedrop scenes are so awesome that they do eclipse the climax.

But this movie is more consistently fun, thrilling, and engaging than any Star Trek film before it, hands down. It’s also sleek and sexy and kick-butt, which is something Trek has never been. It is more fun and funnier than last year’s Iron Man. This Star Trek is finally bold.

Just a side note: I watched it dressed as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in a theater with a bunch of other Trek geeks. I won a Xbox 360 for my costume, further adding to the overall awesomeness of the event. Woot!

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