MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek (2009)

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Republibot 36-24-36 and I zipped out to see what is probably the most hyped film since last year's "The Dark Knight". And like the Batman film, this movie STILL managed to surpass expectations.

If you'll excuse the meta-digression, at Republibot, we are really tired of Star Trek. Tired of the same plots, tired of the dime-store philosophy being crammed down our throats, sick to death of the obsessive-compulsive disorder it engendered in its fans. But there is something about it, in it's original incarnation that we love(d), it's just buried in all that baggage.

JJ Abrams, like an airline luggage handler from hell, managed to get me to a destination without a bit of that baggage. It was all lost in transit. Everything that was likable about the original Star Trek series is here; none of the annoying crud that attached itself to the franchise over the years made it through. Well, mostly, but I'll get to that.

Before the credits roll, there's an anomaly that the U.S.S. Kelvin is investigating. Out of the distortion, something that looks like the product of a drunken union between a Vorlon ship and a Shadow battlecrab emerges.
[I think this is on purpose. Abrams seems to be intent on injecting a Babylon 4 problem into the Star Trek Universe, and the result is a pretty dramatic fissure] A young officer takes command, and saves hundreds of lives at the cost of his own. That officer is George Kirk, father of James Tiberius "That's an awful name" Kirk.
Kirk, unlike the Kirk we knew, grows up without the guidance of a father, and ends up a genius deliquent. After a bar fight, Captain Christopher Pike encourages Kirk to go to the academy. On a lark (but that's how he does everything, it seems), he gets on the shuttle, meets Leonard McCoy and blasts through the Academy in three years. We rejoin Kirk as he is retaking the Kobayashi Maru test for the third time. He has somehow managed to reprogram the simulation, and breezes through, to the mild annoyance and amazement of McCoy, the irritation of Uhura and the ire of Commander Spock, the programmer of the sim.
(By this point, we've introduced to Spock as a child, who in an amusing and well played scene, reminiscent of the animated episode "Yesteryear", beats the holy crap out of a Vulcan bully. In this iteration, Vulcans are not nearly as perfect as they were portrayed in past Treks)
Kirk is hauled up on charges, and while he argues that there is no such thing as a no-win situation, Spock maintains that the simulation is meant to induce fear, something all commanding officers should know. Before the hearing is over, an emergency call comes in from Vulcan, and the academy is emptied into whatever ships are available.
Except for Kirk, who is grounded.
McCoy uses Fleet regs to get Kirk on the Enterprise as supercargo. On the shuttle up, we have a beauty flyby of the Enterprise. Honestly, I don't care for the new exterior much, but the interior.. that's pretty cool. The interior feels like a ship for goodness sakes. There's all manner of infrastructure, the hangar bay actually makes sense regarding space utilization, it feels like the Enterprise is a giant life support mechanism (which, when you think about it, it is...)
Kirk, on board the Enterprise overhears enough to put a few disparate bits of information together and concludes that the Vulcan rescue operation is flying into a trap. He convinces Captain Pike, Uhura and eventually Spock, and in doing so saves the ship. As a reward, he gets bumped to First Officer, Spock to Acting Captain while Pike goes over to the Romulan vessel. As part of a really odd plan, Kirk, Sulu and Olsen the Redshirt space-dive onto a drill apparatus that is drilling a hole to the center of Vulcan, and also jamming communications and transport functions. Nifty action sequence, Olsen the Redshirt dies horribly and quickly... Kirk and Sulu save the moment... but the day is lost. The Romulans send a black hole to the center of Vulcan... Spock beams down to evacuate his parents and the Vulcan High Council, but in the escape attempt, Amanda (Spock's mom) dies.
[By this point, we've realized that this is a brand new playing field... now we understand that this universe is shaping up in a VERY different way]
And as Planet Vasquez Rocks... I mean, Vulcan, gets eaten from within by a black hole, it's obvious that we are now playing for keeps.
Spock is bummed, and fairly inconsolable... not even his lover, Uhura, can comfort him [Wha Wha What????]
Spock and Kirk disagree loudly over the next course of action, and Spock kicks Kirk off the ship in an escape pod. After running from a couple of beasties (what, the emergency escape pods don't include useful tools, i.e. GUNS in the survival kits?) he runs into an ice cave and meets... Spock. Spock from the timeline that was shunted aside in the first couple of minutes of this movie. Spock, who the Romulan Commander has sworn revenge upon in a clever flashback sequence, recognizes Kirk, and is momentarily puzzled at the differences in the timeline. Kirk befriends this old Spock quickly, ironic since he REALLY hates current Spock. They scurry across the surface of Hoth to find Montgomery Scott, who is at a Starfleet outpost on the planet's surface. Spock, in a turn that echoes Star Trek IV, introduces Scott to some equations that he hasn't yet come up with, allowing TransWarp Beaming [yay, treknobabble]. Using these, Scott and Kirk transport to the Enterprise, already at high warp, and using Spock Prime's advice- really piss off Spock. Spock realizes that he's emotionally compromised by the current mission and Kirk takes the center seat. They realize that Earth is the next target and so they warp to the Solar system and execute a plan to destroy the Romulan invaders. Spock and Kirk beam aboard the Romulan ship, where Spock finds the black hole generating substance on a ship that recognizes him as "Ambassador Spock". He quickly figures out that Kirk is in cahoots with a future version of himself, and takes the ship out to cause all manner of higgaldy piggaldy. Kirk proceeds to get the crap kicked out of him again, but he rescues Pike . Spock makes a suicide run at the Death Romulan Mining Vessel, and Scotty beams them out Villian falls into a black hole, Scotty applies a Star Trek solution to get the Enterprise out of the area... and they head toward Earth.
Kirk doesn't get kicked out of Starfleet, and gets a medal and the real captaincy of the Enterprise. Spock Prime meets Spock and gently makes fun of a handful of Trek tropes. The crew of the Enterprise assembles and heads for new adventures where anything could happen.....

Yes, the movie has some flaws... it is not perfect; but honestly, that's the point. The perfect, sterile, boring, stale monolith that was Star Trek is literally shunted into a parallel universe where (within the realm of the story) it all happened, but is sealed off. There is no reset button, because by the time Kirk and company figure out that they are in a parallel universe, it's waaaay too late to 'fix' it. And there's no discussion of trying to fix it. It isn't even an option. Vulcan is destroyed. Nothing is left, but there's no reset button put on the table. This is the really great bit of this movie-- the stakes are high, and as real as they get.

Kirk is Kirk, but wilder- apparently his father was very important to him growing up. Spock is Spock, but much more realistic psychologically.... McCoy is McCoy, to a nearly scary extent. Sulu is Sulu, but how hard can that be? Chekov is interesting... he's now a seventeen-year old supergenius, but entertaining and not Crusher-annoying. Uhura is what Uhura should've been... and Scotty is Simon Pegg, channelling a bit of David Tennant's Doctor Who combined with James Doohan.

There are Easter Eggs scattered liberally through this-- but one to me actually MEANs something. Vulcan is obviously Planet Vasquez Rocks... blatantly so. When the planet is absorbed by the black hole, Abrams is telling us that all the trappings of Old Trek are sliding away. It's a shocking moment, as much for the subtext as for the actual plot point.

Abrams takes a belt sander to Star Trek, scrubbing away all traces of the faux-humanistic philosophy and the false ideas that Roddenberry had about the eventual perfection of humanity and leaving them in the attic, where they belong. This Trek is realistic without being Galactica gritty, Optimistic, without being Pollyanna-ish and (occasionally) thoughtful without any preachiness.

In other words, nearly everything that has bothered the Republibot staff about Star Trek for decades is gone.

The science still stinks, though.

Yes, there are some holes in the plot, but this movie does so much RIGHT that it's really easy to ignore them.

A few years ago, J. Michael Stracynzki and Bryce Zabel did a treatment ( for a reboot of Star Trek that started where this movie starts, roughly. [Let me state right here that I DON'T believe that there is any intentional or unintentional "cross- pollenization' between the two projects. The central conceit of the series is quite different]... but this goes so much farther than the JMS/Zabel reboot. I do wonder what JMS thinks of this one...

Although a good chunk of this movie is devoted to stating that the universe is now wide open, it carries within that a sense of fate- that these characters belong together, need to be together, regardless of what timeline they are in.

I think I agree.
I will see this again, and I will see the next one. Star Trek is dead, long live Star Trek.