With Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond recently being released to critical praise and box office success, there seems like no better time than the present to look back at the film that brought Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek into the 21st century: JJ Abrams’ reboot of the same name. As always, spoiler warning, so read only if you’ve seen this before (long story short: you should).
Star Trek more-or-less wipes the slate clean, set in an alternative dimension where the adventures of Shatner and Nimoy are parallel to what unfolds here. James Kirk (Chris Pine) signs up to the Starfleet project, aiming to follow the footsteps of his father George (Chris Hemsworth) in captaining a ship. During his journey he meets the elusive Uhura (Zoe Saldana), medic Bones (Karl Urban), and most crucially the by-the-books, emotionless Spock (Zachary Quinto). When disaster strikes, they are forced to team up and comandeer the USS Enterprise, battling against the vengeful Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), with help from some familiar faces along the way.
(C) Paramount Pictures
Perhaps the most striking element of the Star Trek reboot is the characters that viewers encounter. First and foremost in this is Chris Pine’s James Kirk, who is nothing short of fantastic. From his snarky one-liners to constant badassery, Pine’s performance is varied and nuanced, with more depth than you’d expect from a typical blockbuster. At times Kirk is clearly out of his depth and afraid, and his actions aren’t always commendable (there’s some brutal decisions he has to make that will have you doubting who to support), but Pine’s performance is really great, and he’s the perfect man to lead the Star Trek franchise.
Zachary Quinto’s Spock is also worth mentioning, because this isn’t the Spock that Leonard Nimoy mastered in the 1960s (although he does pop up in a fantastic extended cameo). Quinto’s Spock is less assured in his emotions and his actions, which makes him an even more interesting character as a result of this, and his rivalry with Kirk is fascinating to watch.
In fact, the entire crew of the Enterprise is superb, from Karl Urban’s Bones providing a great ally to Kirk, Simon Pegg’s Scotty supplying some masterful laughs, and Anton Yelchin delivering a spritely and animated performance as Chekov that particularly stands out, which only accentuates the tragedy of his passing.
My only complaint would be that some characters aren’t given a whole lot to do: after her fantastic work in Avatar, it would’ve been nice to see Zoe Saldana’s Uhura having a more involved role in the action, but other than that there’s very little to grouch about.
On the topic of grouches, the writing is something of a mixed bag. On the whole it’s solid, with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman delivering a passable script with a number of great laughs (mostly brought by Pegg and Pine) and a few pretty surprising plot turns (having never seen any Trek before, I was expecting Uhura and Pine to lodge up, and it was ballsy of them to stand out and go against what would be a safe move).
That said, there were some elements that weren’t quite as good: the entire gag with Kirk suffering an allergic reaction to Bones’ medicine felt bizarrely out of place, a tonal outlier from the rest of the film that simply shouldn’t have been included. The rest of the humour fits perfectly into what Abrams is trying to do, but that entire scene was simply rubbish.
The script is quite inconsistent with its characters: Kirk and Spock, as expected, are given plenty of backstory, and characters like John Cho’s Sulu and Chekov are given enough to be believable characters, but Eric Bana’s Nero is grossly underwritten, with his motivations getting lost, and leaving viewers to wonder who he was and what he was doing, but forgetting all about him soon after. And while bold to set this in a parallel continuity, it simply isn’t explained well at all despite Spock Prime (Nimoy)’s best (but expository) efforts.
(C) Paramount Pictures
One thing I must stress about this film is that when it really gets going, it’s superb. Action is shot superbly by JJ Abrams, who proves himself to be a hugely proficient director, and the lens-flare he’s synonymous with using never diluted what unfolds on the screen (although it is overused during dialogue at times).
Hand-to-hand combat is well-choreographed and brutal, especially on the high-altitude skirmish on Vulcan, where John Cho particularly stands out, but it’s all about the space battles in Star Trek, and I can confidently say that they’re spectacular, in part thanks to the fascinating variety of planets we explore (and witness fights upon).
From the opening battle with George Kirk at the helm to the end battle scene, the stakes are plenty high and the fights are gripping and epic. It’s here that the CGI shines: this never feels cheap or artificial, and does a superb job of keeping this world convincing.
Aiding this is the bombastic score from Michael Giacchino, with the strings in particular building tension when needed, all which combines to just amplify this film’s quality.
Modernising such a revolutionary and fan-driven franchise as Star Trek was sure to be no easy feat, and the insurmountable pressure on JJ Abrams to make a film worthy of the Trek name was indescribable at the time, but he undoubtedly achieved it. Aside from a few issues with the script, Star Trek is a thrill-ride from start to finish, with gripping action, fantastic, hilarious yet grounded and genuinely interesting characters, a solid plot and some fantastic fan service. It’s an almost-perfect template of how to reboot a franchise and, at its core, is simply a joy to watch.