10/5/09

R091 Star Trek

(2009, SciFi, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett

In space, no one can hear you break every law of physics.

Rating: ***1/2

In a Nutshell:

Leonard Nimoy goes back in time to reboot the Star Trek franchise.

Summary:

Uhura was the third major character?  Uh, okay.A spiky Romulan vessel emerges from a wormhole to attack a Starfleet ship. Outmatched, the Starfleet ship surrenders. The captain shuttles over to the Romulan vessel to negotiate peace, instructing his first officer, one George Kirk, to evacuate the ship if anything goes wrong. Things predictably go wrong. Kirk evacuates the ship, but stays aboard to ram his vessel kamikaze-style into their attackers, allowing the shuttles to escape. His wife gives birth to a baby boy in one of the shuttles. They name him James Tiberius Kirk.

Many years later, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a disrespectful young punk who gets in bar fights, picks up women and (earlier in his criminal career) pilots vintage cars into the wide, Arizona-esque crevasses of Iowa. Starfleet Captain and former friend of his father Christopher Pike looks him up and taunts him into enrolling in Starfleet Academy. Interspersed with the above, we see child Spock on his home planet of Vulcan, beating up passionless Vulcan bullies. Later, young adult Spock (Zachary Quinto) refuses a position in the prestigious Vulcan academy to join Starfleet. Kirk and Spock meet for the first time when the former cheats his way through a simulation exam designed by the latter. They’re hauled before the academy’s governing body. Spock cries foul while Kirk argues that the exam is designed to be unpassable. Cheating is the only way to complete it successfully and thus his methods should be considered legitimate.

Before the committee can rule on the merits of Spock’s non-exam and Kirk’s non-argument for his methods of passing said non-exam, the academy receives a distress call from Vulcan. The rest of the fleet is away dealing with the Klingons, so new recruits are divided among new ships to deal with the threat. Kirk isn’t allowed to go until the whole cheating issue has been dealt with, but his friend Bones McCoy (Karl Urban) sneaks him on board anyway. Kirk overhears some chance dialog, puts it together with some other chance dialog he heard earlier and realizes that they’re flying into a trap. He rushes to the bridge to tell Captain Pike. Despite their disgust at seeing this flagrant rule breaker on the bridge, Spock and his girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana) corroborate Kirk’s story. Pike takes precautionary measures and thus is not destroyed along with the rest of the new fleet when they arrive at Vulcan.

Of course the perpetrator is the ship from the opening scenes, captained by a villainous scenery-chewing Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). Nero recognizes the Enterprise and demands that they send their captain to his ship to negotiate surrender. Pike sees he is outmatched and agrees, but when the transmission ends he promotes Kirk to first officer and puts him in charge of sneak-attacking the Romulan ship’s planet-destroying drill while he buys them time.

That's most of them.  Who are we missing, again?After a high-speed skydiving duel, Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) disable the drill as instructed, but not before the Romulans have dropped “red matter” into the planet’s core. Realizing that Vulcan is doomed, Spock beams to the surface to rescue his family. He gets his father and a few of his father’s friends, but is unable to rescue his mother (Winona Ryder), who falls to her death just before the planet implodes. The Enterprise speeds to safety with half a dozen Vulcan survivors, but no captain. As acting captain, Spock decides to regroup with the rest of Star Fleet. Kirk vociferously objects, causing Spock to eject him from the ship.

Kirk wakes up in an escape pod on an icy Hoth-esque planet filled with hostile tauntaun/Cloverfield monster hybrids. He’s eventually rescued by another Vulcan survivor, Spock of the future, or Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy). Spock Prime relates a mindmelded tale of time-travel caused by a supernova and the accidental destruction of the planet Romulus. Nero comes from the future as well; he blames his home’s destruction on Spock’s unsuccessful attempt to destroy the star before it could go nova. He stole Spock’s advanced star-destroying technology and plans to destroy all Federation worlds as revenge for his lost planet.

Kirk and Spock Prime hike to a nearby Federation outpost, helmed by engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg). Scotty brogues his way through a lot of pseudotechnical gibberish before beaming Kirk and himself aboard the Enterprise. Young Spock demands to know how they got aboard. Bound to secrecy by Spock Prime, Kirk refuses to tell him, taunting his superior officer until Spock loses control of his emotions. Realizing what he has done, Spock steps down as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk assumes command and orders pursuit of the Romulan vessel.

Said Romulan vessel has made its way to Earth and positioned itself directly over Starfleet Academy. While Nero prepares to fire up the world-destroying drill, Scotty’s transporter prowess gets Kirk and Spock aboard. Spock steals back his older self’s world-destroying mini-ship to fly out and destroy the drill while Kirk fistfights, firefights and fingertip-dangles his way to the imprisoned Captain Pike. Spock leads the Romulan ship away and rams his ship into theirs. Fortunately, Scotty beams everyone important to safety just before impact.

In the denouement, Kirk’s test-taking malfeasance is forgotten as Pike cedes command of the Enterprise to him. After a discussion with his older self, Spock respectfully requests to be considered for the position of first officer. Kirk welcomes him aboard. Nimoy voices the iconic “Space: The Final Frontier” speech as we begin the closing credits.

Thoughts:

Ah.  There he is.Apparently, cinematic military organizations of the future will be just like the cinematic military organizations we have today, in that they will continue to prize reckless ingenuity over competent obedience. Two epochs, united in the way its depictions of military behavior remain so far removed from reality that you can’t even see reality from here. Not that I mind. Reckless ingenuity might be a crappy way to run a military, but it’s a hell of a lot more exciting to watch than competent obedience.

Speaking of “exciting”, I guess I could use this space to go on about the film’s flaws, but dang it, this new Star Trek entertained me, so I’m not going to do that. Take these next statements with a grain of salt, keeping in mind that I’ve only seen half the prior films, but... For the first time since Wrath of Khan, a Star Trek movie was actually exciting all the way through. For the first time since, well, ever, a Star Trek movie didn’t talk down to me, stopping the action every quarter hour to try and convince me of its own cleverness, or remind me how beloved it is, or harangue me about Very Important Social Issues. J.J. Abrams’s new Star Trek is a lean, forward-moving action machine that knows when it’s gone too far with its disregard for physics, illogical plot twists and obsessive love of fingertip dangling. And when that happens, it grins at the audience and goes even further because, hey, space operas are supposed to be fun. It’s about time someone remembered that.

My recommendation for J.J. Abrams’s next project: send Billy Dee Williams back in time to prevent Episode I.

Exciting or no, all things Star Trek have ridiculousness built right into the foundation of the franchise, so Mike, Bill and Kevin have plenty to work with. A few of my favorite comments: When an anonymous redshirt plummets to his death during the space drill sequence, Kevin says, “I didn’t realize Wile E. Coyote was on their drop team.” When Kirk gets grasped by the neck over a deep shaft aboard the Romulan ship, Mike asks, “Can I just once have a world-saving fistfight that didn’t take place over a bottomless chasm,” while Bill continues, “More choking? My neck’s more bruised than a 7-11 banana.” The scene’s inevitable consequence has Mike adding, “Ah, fingertip dangle, my old friend.” The film doesn’t take itself very seriously to begin with; all the riffers have to do is push it further in the direction it’s already going, with suitably entertaining results.