I was primed to love every minute of Star Trek. The trailer had me psyched to see it. Early word was that the film was one of the best Trek movies ever, perhaps even THE best. I bought my Burger King promo glasses, I rewatched a couple of the previous Trek movies and hoped that, at worst, J.J. Abrams would deliver a film that was at least better than Mission: Impossible III. Well, he at least succeeded that far, but only by so much. Abrams' prequel/reboot/whatever is an entertaining ride, no question, but it falters in trying too hard to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
Possible spoilers. Fair warning.
The film opens with the USS Kelvin being attacked by a gargantuan Romulan mining vessel, captained by Nero (Eric Bana). The acting captain of the Kelvin just happens to be father to James T. Kirk, and the day just happens to be the day James is born. Baby James, his mother, and the rest of the crew escape while 'Captain' Kirk attacks Nero's ship head-on. Fast forward 25 years, where we meet back up with Jim (Chris Pine), who is dared to join Starfleet by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who served under Kirk's father on the Kelvin. From there, we watch Kirk go through Starfleet Academy, verbally spar with a young commander named Spock (Zackary Quinto), find his way onto the brand spanking new Enterprise with an equally young crew, and then come face to face with Nero himself.
As a movie, it is certainly a step in the right direction from the decidedly less enteresting Insurrection and Nemesis. The production benefits from a mostly well-chosen cast and top notch effects work. Of this younger crew, Chris Pine and Karl Urban (Kirk and Bones, respectively) come off the best. Pine gets the reckless swagger of Jim Kirk down to a science, while Urban is a dead ringer for DeForest Kelley, both in appearance and performance. Additionally, Eric Bana's Nero is a character that is quite compelling for his limited role. Perhaps not on the level of Khan or the Borg Queen, but a character absolutely deserving of more screen-time. As this is an origin story (kind of), the movie relegates Nero to the background while we get acquainted with this new, younger Enterprise crew. His scheme, as genocidal and devastating though it may be, is ultimately shrugged off as a means of getting things in place for subsequent films.
Perhaps the most disappointing portrayal is Quinto as Spock. He's not bad, necessarily, but his take on Spock's emotionless visage is a constant wide-eyed stare and slightly pursed lips. It simply proves that his casting was purely aesthetic. He looks the part but can't quite act it. The problem is amplified by the fact that Leonard Nimoy himself shows up for about 20 minutes as the future version of Spock (or rather "Spock Prime"). The difference is staggering. In fact, Nimoy's role proves to be (ironically) the emotional high point of the film. There's a warmth in his portrayal of Spock that is absent from the majority of the film.
And I think that's the primary problem with this new Star Trek. The newness of everything is glaringly apparent in almost every aspect of the film. From the frantically paced plot to the equally fast editing and whiplash-inducing camerawork, to Abrams' over-indulgence on lens flares, everything about this movie smacks of the "dumb summer action movie" that Abrams clearly intended on making. That, in itself, isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it comes at the expense of the science and (yes) logic that the series always championed, it sort of defeats the whole purpose of Star Trek.
I could go on about how the new Enterprise looks like a flying iPod or how the crew's standard operating procedure seems to only consist of "Move over, let me do that," but it's pointless. The movie is, in fact, a dumb summer action movie, and on that front it succeeds. There's nothing stopping you from enjoying Star Trek on a visceral level. Even moviegoers with no working knowledge of the Star Trek universe will get a kick out of this film. For my part, I don't think the franchise needs to be playing around in Luke Skywalker's backyard. For this series to thrive, it needs to leave the space opera behind and, yes, boldly go into new sci-fi directions. Star Trek is certainly a fun ride, but there are a few major kinks that need to be worked out before the sequel arrives.
3.5 stars (***1/2) out of five.