Since last Sunday, I have watched 17 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The impetus for this sudden interest in Star Trek is likely tied to the fact that Star Trek: Into Darkness premiered this week, and I’ve been anticipating this film ever since J.J. Abrams first reboot of the Trek universe premiered in 2009. I had ordered Star Trek 2009 from Netflix to prep for the sequel, but the copy Netflix sent me was broken, and I had to get a new one. So, in the interim, I watched an unholy amount of Next Generation which I’ve enjoyed despite some of the silliness of Season 1. And, having watched so much original Star Trek: TNG lately, it creates an interesting perspective for this viewing of the reboot.
In the Star Trek television series, the emphasis is always on peaceful exploration and the collection of knowledge. The crews of the various versions of the Enterprise (or the USS Voyager or the people on the base in Deep Space Nine) may encounter hostile forces, but at least in season 1 of TNG, problems are solved through diplomacy and a lens of moral idealism. The whole point of Q seems to be a higher race that tests humanity’s willingness to support its own values even when its difficult. The 2009 Star Trek succeeds (highly) on its own merits and artistic vision, but its emphasis on action and combat seems at odds with the more cerebral nature of the TV series that spawned it.
Serving as a reboot to the continuity of the original series (although with a conceit that I won’t spoil for any who haven’t seen the film), Star Trek becomes an origin story for how Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Smokin’ Aces‘ Chris Pine) captains the Starship Enterprise. After his father (The Avengers‘ Chris Hemsworth) dies saving his people (including Kirk’s pregnant mother) from a Romulan attack, Kirk grows up a troubled kid with no respect for authority until he’s recruited into Starfleet by Captain Pike of the USS Enterprise who knew his father. Determined to prove himself, Kirk joins the Federation not knowing what fate has in store for him.
After cheating on a Starfleet exam programmed by Commander Spock (Heroes‘ Zachary Quinto), Kirk’s punishment is delayed by an attack on the planet Vulcan. After being sneaked aboard the Enterprise by his best friend, Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Kirk manages to help save the Enterprise from an attack from the same Romulans who killed his father 25 years earlier. With Vulcan destroyed, Captain Pike captured, and the Romulans’ sights set on Earth, it’s up to the crew of the Enterprise to save the day and for Kirk and Spock to learn to put aside their differences for the greater good.
I was skeptical of his casting when the film was first announced, but Chris Pine was a worthy replacement for William Shatner to play Captain Kirk, and by all reasonable metrics, he’s a much better actor than the hammy Shatner. He perfectly captures the cockiness and drive that make Kirk one of science fiction’s most beloved heroes. Zachary Quinto (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Leonard Nimoy) was very well cast as Spock, and the film gives Quinto a chance to examine the conflict between Spock’s logical Vulcan side and his emotional human half. The pair craft an appropriately epic sci-fi “bromance.”
J.J. Abram’s direction is appropriately epic. Although Star Trek was overshadowed in 2009 by the even more massively-budgeted Avatar, it’s clear that when given a big budget, J.J. Abrams knows what to do with it. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching TNG this week, the effects are laughable at best and really awful at worst, and it’s cool seeing the Trek universe with modern effects. People mock Abrams’ love of lens flare, but from start to finish, Trek is a well-choreographed action blockbuster from beginning to end that finds a beating heart in between the away missions and explosive space battles.
Even if you’ve never seen any of the television series or original movies (which I hadn’t before my initial viewing of this film upon its release), Star Trek is a rousing sci-fi adventure in an era where that doesn’t happen often enough on the big screen. Because Abrams takes the time to develop these characters and their backstories and their chemistry as a group, you can care about these heroes even without understanding the character archetypes they’re drawn from. And with a supporting crew including John Cho, Simon Pegg, and Zoe Saldana, you’re given plenty of characters to latch onto (though Cho and Pegg don’t have much screen time).
I’m very excited to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness. My family is probably going to go see it at some point in the next week or so. So, expect a review of it in the coming days. If you’re a fan of science fiction, there is no excuse for not watching J.J. Abrams’ reboot of one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises of all time (and it makes so excited to see where he takes the Star Wars films). And, although the film’s themes seem to diverge wildly from its own source material, if you are able to divest yourself from what you think Star Trek needs to be, it seems impossible to not enjoy this voyage where we go boldly where no man has gone before.
Final Score: A-