**Rife with spoilers, so read ahead at your own risk.**
Yo, how exciting is this. We get a whole new Star Trek universe. Really. Not just new actors, but straight up a different universe. Time travel can be awesome that way, if indeed in the writing, its ramifications and/or consequences are fleshed out and really adhered to. None of this if we kill the villain and thwart his plot, everything goes back to the way it was supposed to be, and we all live happily ever after. In this new film, people’s lives are irrevocably changed. I like that.
OK, a couple of things. What this film gets right is that the hotness in Star Trek is and always has been Spock (though I have selected an image with no Spock). He has always been much more of an interesting, layered, complex character that Kirk. This film gives Spock that. It isn’t just the relationship, the bromance between Spock and Kirk that gets reimagined and recharged, although the fact that they come into each other adversarially is a breath of fresh air. As we know from Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk is the only Starfleet captain who has ever passed the Kobayashi Maru test. We knew that he cheated in order to pass. Here, we actually get to see him taking the Kobayashi Maru test, and here we learn that it was Spock who programmed the test. During the test taking, Kirk is not just overconfident. He’s an asshole. That’s right, I’ve said it. James Tiberius Kirk is an asshole. One constant in any universe, however altered by time travel, is this: despite his being an asshole, despite his being not terribly remarkable, he is always treated as if he is special.
But I meant to talk about Spock, this one being the hotness and all. It isn’t really his story as the “half breed” child that is interesting. That can be thought of as cliche, being caught between two worlds, not belonging to either, having to choose. But unlike Kirk, upon whom specialness is bestowed merely because he is the good old American boy, Spock’s hotness is deserved. Perhaps it’s the actor and the acting (though I know nothing about Zachary Quinto), or the way the character was written and directed. There is so much going on with his character, all seething beneath the suppressed emotions. It’s all just right there, just beneath the skin and so well controlled. Not only has he witnessed his own mother’s death as he was so close to saving her, he has witnessed the destruction of his home world and billions of his people. Because he isn’t emoting all over the place doesn’t mean he isn’t experiencing and even expressing emotion. He is the one who is being tested beyond comprehension and emerging unbroken. Compared to this, Kirk’s challenges as a rebellious, aimless, fatherless son to me are not so impressive.
In this universe, the Vulcan race has succumbed to genocide at the hands of the Romulans, who also have experienced the destruction of their home world or civilization. Another thing: I like that the writers didn’t shy away from using that word. Genocide. As this articulation of Star Trek continues, there is no backtracking on this. There is always the possibility of more time travel, but to what other results? Changing this universe was a good strategy for J.J. Abrams and crew. This way, while we get glimpses of the stuff we love or just know well from ST: TOS, he can feel relatively free to depart from the Star Trek canon, make new a mythology. This means no rehashing exhausted story lines, and no new actors having to be shackled to the old actors’ performances.
And we do see and hear many familiar things:
Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy! Absolutely transformed (you do not see any Éomer at all), as if he were channeling DeForest Kelley. And it wasn’t just the “My God, Jim!” or the “Damnit, man!” or the “I’m a doctor! Not a physicist!” It was the specifics of his enunciation and posture, that space fearing, crotchety old man in a not so old man’s body.
Simon Pegg as Scotty! “I’m giving you all she’s got, captain!” at that crucial moment in which the ship can potentially fly apart at the seams, throwing wild theories into the air and throwing his hands up as he does. As I’ve said before, I don’t really recall Scotty in ST:TOS being so witty and comedic as he became in the feature films, so I might just have to revisit the episodes. Still, it’s that Scotty energy I love, that lightness even in the most dire situations.
What to say about John Cho. Dig if you will this picture: Hikaru Sulu fencing (of course) against a Romulan upon a giant Romulan planet drilling drill, after a hell of an adrenaline rush space dive scene (in which a red shirt bit it big time). With a high tech collapsible advanced metallurgy katana. I do wish we could have actually seen a more physical fight here, though I do not see John as that physical an actor (as in, how Karl Urban is a physical actor, though he wasn’t utilized as such here).
Last thing for now. There is no breathing room in this film, not even in its light or comedic moments. It’s just full throttle the whole way. This is not a complaint. This Trekkie came out of yesterday’s IMAX screening (mini-IMAX in Emeryville) pleased. Add to this Leonard Nimoy, and the film’s sweetness I think came together quite nicely.