Before I review J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, I have to of course mention the fact that I am a lifelong Trek fan. In fact, I'm such a fan that I've somehow managed to actually write Star Trek stories on a professional basis. So, I want to be very careful as I comment on the new movie, because I don't want to come across as one of those "fans" in The Onion video complaining the movie was fun and exciting.
The thing is, the Trekkie in me really did enjoy seeing these iconic characters being brought to life again, in new, young-again incarnations. I loved hearing Karl Urban ask Zachary Quinto "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" and Simon Pegg complain, "I'm givin' her all she's got!" and, of course, seeing Kirk getting it on with a smokin' hot green chick. Even the colorless bridge and the misshapen Enterprise didn't bother me (and the fact that the engineering section looked more like a steam ship than a space ship didn't bug me as much as it should.)
But, putting my fannish tendencies aside, and looking at this as I would any other movie, I'm disappointed. As a lifelong reader and a writer, what I want first and foremost in any movie is a good story, well told.
And, I'm sorry, but Star Trek is not a well-told story.
The first and biggest problem with this movie is its hero, James Tiberius Kirk. It's established within the film that this Kirk's history is different from the Kirk we know from the original series, having lost his father shortly after his birth. But, whereas the Kirk of the original series was self-confident, even cocky (to the point, in some minds, of arrogance), this Kirk is simply an obnoxious douchebag. We first see young Kirk speeding in his stepfather's "antique" sports convertible through the deserts of Iowa (?), being chased by a robocop on a hoverbike, before sending the car plunging into one of the many canyons criss-crossing Iowa (??). This is apparently supposed to establish our young hero as a rebellious risk taker, but this comes off more as pointless, wanton destruction -- nearly self-destruction. And the kid doesn't give a shit; when he tells the robocop, "My name is James Tiberius Kirk!" you can hear the "fuck you and the hoverbike you rode in on" in his tone.
Skip ahead about ten more years, and we see that Kirk hasn't changed much, except now he risks his life by picking fights with entire troops of Starfleet officers. After getting his ass handed to him in a bar fight, Captain Christopher Pike sits him down and gives him a talking to, talking to him about his dad, and challenging him to do more with his life than being an insufferable douchebag. Kirk accepts this challenge and decides to join Starfleet Academy... though in a real arrogant-prickish way.
All of which can perhaps be forgiven; the kid has had a rough childhood, and hey, a few years of the strict discipline of the Academy, whipping him into officer material, could be just what he needs to turn his life around. Except... we next see him in his third year in the Academy, and he's still an insufferable douche, as seen when he decides to reprogram the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Now, this of course is something that was established in Star Trek II, so the fact that he does this is not the issue. But, rather than making a slight change to the program just to even up the odds, he sets it up so that he beats the simulation with no effort whatsoever. He then proceeds to treat the very premise of this character test -- a ship in distress, threatened by armed enemies, with hundreds of lives at stake -- in a completely blasé manner, chomping on a fucking apple the whole time. In essence, he's still the same ten-year-old who remorselessly drove an antique car off a cliff, shouting "My name is James Tiberius Kirk; fuck you!" at his Academy instructors.
Of course, before he can be drummed out of the Academy for cheating, crisis strikes, and by the end of the movie, he's not only saved the Earth and hailed as a hero, but he's bumped all the way up the chain of command to Captain. But, despite all his heroics and risk-taking, there's never the sense that he gains any maturity or experiences any emotional growth. He just manages, due mostly to a chance meeting with Old Spock, to keep his more asshole-ish characteristics suppressed.
And speaking of that chance meeting... where the movie completely lost me is when young Commander Spock, commanding the Enterprise in Pike's absence, orders Kirk thrown off the ship. Literally. Our cool, logical Vulcan has Kirk's unconscious body shoved into an escape pod and blasted away while the ship is at warp, with no apparent concern where it will end up.
Luckily for both Kirk and Spock, Jim lands on an M-class planet. Even luckier, he lands on the same planet where Nero has stranded Old Spock. Luckier still, he's landed in the same hemisphere of the planet where Old Spock is. Even luckier still, within half a mile of Spock's cave! Which Kirk only finds because a CGI monster just happens to chase him in that direction. Gee, it's almost as if they were meant to meet!
But, why is Old Spock in this cave on this planet? Well, because Nero finally captured Spock, and after twenty-five years of letting his consuming hatred for this man fester... let him go loose. Granted, he let him loose on a planet where he could watch Vulcan being destroyed, but you would think he'd have a better view from a viewscreen in the brig of Nero's giant space burr while in orbit. (That was the shot J.J. had chosen for the rest of the audience, after all.) You would also think, if he were leaving Spock on the ice planet to die, he wouldn't have left him within a day's walking distance of a Starfleet observation post, for fuck's sake.
And at that observation post, they find Montgomery Scott, who we learn from Spock has been even more negatively impacted by the death of George Kirk than Jim was, because this Scotty never invented the method to beam from a planet onto a ship at warp light-years away.
Now, when did Scotty develop infinite transporter ability? Never! And this is not a "canon" complaint, either; this is a standard Star Trek trope, along with the use of phasers and warp factors. Transporters have a range, and a ship must be within transporter range in order to work. This is either a tiny clue that Old Spock's history is in actuality different from the "canon" Star Trek history we know... or it's a huge cheat by the writers to get out of a hole they'd written themselves into, and get Kirk back onto the ship. If you said "huge cheat," you made the right call.
Eventually, Kirk and Spock come to realize they need to cooperate in order to stop Nero... which, really, ends up being only slightly more challenging than Kirk's Kobayashi Maru. The pair is able to simply beam over to the space burr, find the futuremobile (which the computer cheerfully releases to "Ambassador" Spock), find and rescue Pike from a cargo hold with backed-up drains, then get off the ship, and destroy both it and all the dreaded red matter, saving Earth. Sitting here, writing this about eighteen hours after the movie, I have to think there were more obstacles than the handful of security guards with bad aim, but for the life of me, I can't think of what they were.
But, results are what matter, and the team of Kirk and Spock have saved the day, and now, with Kirk as Captain and the whole crew in place, ready to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life forms... or, more likely, to find another, hopefully more charismatic bad guy with whom to exchange kewl 'splosions with.
Oh well. As long as the tentpole stays up, I guess it's all good...