Posted in: Film Reviews, Science Fiction

Star Trek – Not So Boldly Going

The upcoming statement isn’t exactly going to set the internet on fire, but here goes: I’ve got a bit of a beef with Harlan Ellison, namely for his oft-crowed, dependably nerd-enraging assertion that the OG Star Trek series was nothing more than a “cop show in space.” Although said statement does serve to nicely deflate the pomposity that has grown around the franchise’s later incarnations, it also dismisses the very factor that made the concept so memorable for a casual fan such as myself; namely that earnest essence of parable-rich weirdness which went far beyond the cardboard sets and aliens with Russian accents. Computers being talked to death, OK Corrals in space, evil designated by goatees: these are the things that linger past the phasers and prime directives.

Chris Pine as Captain Kirk: back in the Captain's chair for the first time
Chris Pine as Captain Kirk: back in the Captain's seat... for the first time

Star Trek, director J.J. Abrams’ much-ballyhooed attempt at giving the ravaged franchise a reboot, doesn’t exactly prove Harlan right, but it doesn’t really go out of its way to find new frontiers, either. Although undeniably a lot of fun — along with his standard snappy patter, TV vet Abrams’ command of both pacing and big screen environs has grown visibly since Mission: Impossible 3 — the final impression is of a slightly self-conscious undertaking kept so busy appeasing both nervous hardcores (Kirk still likes green chicks!) and newbies alike (but he also misses his father, in easily recognizable blockbuster fashion!) that it never quite manages to blaze its own trail.

Beginning with one whopper of a space battle, the script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman follows Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and all the rest as they find their familiar spots on the Enterprise while fending off a galactic threat, namely, a vengeance crazed Romulan (a rather wasted Eric Bana) with shadowy ties to virtually all of the main characters. So far, so good, if rather origin-movie standard, but the writers bollix things unnecessarily by throwing in a third act timeslip revelation that aims to both tie the narrative in with its roots and clear the slate for future installments. This forcible breaching of the fourth-wall is certainly clever, but in an ultimately distracting, show-offy fashion. As for the cast, they acquit itself admirably in filling the iconic shoes and toupees of their forbearers (for the most part, anyway: a little bit of Anton Yelchin’s whiny, adenoidal Chekov goes a long way, and then they give us more), with special kudos going towards Karl Urban’s rather amazing assimilation of DeForest Kelley’s state of constant piss-off. When the next one happens, he needs more to do.

So, anyway, where does it rank? Below Wrath of Khan, definitely, but the same could be said of most blockbusters. Abrams’ witty, good-naturedly homogenized spit-shine should go a long way towards restoring the franchise’s good name, but I can’t exactly see anybody forming a cult around it, either. Tanned, fit, and sequel-ready as they may be, this crew is never going to bump into Abe Lincoln in space or throw down with warring brothers sporting two-tone face paint. On the other hand, they’ll probably never end up singing Row Row Row Your Boat together, either, so there you go.