Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quntio, Zoe Saldana, and keeping the whole thing together, the late, great Leonard Nimoy
Have I Seen it Before: I saw it four times in the theater.
Did I Like It: It may have launched some irritating things (including its own 2013 sequel), but it is hard to deny this film its charms, or, more importantly, the moments where it absolutely sings.
The last ten years or so should be a difficult time for action-adventure movies like those that make up the Star Trek series. They aren’t about anything, other than the thin connective tissue that will propel characters from explosion to explosion. So that this first attempt to relaunch the franchise after the petering out experience by Nemesis (2002) and the then most-recent series, Enterprise, does something incredibly smart. It presents the space opera as coming of age story. Sure, it’s not the loft ambition of a Horatio Hornblower story, or even a parable about Chernobyl in space, but telling the tale of James T. Kirk (Pine) and Spock (Quinto), Angry Young Men, is certainly a good starting out point for the film.
And it mostly works! There are things that serve to annoy. The lens flares are ubiquitous, but commentary about them has become far more irritating than the flares could ever have hoped to be. The decision to shot any utilitarian section of a starship in a brewery has never made sense to me. The Beastie Boy-laden scene where the spunky tween-who-would be Captain Kirk (Jimmy Bennett) faces off with Robocop and gravity remains one of the most irritating scenes in recent memory, compounded by the unassailable reality that it lifts right out of the movie. Not many people talk about how there’s some serious post-production jiggery pokery that leaves the bad guys waiting around for twenty-five years with nothing to do, and I will opt not to go into it much further here.
I could go on. Honestly, it should be a little bit harder to beat the Kobayashi Maru test, even if you have reprogrammed the simulator. But the parts that do work far outweigh the nitpicks. The film is cast perfectly, with the new cast bringing new energy to roles we already think we know. Karl Urban might (and I stress, might) have been more born to play the role than even Deforrest Kelley. The mini-tragedy at the beginning of the movie heralds the coming of Chris Hemsworth, undeniable movie star and latches the film to real emotions, even during those scenes and plot holes I can’t abide.
And there is one moment, and one spark of performance, that makes this film—and, indeed, the entire “Kelvin” series—work on the whole. It is the first moment in which Kirk encounters Spock Prime (Nimoy). The elder Spock takes one look at this brash upstart and says, haunted by everything we as the audience has already seen. “James T. Kirk…I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” In that moment, I believe Pine is Kirk, Quinto is Spock, and on and on. It’s a moment the film absolutely depends on, and Nimoy nails it with such subtlety, that it’s hard not to marvel at the moment with every repeat viewing.