After violating the Prime Directive in order to save Spock (Zachary Quinto), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is stripped of his captaincy…ever-honest Spock even dobbing him in. Serving under Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood), Kirk attends a Starfleet meeting that goes to hell when a rogue Starfleet officer attacks the group from his ship, killing Pike, before fleeing to a Klingon planet. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) reinstates Kirk and orders he and the Enterprise crew to find and kill the rogue officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Once on the planet Kronos, however, Harrison ends up saving the Enterprise crew from a Klingon attack, and he then promptly surrenders himself. The plot thickens. Alice Eve plays Carol Marcus, Admiral Marcus’ daughter who signs on to the Enterprise as a science officer under a pseudonym.
I enjoyed the 2009 re-boot of “Star Trek” but wasn’t as enamoured with it as many others were. This was due to some casting/character issues (notably Zachary Quinto’s Spock), as well as what I saw as a distastefully cavalier approach to beloved characters and “Trek” history by director J.J. Abrams. Well, this 2013 sequel from Abrams sees me somewhat revise my opinion on one of these issues, but still features several of the same problems I had with the first film.
First thing’s first, I was a bit unfair to Zachary Quinto last time around. Having re-watched a bit of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock since, I’ve realised that what I always thought of as Nimoy’s rather inhuman, robot-like interpretation of Spock, was in at least some part simply a bit of a stiff performance from Nimoy. And even without that, the character wasn’t as emotionless as I had seemed to recall from my childhood. The idea of Spock battling between his more logical side and occasional human-like emotions has always been there. That said, and this film shows it just as well as the previous film, I still think Quinto is a little too human-like. It’s probably a matter of personal taste, and by the end of this film I had started to get a sense of what Abrams was trying to do with the character, and appreciate it. In fact, Spock gets my favourite moment in the film and it’s a moment that contradicts everything I’ve already said about my views on the character. I can’t help it, it’s a great fanboy moment reversing a particular moment from a previous “Star Trek” film, even if Abrams pussies out by not following through all the way with it. Meanwhile, I’m still not a huge fan of Chris Pine’s Kirk, partly because I want to slap Pine in the face every time I see him in a film. I won’t deny Pine’s Kirk is a far more interesting character with more depth than William Shatner’s, but he’s not likeable. This detracts a bit of enjoyment for me, and that is furthered by Pine’s casting. Others will have no such problem. Pine does get one of the film’s funniest lines, though when he hears about Uhura and Spock fighting: ‘Oh my God, what is that even like?’. Perhaps that means Douchy Kirk is growing on me…a bit. I do think his relationship with the very fine Bruce Greenwood is a bit too Tom Cruise in “Top Gun”, though, and I don’t want no “Top Gun” in my “Star Trek”, thank you very much.
But Abrams’ disrespect for any “Trek” lore before him rears its ugly head again here. It’s not as bad as in the previous film where he seemed to try and wipe out everything that came before, with its oh-so convenient plays with parallel universes/time travel, that’s true. But giving us hairless Klingons who wear dopey “Predator” helmets? I’m not even a Trekkie/Trekker and even I find that highly insulting. Stop messing around with things that don’t belong to you, J.J. You are NOT Gene Roddenberry, and you can use whatever fancy time travel excuse you want, you’re still messing around with someone else’s toys.
I also have issues with the style in which Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel have shot the whole thing. The shaky-cam isn’t constant, but it is annoying. As I’ve said countless times before, all it does is call attention to the fact that you’re watching a movie and that everything is being filmed with cameras. The Tony Scott-inspired rapid swish-pan/zoom combo wore thin on me too, after a while. It distances one from the material. Abrams fondness for lens flares continues to be a giant alien bug up my arse. I hate the trend, they are an eyesore, looking like a photographic mistake and feeling like you should be wearing sunglasses to reduce the glare, or worse turning away from the screen. It’s idiotic and it needs to stop. Can’t Abrams see it’s a problem that ruins the image? Having said all this, the film is still mostly very good-looking, with some interesting, quite eye-popping extra-terrestrial terrains, and aliens that are unlike anything else in cinema. Sure, the colour scheme is reminiscent of Abrams’ “Super 8” and Spielberg’s excellent “War of the Worlds”, but otherwise, the film’s visual design is all its own. There’s some particularly excellent FX in the action scenes, only slightly sullied by the lens flare bullshit. The film also sounds good, with a rock-solid music score by Michael Giacchino (“Star Trek”), let down only by Abrams’ insistence on not referencing/echoing previous “Trek” music often enough in my opinion.
Plot-wise the film seems to be dangerously heading into “Die Hard” territory, as Abrams’ vision is far less peacenik/United Nations inspired than previous “Star Trek” incarnations, but luckily it doesn’t quite turn into “24 in Space”. This is still “Star Trek”, just that Abrams’ vision for the franchise incorporates a bit of foul language and sexual references, which won’t be for everyone, I suppose.
Going into the film I have to say I was preparing for the worst with Benedict Cumquat as the main villain. I’m not a fan and his deep baritone voice always sound dubbed coming out of his rather wimpy-looking facial features. But surprise of all surprises, he’s really good here. He has a Malcolm McDowell meets Peter O’Toole meets Alan Rickman vibe here that works for the role. I’m sure by now it’s no surprise to tell you that his character is indeed Khan, and while nothing like Ricardo Montalban, that’s fine by me. He’s wonderfully evil and pretty much steals the show. The highly underrated Peter Weller and his inimitable deep voice provide rock-solid secondary villainy as well. In fact, it’s these two actors alone who probably keep this about a half notch ahead of the previous film for me. On the other end of the scale is a surprisingly awful Alice Eve, hitting all the wrong notes as Weller’s daughter. You keep expecting her character to have ulterior motives that might explain Eve’s awkward performance. Nope, she’s just awful, and I say that as someone who loved her in “She’s Out of My League”. Her entire performance is off, though at least perverts like me can rejoice in her entirely unnecessary, totally gratuitously sexist underwear shot. I’ll give you credit for that one, J.J., though even then I have to say the normally hot actress looks somewhat weird and angular. Feminists with have apoplectic fits over her poorly written character.
As for the rest of the regulars, well they’re as much of a mixed bag as last time. As was the case in the previous film, Simon Pegg is an hilarious Scotty. Yes, it’s an entirely comedic take on the character, and yes I hated the attempts at comedy in “Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales”, but Pegg is just so loveable and funny in the role I can’t help but be entertained by him (Much more so than in anything else Pegg has done). Meanwhile, John Cho and Zoe Saldana are still the best Mr. Sulu and Foxy Uhura of all (with all due respect to the inimitable George Takei, the original Sulu), even though their contribution to this film is not terribly large in terms of screen time. The film could definitely have used more Sulu, as the character’s competence and strength really do shine through when the script allows. Sadly, Uhura is really just here to speak Klingon, kiss a Vulcan, fire a gun, and save her robot boy toy. Putting things into perspective, though, that’s a helluva lot more than Nichelle Nichols ever got to do in TOS. Anton Yelchin, like Walter Koenig before him, gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop playing the relatively uninteresting Chekov, but the only problem with his performance is that more so than last time, he overdoes the accent a bit. He’s good, but let’s face it, no one likes Chekov, do they? Chekov is the worst ethnic stereotype in a series that already has Scotty. Bringing up the rear as was the case last time, is the hopelessly inadequate Karl Urban as Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy. People rave over his supposedly dead-on DeForest Kelley impersonation, but I have to say that to me he looks and sounds absolutely nothing like him (I should point out that Bones is my favourite OS Star Trek character, so I’m not talking out of my arse). He gives a boring, lethargic performance suggesting from his very first moment that he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. He delivers the Bones-esque ‘Damn it, I’m a…’ lines with zero energy or inflection whatsoever.
Personally I still prefer “The Next Generation” over J.J. Abrams’ incarnation of “Star Trek”, but this second outing for the re-booted franchise is still solid entertainment, especially whenever Benedict Crumblebum and Peter Weller are on show. It’s fun popcorn entertainment with solid action, great FX, and some laughs. I didn’t even mind Abrams’ series white-washing with the two Spock’s quite as much this time around, though Abrams is still on probation in my opinion. Oh, and more Sulu and Uhura next time, please Mr. Abrams. And fire Karl Urban for all of our sakes! The screenplay is by Abrams’ cronies Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Damon Lindelof (TV’s “Lost”, “Cowboys & Aliens”), and Robert Orci (“Star Trek”).