Thoughts on the New, Bad Ass Trek

Let me get this out of the way first: I don’t like the entire Star Trek franchise much. I’ll count the ways:

  • Starfleet and similar institutions are infallibly good.

  • The cost of winning is either cheap or mostly refundable.

  • Technobabble at the wrong times.

  • Mini-skirts but no muscle shirts. (If you get your candy I damn well want mine.)

  • Time travel eventually made me want to slit my wrists.

I was not expecting much from the new Trek movie. Plus it’s a prequel. Like that worked out so well for Star Wars.

And like we don’t know what’s going to happen next. We’ve had thirty years of Star Trek canon to tell us. Sometimes in excruciating detail, sometimes things we’d like to forget ever happened. (Like Nemesis, possibly all of Enterprise and most of Voyager, which makes me depressed. The first female captain of a Star Trek series and we got this.)

It would take a lot to get me to like this movie.

As it turns out…

I love this movie. Unabashedly so. I probably haven’t really loved a movie this much since Peter Jackson’s rendering of The Fellowship of the Ring.

It’s not just because of the very nice effects (which manage not to be overblown) or the enormous amounts of things exploding (I can imagine Bad Astronomer Phil Plait gearing up to pontificate on the kind of destruction that happens in this film). If it were only these, Star Trek would be just another Iron Man to me.

But I love it because J. J. Abrahms has managed to reboot a franchise waterlogged by a couple decades of story bloat. He even does it with time travel, a mechanism that so often results in tripe and deux ex machinas, and which is rarely handled well. Abrahms manages to do it better even than Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is the least excreble example I can come up with in the Star Trek canon.

What I now think of as “Trek Classic” ended just a few seconds into the movie, when a monstrous ship, which looks like a twisted melding of the Vorlons and the Shadows from Babylon 5, shows up.

Now we have “New Trek”, or, as I like to call it, Bad Ass Trek.

There’s a fair amount of meta-enjoyment in all this, of course. If you’re an old fan, or someone who happened to be a victim of old fans when it came to control of the TV remote, you can see hints of what’s to come later. I would expect it of any prequel, and in Star Trek it varies from the serious (the Kobayashi Maru test incident, which is played vividly between Chris Pine [Kirk] and Zachary Quinto [Spock]) to the wink-wink-nudge (Sulu’s sword fighting comes in handy, and it’s still not a katana, thank gods it’s actually a fold-out sword that people are yelling katana at, but didn’t look very much like one to me) to the, well, best red shirt death ever. There’s no missing that reference.

Additionally, Abrahms has managed to reboot the world while keeping the rest of history in place, more or less. The way he does this is nothing less than brilliant (you might even, like young Spock, think of this as mere cheating), and extends beyond getting Leonard Nimoy back as Old Spock. He’s added an extra nostalgic element that actually has to do with the story itself rather than the fandom around the story. You don’t have to be a fan to understand or feel this.

Things I loved about this movie:

  • Starfleet and the Vulcan Science Academy both have pricks. And good guys, yes, but also pricks.

  • The cost of winning is not refundable. There are permanent changes that fans might hate, but they are necessary changes.

  • The technobabble is kept to a minimum, and when it shows up, it’s an integrated part of the plot, rather than tacked on.

  • Time travel used well, in an interesting way, and leaves scars.

  • Bones. Karl Urban hits every note right, and the result is a stable point for fans to hang onto, because the stories of Kirk and Spock have been severely altered.

  • Uhura’s linguistics knowledge and capabilities are front and center; she’s not just a phone girl.

  • Watching the friendship between Kirk and Spock develop; heck, watching them develop.

Things I didn’t like about this movie:

  • Mini-skirts. They are still there. Thank gods the hideous beehives are gone, although I may have to phaser myself if they come back in Star Trek I’ve Lost Count.

  • No muscle shirts. Give me something, dammit.

  • Yes, New Kirk is hotter, but he’s a bit young, almost adorable.

This movie was an excellent first date. I can’t wait for the sequels and possible TV shows, although I think it may be the case that Trek is stuck with just being movies now (ironic, considering that for a long time it was stuck being an early cancelled TV series).

Also, if you read my review on Matter and how it devastated my gradually developing taste for Science Fiction, well, Bad Ass Trek has managed to restore my faith.

Things can get dire and hopeless. The seemingly permanent can be vaporized forever. People you love die in seconds, disappearing into nothing.

But we don’t believe in no-win scenarios.