REVIEW: “Star Trek” (2009)

Star Trek PosterThe summer movie season is off and running and one of the year’s most talked about releases is due out in a few days. I’m talking about “Star Trek Into Darkness”, the J.J. Abrams sequel to his 2009 reboot of the franchise. With so much hype and anticipation swirling around the new movie I thought it would be a good time to go back and revisit the first installment, a much loved film that I had pretty mixed feelings about. Would a second viewing give me a better appreciation for what Abrams and company were able to accomplish or would it simply reaffirm my initial frustrations with the movie?

First off, attempting to relaunch or reboot the Star Trek franchise is a pretty hefty and gutsy task. Perhaps only Star Wars’ fan base eclipses the passion and devotion of the group affectionately known as “Trekkies”. Tinkering with and altering the beloved universe first created by the late great Gene Roddenberry would be the equivalent to playing with fire and one would assume this was high on the list of the filmmakers’ considerations. Well I’m no Trekkie and I’m not as well versed in Star Trek lore as many, but I have say I’m surprised that more diehard fans didn’t have issues with the liberties and modernizations we see here. More on that later.

“Star Trek” is constructed as a completely new franchise launcher. It creates its own world beginning with the origin stories of the popular Star Trek characters Captain Kirk and Spock and telling how they and the crew came together through Starfleet. The film actually begins with a bang. A flashback shows the federation starship USS Kelvin investigating a lightning storm anomaly when it encounters a huge Romulan mining vessel converted to a warship. A battle breaks out forcing the Kelvin’s first officer (Chris Hemsworth) to evacuate everyone from the ship including his pregnant wife. He then manually flies the Kelvin into the mammoth enemy vessel causing a distraction so the escape pods can get away. This hero’s name was George Samuel Kirk.

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The USS Enterprise

The movie then fast-forwards and puts the spotlight on his son James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). He’s grown up to be a rebellious and rambunctious sort who is challenged to enter Starfleet by Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the Captain of the USS Enterprise who served with his father. While at the academy he befriends Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), flirts with Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), and gets off on the wrong foot with Spock (Zachary Quinto). But in a familiar story turn that we’ve seen in everything from “Top Gun” to “Starship Troopers”, the cadets are forced into action when a distress call is made from Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. Through this we’re introduced to other familiar characters including Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin).

Eric Bana plays the rogue Romulan Nero who we see in the opening and who pops up later to serve as the main antagonist. He has a serious bone to pick with Spock and his revenge-fueled presence poses a major threat. Aside from the normal franchise origin stuff, this tiff between Nero and Spock is a big part of the story. There’s also the story of Jim’s evolution from an immature, self-centered hothead into a responsible, heroic member of Starfleet. All of these strands are woven together pretty nicely and the film moves through them with better pacing than I originally remembered. There are also some fantastic special effects and a cool new Enterprise with an impressive modernized bridge that I thought looked great.

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The USS Enterprise crew

But there were some issues I originally had with “Star Trek” that unfortunately didn’t go away with a fresh viewing. First, I know this is a relaunching of the Star Trek franchise and some of it is aimed at the action-starved audiences of today. But to me there were times where this didn’t feel anything like a Star Trek movie. There were certain scenes that felt so jarringly out of place yet perfectly in tune with the film industries affection for ‘Hollywoodizing’ their big movies. Again, I understand that Abrams and company are showing their new vision but I wish they would have trusted or cared more for the Star Trek formula. But honestly, while it’s still an issue, it didn’t seem to bother me as much during this viewing.

Another issue I still have is with the handling and redefining of some of the characters. I don’t know if it’s just an attempt to force in a fairly underwhelming romance or if it’s simply political correctness, but I wasn’t crazy about Uhuru as a bigger character while McCoy, an important character in the original series, is reserved for comic relief. Maybe it’s because the romance between Uhuru and a certain crew member feels shallow and tacked on. There’s nothing wrong with Saldana’s performance but her role is pretty flimsy. Karl Urban does some great work channelling his best DeForrest Kelley. Even though ‘Bones’ is written almost exclusively for humor, Urban is fantastic and it’s a shame he was given something meatier to work with.

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Eric Bana is Nero

My revisit also verified one thing and clarified another. Zachary Quinto as Spock is by far the best bit of casting in the movie while Chris Pine left a better impression this time around than before. Quinto nicely sells Spock through his tone, mannerisms, and pitch-perfect deliveries. Pine ends much better than he begins. In the first half of the film he’s pretty hard to digest but as his material gets better so does his performance. In fact, overall I found him to be better than I remembered. I can’t really say the same for Pegg’s Scotty or Yelchin’s Chekov, but both of their issues dealt more closely with how their characters were written.

So now the big question. Did my time away from “Star Trek” change my perception of the film? Did this fresh look at the movie provide a better experience? I would have to say yes but only slightly. “Star Trek” is still a film with a handful of flaws. At times it tries to be too hip, too cute, and too modern at the expense of those proven elements that make “Star Trek” great. On the flip side, I did find myself enjoying and embracing more of what Abrams and company were doing. This was a better experience and my anticipation for the next movie has grown. I just hope for a more focused script with less corn and a little better handling of its characters. If that happens “Star Trek Into Darkness” could be a real treat.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

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62 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Star Trek” (2009)

  1. I’m so excited for Into Darkness. I thought the first film was outstanding. I don’t know if Abrams can out-perform himself, but with Cumberbatch in the mix, he is sure to give it a shot. Great review by the way!

    • Thanks. I know a lot of people loved this movie. I just can’t go that far. Too many small annoyances and too many lame scenes that feel like anything but Star Trek. Yet I found myself having a lot more fun this time around.

  2. Great review, Keith. I have to say, I’m not a Trekkie at all, but I loved this one when I first saw it a couple years ago. A very fun action movie I actually just got it on Blu-Ray and I’m very excited for the sequel.

    • I think a lot of people were crazy about this one. For me it had too many hiccups for me to truly love. But this fresh viewing was a slightly better experience for me.

    • Thanks dude. I’m hoping the sequel is a little tighter and a little smarter. Trying not to get too excited about the new film but I can’t help it.

    • That’s interesting. I guess I’m still surprised at the passes it gets. Several things still keeps me at arm’s length when it comes to this movie.

    • Thanks a bunch! I’m really surprised that Trekkies have loved this flick. I just can’t get past the treatment of McCoy. And the tone was certainly different than most of Star Trek.

      • I think the tone worked because it’s a prequel. Having said that, as a Star Wars fan, I can’t get over the newer round–there’s an instance where the two rounds don’t work for me. Probably McCoy was too predictable and yes, I reckon that’s a fault. However, Spock was so awesome and Scotty played perfectly by Simon Pegg. Even the Leonard Nemoy was wonderful and seems to endorse the project.

      • I wasn’t a big fan on how Scotty was written but we sure agree on Spock! Quinto was fabulous and for me he was the real highlight. Only a week until the sequel hits here.

  3. Cant argue with anything you said Keith. You’re completely right, they changed the entire TONE of the franchise by taking the characters and interjecting them into a slick action movie. I wasn’t happy with the diminished role for Bones either.

    Thing is though, they came out a winner by actually making a pretty good action movie out of it. So Im torn…

    Lets hope this new one adresses some of that concern, but from the looks of the trailer, I wouldnt bet on it… 😦

    • Glad I’m not alone then. I’m with ya. I’m torn on it. Like I said though, I did have a better experience with this one. And it does have me a little more excited for the sequel.

      • There are people out there with the same mindset… definitely have to be fans of the original to a degree at least. People who weren’t will gravitate to this one I think.

  4. I liked this but the alternative time line thing made everything that came before seem a little insignificant. Still a good reboot and Pine for me was very good, on reflection exactly as I would expect a young, arrogant Kirk to be. Quinto was very good as Spock. The other character issues you have may well get addressed and expanded upon in the next one. Here’s hoping 😉

    • Thanks for the good comments. I liked Pine a lot more this time around. I admit I still thought he was a little overdone in the first half but really good in the second half. But the main thing is I had a better time with it this go around. Looking forward to the next one.

    • I totally respect where you’re coming from. For me, the swollen hand was absurd too. But i also wasn’t keen on the flat romance, ice monsters, altering McCoy’s character, etc. But I was more impressed overall this time. So bring on the sequel.

  5. I know nothing about Star Trek, despite my friend’s attempts to get me to watch the whole series/movies/whatever else is there.

    I did like this movie a lot, I had fun and it was entertaining. That said my friend is still angry they destroyed Volcan (is that what it’s called?) in this one 🙂

    • The Vulcan thing is something that I’m surprised more die-hard fans didn’t get angry about. It was a pretty brash movie considering the history that Vulcan has with the series.

  6. Great review Keith. I actually quite enjoyed this one, even bought the BD. It’s funny as I’ve never been a fan of Star Trek, never watched any of the shows or anything. But 3.5 is fair, there are some parts that I wish were better. I like Eric Bana and he wasn’t given much to do as the villain I think. Oh and same w/ Urban whom we both love, I wish he’ll have more screen time in the sequel though.

    • Thanks Ruth! Loved Urban more than his character. Well, let me rephrase that. He’s really good in what he’s given and with the character they are recreating. I guess my objections with him are more nostalgic than anything else. McCoy was such a big character in the series.

      Listen to me! I said I’m not a Trekkie but I’m certainly acting like one aren’t I? 😀

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  8. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. I think they’ve actually managed to capture enough of the tone of the franchise to keep a fan like me satisfied. It still has that blend of adventure/exploring and humour, and it’s still providing dilemmas to be solved in creative ways. The spirit of Kirk and Spock are pretty much spot on, and I really approve of trying to modernising at least a little bit letting one of the few female characters taking a little more space, not making it into a men’s-world-only.
    But again: I’m so much into Star Trek that I’m easy to please. As opposed to most other fans I even bought into Enterprise and thought it as a shame it didn’t last longer. That signature… after the first sugar shock, I actually learned to love it. I’m SO sentimental! 🙂

    • I’m with you on Kirk and Spock. They were spot-on and I thought their relationship was the best part of the film. I guess in terms of tone I’m mainly talking about sword battles with Sulu on top of the Romulan drill and the video game style snow monsters. Those are the types of things that made it feel much more like a conventional Hollywood picture to me. And as I mentioned I still struggle with the way they handled McCoy’s character. Urban is great but the character as a whole was a throwaway for me.

      BUT I really want to stress how much more I enjoyed it this time around. Maybe I kept my expectations more grounded. I don’t know but it has me excited for this weeks new release.

    • Enterprise was awesome. Scott Bakula is awesome. I loved the reference to “Admiral Archer’s prized Beagle” by Scotty in this one. I literally squealed when I heard it.

      Not that I squeal–

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  11. Hey Keith,

    I’d like to point out that if your only gripes about this re-make involve comparisons to the original, in terms of tone, style, treatment of certain characters… then it’s an unfair critique of the movie as a standalone film.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you regarding the treatment of Bones at least, but given that it’s an ensemble group, the focus couldn’t have been on everyone. And in the story, majority of the original characters did have some contribution, in someway, to the plot of the movie. Except, again, Bones.

    A movie with such a huge history and impact on TV and Sci Fi in general, able to unify both a new audience and hardcore veteran fans, is a success in and of itself.

    Also, there’s a key, in-story reason for any… discrepancies, in the tone of this film to the original… the alternate reality. I love that the writers developed an in-story reason for any differences and alterations to the source material, and weaved it into the story itself. The decades of divergence from the original timeline we all know and love, kind of explains away any errors in character portrayal, back story, etc. That’s how the writers were able to fend off any and all comparisons or backlash to them modifying the source material. It’s ingenious! I think anyways.

    • I see where you’re coming from but I completely disagree with the popular take that it’s unfair to criticize it due to its standalone movie ambitions. Here’s why. Yes it’s a standalone movie but its using unoriginal characters. These types of movies want to be judged on their own merit and to a degree they should. But they’re also dependent on cherished properties. They want to use the names. They want to use the characters. They want to use the title. They want to use the ship. Yet there should be no criticism if they twist and dumb down things? I just can’t buy into that theory.

      Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m no die-hard Trekkie an I give movies a lot of breathing room. But I do believe that any property should be considered when attempting to remake it. There were instances in this film where that was sacrificed clearly to make it more modern and more palatable for the modern movie fan. But I mentioned several other things besides what you said that were issues for me. I think the big romance was either done for the surprise factor or maybe even a Dan of political correctness. Either would have worked if it weren’t so flat and lifeless. I mentioned how it was “Hollywoodized” which isn’t just a reference to the Star Trek franchise but to a popular trend in Hollywood especially during the summer movie season. You’ll also find a few other gripes in the review.

      As for the alternate reality, I tried to stay away from that in the review but you’re right, that is the explanation, something that has been employed. elsewhere but that does explain a lot of things. It’s kind of an easy out but it’s pretty easy to overlook. An it’s a key reason I do like the movie. It opens several doors but it doesn’t completely give Abrams carte blanche when he’s dealing with such beloved characters. I think you can make them new and fresh while still reminding us of what made them great in the first place. He did that with some characters but not all.

      Anyway, GREAT comments and a GREAT discussion. Always appreciate you bro. So often you give me something to think about and to chew on! 🙂

      • You’re probably one of very few people whose reviews I find worth commenting on with some contributing thought, so the discussion is always a pleasure man!

        I get what you mean, that since they’re using existing characters and concepts, there should be a kind of responsibility with how they are treated. But according to that logic, every movie based on a source material (book, comic, other movie, tv show, etc) should always be held against the original. So is a movie experience only partially enjoyed by someone who might not know about the source material? For them to properly experience the remake, must they intimate themselves with the source material first? (Mind you, I did that with Battlestar Galactica) Obviously films are subjective, but if a movie is ‘good’ on it’s own, without someone being aware of the source material… then personally, I think it’s unfair to compare it to the work of others in a different time, era and setting, especially given the difference in themes and influences on cinema in different time periods.

        I definitely know what you mean by ‘modernization’, I noticed it myself, but it’s a necessary evil. If the movie wasn’t updated to meet the expectations of a 21st Century audience, then it might’ve been a complete flop, given that it might not have attracted a fanbase other than Trekkies.

        By the way, I’m not picking apart your Review and responding to each point you made, because I find that comes off as argumentative. I’m just commenting on the points that stuck with me, that I feel worth commenting on. If I didn’t mention it, odds are I agreed with you on it. :p Just an FYI.

        And given what you said in your comment above, I thought you’d appreciate the alternate reality angle. Given that others have done exactly what you mentioned, used pre-existing characters in reboots, remake, sequels and completely bastardized the original vision storyline and continuity, I thought you’d appreciate makers who took the time to not only create an out for the differences, but also create an entire story around it, while keeping the original canon and continuity intact and attempting a variation of a prequel. No?

        (This thread should serve as a shining example to Tyson’s Blogger’s Respect Post.)

      • No, no, no. Every new movie should not be held against the source material. That would be an unfair judgment but respecting the source material shows a very real and significant dependence on it. For me there’s a big difference between those two things. In a very real sense Abrams and others who remake or reboot popular franchises aren’t being completely original. They are dependent upon other material and usually that material has a pretty strong following. I just think you have to respect your inspiration and not necessarily blow it out of the water. Now I’m not saying Abrams did that, but there were some things I thought he could’ve done better.

        It’s interesting that some of the worst movies based on popular source material were bad because of the creators decision to annihilate any connection with the source material. X3 and Xmen Origins come to mind. But good filmmakers can find a way to satisfy both fanboys and new viewers. It’s been done in the past many times. It’s certainly a challenge but it can be done and for most people Abrams was able to accomplish that.

        It’s really interesting that you brought this up. I have a commentary written and ready on this exact subject. It’ll go up next week.

  12. Oh I forgot to mention, the angle with Uhura with Spock wasn’t an attempt at political correctness. Well maybe, but if it was, then it’s in direct homage to the Original Series, in which they featured the first ever on screen kiss in TV history between a white man (Kirk) and a black woman (Uhura)

    Yes, I’m a Trekkie. 😐

    • I remember that episode. It was kind of goofy because nothing ever became of it. It was one of those let’s break new ground moments (Which was fine) and then show that’s all we’re doing by never going any further.

      • I don’t think I’m a Trekkie. To be honest there’s only a handful of the original series that I’ve even seen. I cut my teeth on TNG but that came well after the series was established and about to end. I love the franchise, no doubt. But there’s still a lot I don’t know about it which is kind of fun. That means I still have a lot to watch and catch up with.

      • By the way, please forgive any grammatical errors if there are any. I’ve responded to you over my voice feature on my phone. Not sure how well she dictates what I say! 😀

  13. Whoa! What phone? Because I can’t see any errors. Rather, your comments are very conversational, something that voice feature usually fail to satisfactorily capture.

  14. And I do agree with you about basically everything you said. I just find that Abrams and Co. did respect the source material. They respected it enough to not go back and rewrite canon, as many others have done, but create a storyline that was able to give us the best of both worlds. A world (both cinematic and fictional) in which both their modernized version, and the version that’s existed for decades, can co exist together.

    Name one other franchise that’s done that through sequels, prequels, reboots or remakes. In my mind, to keep existing source material canon, while still being able to tell another story with the same characters, in a main stream movie, is pretty admirable.

    Looking forward to your commentary man!

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  18. Love your thoughts, Keith.I agree, though I didn’t have as many issues with your points you bring up. I’m not a Trekkie, but I still did feel like this was Star Trek for the most part.

    However, it is pretty popcorn-ey and awfully basic. Again I don’t necessarily mind that as a reintroduction story, (I actually consider it a positive), but to me, this is a disappointment with Into Darkness; since 2009 served as a sound introduction/reintroduction, I think 2013 had the opportunity to go deeper and maybe get a little more heavier like many Star Trek eps did with their themes.. I’ll be rewatching that again soon. Still a good movie, but pales to 2009’s.

    • Thank you. It’s funny, I actually had a much better reaction to the film the second time around. At first I found myself pushed away a bit. But over time I did begin to appreciate it a bit more.

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