“I hate this! It is revolting!”
That quote really sums up my feelings for this film. I said Star Trek 2009 wasn’t the worst thing to bear the name Star Trek and I stand by that. That one tosses a wrecking ball through one cast, in an alternate universe and can be ignored easily enough if a fan is so inclined. This one wrecks both TOS and TNG in one go and is stuck in the canon forever more. This is the film I hate out of all the movies we have thus far in canon. It actually puts me in a bad mood every time I suffer through it. I can at least sit through Star Trek 2009 and laugh at a few parts, this film is a boring suck fest.
Now yes as a fan of the original series the death of Kirk makes me see red. Not because they killed him off, but because of the stupid way they did it. The franchise killed off a major character five films ago and that move has been praised to high heaven both inside and outside of fandom. The big difference is that Spock’s death had substance and Kirk’s death has none. Yes the theme of the film is supposed to be mortality, but simply having people die in your film does not make the theme meaningful. I find Kirk’s death doesn’t tie into it at all. Shatner was apparently in a meeting about this film when it was in development and said that Kirk’s role wasn’t important to the plot and he was right! The opening with Kirk basically serves as set up for the villain and Kirk getting into the Nexus. Then at the end he basically serves as an extra body to help Picard punch the villain and dies because of crappy bridge construction. There may be a time and place to break clichés, but making a pop culture icon and beloved character’s death cheap and empty as opposed to grand and glorious is not the place to do it.
Furthermore the other major death in the film, of Picard’s family, doesn’t tie into the theme either. It just seems to be put there so Picard will have a reason not to want to leave the Nexus, and it lasts for all of two minutes before he wants to leave so why bother? Also this event really doesn’t flow well in the film. Not just that it comes right after Soran is confronting Data and Geordie in the observatory, that totally highlights the fact that TV show people were working on this even more than the return of the unnecessary captain’s log. We’re right in the middle of Geordie and Data in trouble and the reveal of Soran as the bad guy, and then we cut to Picard and Tori in his quarters to have a conversation that has absolutely no bearing on the scene we just saw; though I will concede that the scene is well-acted and emotional. Now this would work better if there was a commercial break in here. We’ve hooked the audience into returning after the advertising is done and so we can open on a different scene when the ads are over. Because this is a movie though there is no commercial break and instead we have the massive mood whip-lash in going from the villain reveal to Picard and his problems that don’t really impact the story anyway. This is really not the time for this! That lack of impact is the other reason this doesn’t work. First off a general audience doesn’t really know who Renee and Robert were, and so we don’t feel the loss keenly just within the context of the film itself. How about instead of the photo album have Picard playing back a recent message from Renee. Maybe even showing how Renee was getting ready to go to the Academy or something, so we can feel the loss of young life so full of potential that was cut short and actually have this mortality theme mean something and give the audience a connection to these people. Now TNG fans will already have that connection to Picard’s family, and are probably pissed off that they died off screen for the sake of angst; I know I am. Now if the filmmakers would rather keep the movie just for the TNG audience that’s fine, but then at least give them something interesting and game-altering to be invested in, in the movie! Because honestly I think this film does a disservice to almost every cast member. Worf is made the butt of jokes in the promotion scene, Riker looks like a complete incompetent in the battle with the Bird of Prey, Troi can’t drive, and the whole Data subplot goes nowhere and does nothing.
Before we get into that problem fully though I’d like to touch on the last thing that doesn’t tie into the theme of mortality and that’s the villain himself. The whole idea the writers wanted of Soran fearing death as his motivation for his actions doesn’t work. He talks about how time is the fire in which everyone burns and about things left unfinished, but it’s hollow because Soran is a long lived alien. He is an El-Aurian and so already has a lifetime of hundreds and hundreds of years. He also doesn’t age that much during that time so he also has eternal youth essentially. So this character has no reason to fear death. The loss of youth and the loss of chances to do everything we want to do in our lives are the two major reasons people fear death, and they are utterly negated by virtue of Soran being an El-Aurian. Furthermore Soran does not fear death as shown in this film. His motivation is that he wants to get back to the Nexus and the Nexus, for what little sense it makes, is in essence the most common view of the afterlife. Where we are with our friends and family and know nothing but happiness and contentment forever. Soran actually embraces death because when you’re in the Nexus you cease to be in reality. So the villain also doesn’t tie back to the theme. He’s not escaping from mortality he’s escaping from reality.
So the theme doesn’t hold water because nothing ties together properly. The plot is basically an excuse to get Kirk and Picard to do things together, and boring things at that. Now the film continues to fall apart with the completely wasted subplot that was Data getting his emotion chip put in. Even for those unfamiliar with TNG Data explains that this has been his lifelong goal. Where’s the happiness for that? Both from Data and from his friends? Where’s the pride at making such an accomplishment? This is the culmination of years of hard work, reaching, and loss to achieve his dream and no one cares! Also if you’re bringing in such a big thing for the character why does it have no impact on the story? Data doesn’t use his new emotions to help Picard or figure out something critical to the plot or heck even tie back his emotions to the theme of mortality by bringing up his connection to Tasha Yar and how he can fully grieve for her for the first time. Instead we have childish humour with the Mr. tricorder crap that goes on way too long, and actually gets really creepy near the end, and singing the life forms song, and the random swearing, why is this even in here?
On the commentary Moore and Braga talk about how they wanted to have big themes and big ideas for the film and unfortunately it didn’t pan out. However, for me I find listening to the commentary on this film is just painful. The amount of not getting it attitude from the writers is staggering to me. They are right when they talk about how you can’t please everyone, but that doesn’t give you license to suck. You can’t just create things like the Nexus and hope people don’t ask questions about it. Don’t assume the audience is stupid. Also having less time and money or being new to this does not give you license to suck either. The crew of Wrath of Khan made a movie that looks great and still holds up to this day with a shoe-string budget. Nimoy and Bennett were new to their roles and they made it work with The Search for Spock. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was paced like a film. The Undiscovered Country had a time crunch and it was marvellous despite that. Does time and money give you a change to refine and polish of course it does, but you have to have something decent to work with and I don’t see any of that here.
So is there anything I like in this film? Yes, actually I do like the lighting in this film. Especially in Ten Forward and it does work as foreshadowing for the role stars will play in the plot. The opening scene is well-acted and has some interesting ideas with the reveal of Sulu’s daughter and Kirk wondering about family and his retirement. The music while not particularly memorable is at least pleasant and not distracting. Also the crashing of the Enterprise D is a wonderfully shot sequence even if the reason it’s crashing is completely nonsensical and stupid.
The loss of the Enterprise D brings me to another problem. It highlights once again how contrived this story is. The Enterprise D is lost because the Klingons found out their shield frequency from Geordi’s visor. Now the first wrinkle is why the heck did Soran take Geordi from the observatory anyway? I guess it’s supposed to have emotional weight with Data experiencing fear and being unable to help his friend, but that emotions subplot goes nowhere ultimately so that’s a flimsy excuse at best. It also doesn’t work from a plot perspective. Why would Soran care about what Geordi knows about trilithium? His experiment with it just worked because the amargosa star collapsed. He doesn’t need to know if the good guys have figured out his plan because he was just shooting at them, and kidnapped their crewmember. They know he is the bad guy, so why do that?
Honestly I find it’s the return of the idiot plot. Everything only works because everyone is an idiot and being pushed around by the writer’s whim. I mean a coolant leak is enough to breach the wrap core? How? Who cares we’re going to have an action scene even if the events leading up to it make no sense what so ever. Also that has to be the slowest evacuation ever, and why are the families down by engineering anyway? You’d think you would want to keep children in the section that isn’t about to explode.
What’s also disappointing is that the crashing of the Enterprise D is the only real action in the film and if that had been for an actual purpose it might have been neat, but it’s not. They took damage during a fight they should have been able to win with ease, the Klingons even say as much, and now they’re all going to get death by shockwave as Picard fails at stopping Soran. This is also hollow because the death of the Enterprise doesn’t come in a heroic battle or a sacrifice for the greater good like the original Enterprise or the Enterprise C. Again breaking clichés is only good when it enhances your film, not when it makes it meaningless and shallow. Finally don’t steal your effects from other films guys. Build your own Bird of Prey model and blow up that; don’t re-use Chang’s.
Now I have seen a defence of Kirk’s death where people argue that it, and Renee’s and Robert’s, does tie back to the idea of mortality, because in life death does just happen and is sometimes completely pointless. I don’t agree with it because being realistic in your film or show is not good enough. To quote the great Mark Twain “fiction has to make sense.” If you want to revolve your story around the unfairness of death you can, but you have to devote time to people’s reactions to that untimely death to make your theme strong. One crying scene with Picard for his family and a sugary Christmas in the Nexus is not enough. And simply burying Kirk under a pile of rocks with a shot of his Starfleet badge and Picard not telling anyone is really not enough.
The other thing is totally personal, but I don’t go to the movies to see the futility of life and the unfairness of death, and I especially don’t want to see it in Star Trek, the show about hope and optimism; and that’s really what this movie needed more of: optimism. Kirk is down because he’s retired and feels useless. Picard has lost his family and he feels his legacy too will die with them. It should have been Kirk and Picard facing their personal problems, working together to stop a villain or crisis that made sense and along the way both learning that’s it never too late to do things. That just because we’re mortal doesn’t mean life can’t be good and meaningful even if it will all end someday.
But that’s not what we get. What we get is a rushed cash grab that no one thought through at all. It kills off two pop culture icons in stupid and needless ways. It brings the struggle Data spent the whole TV series going through to an unsatisfying conclusion. Nothing in the plot is compelling, most of the actions are useless, and this whole film comes across as completely half-assed. The plot is a paper thin contrivance to get the two captains together to ultimately cook breakfast and punch out an uninteresting bad guy. Then Kirk dies in a ridiculous manner because the writers wanted to be edgy and different. It seems everyone was more interested in making something fast and easy than making something good, because the audience is stupid and will buy anything they put out no matter how poorly put together it is. Fuck this movie.