Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Series Report Card: Star Trek (2009)

11. Star Trek
Go back a few of years. The duel failure of “Nemesis” and “Enterprise” has sunk “Star Trek,” with even the head of Paramount saying the franchise is dead. Over time, news trickles out concerning plans for a prequel. Right, because those always work out so well.

2007: Hotshot J.J. Abrams will be steering the new ship, retrofitting Trek’s old parts for today’s hip youth. Casting news, images, teaser trailers, release date changes, and more came steadily afterward, an uneasy cloud of uncertainty hanging over it all. Even after the kick-ass full trailer, I wasn’t sure it would be any good. Sitting in my theater seat, munching on my popcorn, I still wasn’t sure. Honestly, it wasn’t until about twenty minutes in I was convinced that this was going to rock. It gets off to a shaky start, what with the slightly unconvincing opening battle and Little Kirk rocking the Beastie Boys (Sabotaage, anyone?), and there are a smattering of problems: Abram’s over reliance on modern music video shaky-cam tactics and lens flares, uneven comic relief and Anton Yelchin’s jokey Chekov prime among them.

Ultimately, these squabbles are minor. The movie successfully revives the old girl. The universe is crafted with love for the past but risks are taken. In addition to the cool modern new look for everything, the story takes some big leaps and gleefully breaks established rules. While the phaser fights aren’t all great, the ship battles look more epic then ever before. The script is tight with the rescue of Pike and fate of the Federation providing a driving dramatic force. But, the characters have always been the heart of the matter and I’m happy to report the heart is healthy. The real revelation is Zachary Qunito as Spock. The amount of time and thought he put into the character is obvious. I love that you can see his conflict over his emotions in his face throughout. It is a phenomenal performance and, dare I say, better then the original.

A great thing about the script is how everyone gets equal screen time. Each crew member has a full arc and are important to the story. The rest of the cast easily cements themselves as the new versions of these classic characters. Chris Pine really had something to prove as Kirk. His bad boy persona straddles the line between likable rogue and cocky jackass but, ultimately, as the movie evolves, so does he. By the end, he has become a strong new interpretation of Captain Kirk. Pine thankfully doesn’t try to mimic Shatner’s mannerisms, but obviously has a grip on the role. Karl Urban perfectly channels DeForest Kelley, embodying the character of McCoy. Uhura was always a little underdeveloped, relegated to the girl’s part in a boy’s club. That’s fixed right away by the proactive script and Zoe Saldana’s solid portrayal. John Cho is as athletic and charming as Sulu ever was, even if his ninja flips are goofy. The one casting decision I was sold on from the beginning was Simon Pegg as Scotty. Sadly, he doesn’t show up until well into the second act but when he does, it’s awesome. While Eric Bana’s Nero isn’t a Khan level villain, he proves to be a strong adversary. I’m really glad Nimoy tagged along for this adventure. As much as I trust the new cast, it was great to have one of the veterans show up and pass the torch, insuring that while franchise has been taken in a new direction, it still respects the past.

The reason I really loved the movie is for the numerous cool nerd moments. Spock nerve pinches someone for the first time, Kirk’s continued skills with green-skinned babes, “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not a…” The return of the brain slug, a Red Shirt getting fried, a subtle call out to those who disliked “Enterprise” (Poor Porthos!), the classic sound effects on the bridge… Honestly, I could go on and on. Abrams can deny it all he wants but this was obviously made by fans, for fans. Once again, “Star Trek” is flying high and boldly going. The world feels a little bit safer now. [Grade: A]

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