Kirk hunts down a dangerous terrorist.
For the first time since I started this, the spoiler one is in effect. Watch out, spoilers for the entire movie after the break. If you want the non-spoiler version: I liked it. Some of the flaws of the first movie are still a problem, but it feels a lot more like Star Trek overall.
I went into the film prepared to not like it. Since I wrote the review of Star Trek my feelings have hardened against it – it’s just not Trek. So opening in what felt like a classic Star Trek story was a good way to win me back. The Prime Directive, for all of its flaws, is one of the core hallmarks of Trek. The 10 minute opening sequence actually ends up being a surprisingly full account of the reasons for and against it, as we see it nearly kill Spock, and we also see why it might have been a good idea. Star Fleet also takes it more seriously than almost any other time in the series, with Kirk facing a real punishment for violating it (and for not providing a full and accurate report).
With a start that won me back, there’s then a lot I didn’t like. The initial terrorist attack and response stuff felt like material from another movie. While it was nice, and plausible, to see Section 31 pop up both too much and too little is made of it. Too much in that Section 31 has become too large a thing for its role in other series. And too little in that it’s dropped almost as soon as it’s mentioned, despite the implications for the overall Trek universe. Some bits feel forced, particularly the mind meld with the dying Pike – this seemed like something deeply out of character for Spock to do, done solely so that he could have a cool monologue later.
The Kronos sequence, together with new makeup for the Klingons, also bugged me deeply. There was no requirement for a change. And it also messes up the continuity with Enterprise (although that could be escaped with a little bit of work).
From that point the movie becomes a loving tribute to Star Trek II: we’ve got Carol Marcus, Khan, a death while restoring the warp drive. It’s nicely done, and rotated at 90 degrees to the old universe in a very interesting way.
But there’s also a ridiculous big black starship (third movie in a row, if you’re counting, and a pretty silly chase sequence through San Francisco.
There are still some major problems with the Abrams Star Trek. The continuity isn’t strong enough – just throwing in a tribble, a reference to Harry Mudd and a Daystrom building isn’t enough to make it seem like part of the Trek universe. Kirk is still off – while that makes in-universe sense, given his background, it’s time for him to become more like the Kirk of the other series. And most damningly of all, there’s too much grunt and not enough thinking. Star Trek is about brains over brawn, and there’s just too much brawn here.
(A quick side note: I’m enough of a real world science nerd that I was looking at the Enterprise engine room thinking ‘hey, that looks a lot like the National Ignition Facility’. So I was very nerded-out to see that those scenes were in fact shot there. That’s the kind of thing that tells me that Trek still has its heart in the right place).
738 down. What next?