REVIEW: Star Trek

Fri, April 17th, 2009 at 10:58am PDT

TV/Film
Rich Johnston, Columnist

SPOILER WARNING: The following contains some spoilers for "Star Trek," opening May 9.

"SLUSHO, ICE COLD"

"Star Trek" opens May 9 in the U.S.

Just saw "Star Trek" with Slashfilm's Brendon Connelly at a press preview in Leicester Square, London. Lots of web people there so expect plenty of reviews hitting the internet shortly.

I never really have a solid opinion of a film until at least a week so after I’ve seen it. There’s currently there's a mess of images, ideas, thoughts and judgments in my mind, so let's see if I can wrestle some kind of shape out of them.

"Star Trek" is a blast. A very enjoyable sci-fi space-action romp with lots of surprises, tons of fan service and comfortable nostalgia, and a real energy and purposes that seems to have been missing in much of Trek in recent years.

The film is incredibly comfortable in the knowledge that the vast majority of the audience will, in some way of other, be familiar with Star Trek. Which is incredibly useful. This is an origin story, but much of the characterization can be brought by the audience. When the characters do something that fits in with our memories of them, we laugh, we cuddle, we enjoy. When they act in the opposite way, we laugh, we're surprised, we want to know how they'll change.

Is that fan service? Well yes. But everyone who sees the film will have elements of a Star Trek fan somewhere within them, even if it's denied. Star Trek is part of our shared pop cultural landscape. More in the U.S., sure. And this film revels in it.

And then when the big red reboot button is pressed and we're dropped off a cliff over just how the Star Trek stories will pan out, it's genuinely thrilling. Anything can happen now. Anyone can die. Anyone can act in a very different way. For something so set and solidified in the cultural context, "Star Trek" is about the Possibility Of Change.

Chris Pine as Kirk has an eminently hittable face and attitude, and both get hit repeatedly with great satisfaction. But both face and attitude recover. The film maintains, even emphasizes, the "rightness" of Kirk. His judgment will always be the correct one, no matter what the context, because he's Kirk and that's what he does and that's why everyone must follow him. It's a kind of fascist acquiescence that grates when you realize that Kirk is only correct because that is what is demanded of him, he just does what he believes to be right with scant evidence. That's how you end up in Iraq. But that's okay, because Kirk Is Always Right. And that's the enjoyable conceit of this kind of film, and it's a very attractive, engaging and simple.

Zachary Quinto is probably the biggest name in the film and he totally disappears into the part of Spock. Not an ounce of Sylar is seen or remembered, he is Spock and utterly convincing as the half human, half alien struggling to maintain order upon his existence - confronted by the chaos that is Kirk. Both his maintenance of that state and its eventual breakdown are consistent in his performance.

Karl Urban's Bones is probably the closest to the original portrayal of the character, especially physically. And with catchphrases aplenty to reflect or react against, it's a smaller but more memorable one.

Pike, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura don't impress greatly, despite their screentime, though all credit to Anton Yelchin's Chekov's mad Lee Evans/Normal Wisdom race through the ship, a small, thin beastie rocked and rattled by the great Enterprise.

Simon Pegg, when he eventually arrives, delivers a star performance of the film as Scotty (though did we really have to have a stone-clad oompa loompa comedy sidekick to a comedy sidekick?) It's seems a law that anyone doing a Scottish accent in movies that is not their own picks an actor and impersonates them. Mike Meyer seemed to channel Billy Connelly with Austin Powers and Shrek. In "Star Trek," it seems that Simon Pegg is channeling the character of Spud from "Trainspotting" with the same drugged up energy, innocence and outrage. And it's an exceptional performance, puncturing any pomposity in the film and making for an even more enjoyable show.

Nero is the bad guy and really that's pretty much all you ever learn about him. To be fair, that's all you need to know, you're never going to empathize with him, you don't want to, you want more of the Star Trek guys. And that's fine. This is not Khan.

There is duty, there is honour, there is timey wimey, there is Leonard Nimoy's face full of ravines and crags, as fascinating on the big screen as any of the alien landscapes. There is a simple plot given a time-changing twist, lots of explosions, shouting, a midwife who looks like that scary girl from those Playstation ads, Judge Dredd vs kid Kirk, green body paint and a lot of laughs. Far more than I was expecting. “Star Trek” has managed to grab a Whedonesque influence and scattered those lines throughout with glee. And it really makes a difference and stops “Star Trek” getting bogged down in the earnestness which has haunted every previous incarnation.

A lot of people are going to enjoy this film. It is a lot better than it needs to be. It's not a great film, but it's an enjoyable one. And right now, a bit of enjoyment can go a long way.

Oh yes, there's a Slusho drink front and centre. See? Fan service. With ice.

TAGS:  star trek

 
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