The first review I ever did for this blog was on Star Trek 2009. I didn’t like it and spent a lot of time discussing the few pros and the laundry list of cons I thought that film had. So now that the sequel has finally arrived what do I think of it? Well…let’s just say there’s still a lot to talk about. This review contains FULL SPOILERS for the film you have been warned.
With my last post about this film I asked the filmmakers to give me the best they had and honestly when I left the theatre I was ready to say that they had done just that. That they had explored the new universe they created; that they did have a theme this time, a character arc for Kirk, and some stylistic improvements over the last film in terms of visuals. However, the more I think about it and read discussions about in the fan community I’m finding the same problem I had with Star Trek 2009 is still present here: giving this film any considerable thought beyond it being a fun thrill ride causes the whole thing to fall apart.
Well, let me try to start this on a positive note first. On second thought let’s not because I don’t think the film started on a positive note. In fact with the opening scene I thought this film was going to be just as bad as the last one. The Enterprise was hiding underwater and that seemed needlessly complicated for observing a civilization that as Pike describes has barely invented the wheel. Why couldn’t the ship just stay in orbit? Also like the red matter/black hole mess we had more science fail going on. Volcanos are a natural phenomenon on Earth where tectonic plates meet and one of them erupting does not end our civilization or the planet. Yes certain areas can be devastated, but unless this civilization is severely localized one eruption won’t end it. Also I thought Spock in the volcano was just an excuse to show off special effects and that his suit looked ugly as hell. I nearly choked on my popcorn from trying not to laugh at it. Spock using the needs of the many line I thought was trite and stupid, and it seemed that the writers still hadn’t learned that sticking in lines from better works does not suddenly make your film as good as those were. We were off to a bad start.
The film did seem to pick up though with Kirk getting called on his rash move to break the prime directive and his lack of humility. In thinking that the rules don’t apply to him and that he can do what he wants and damn the consequences. It was something that needed to be address last time and wasn’t so the dressing down from Pike was good. I have problems with the follow up but let’s stick to positives for the moment. And really I found that I actually liked Kirk in this film. We actually got to see him think on his feet multiple times. He was questioning things, delegating tasks to his crew in a mostly professional manner. He recognized when he skills weren’t needed on the bridge and turned command over to Spock in the nice hallway scene before he went over to Admiral Marcus’ ship with Khan; and he got half-way decent in a fist fight. I could finally see some glimpses of the strong professional man that Kirk Prime was reflected in this Kirk and I really liked that. The flirting thing was still an issue and his insulting Spock was too, along with him mocking Spock’s and Uhura’s relationship on the bridge. That was completely uncalled for. So the character is still an asshole in many respects, but I’ll concede that he was less of one this time around.
Now that I mentioned the Spock/Uhura relationship I have to say that I still don’t care for it. I don’t hate it like I did last time, because it’s not here for shock value it’s just a carryover from something that was present in the storyline already. The problem I do have though is that it is still utterly unprofessional and dragging both characters down instead of enhancing them. The argument in the shuttle is just embarrassing. The middle of a mission is not the time to hash things out as a couple and they both should know better. Uhura should also know better than to think that because Spock would give up his life for the prime directive that somehow means he doesn’t care. I’m sorry Uhura, but both of you made the choice to have a career in which you may be asked to give up your lives for others. Acting like Spock doing what duty required of him is some big betrayal makes you look selfish and immature.
I did like Uhura’s speech to the Klingons though. However, I hate the looks of the Klingons. Why do they have random metal in their ridges? Why do they have to wear helmets? Well anyway hearing Uhura speak about honour with the Klingons was good I just wish it hadn’t ended in yet another firefight, with everyone in medium to close up shots. Seriously Abrams would it kill you to back the camera up so we can have a master shot of the fight scene, just once? Using nice wide shots looked great when Scotty Kirk and Khan were in the cargo bay of the admiral’s ship and I would have liked to have seen even more variety in the composition of the film.
I liked Leonard Nimoy’s cameo even though it was only there for fanservice. Although I don’t know why he has mostly black hair again. Spock Prime is obviously taking that rebuild the Vulcan race plan very seriously indeed. Also I have found a uniform I hate more than the Starfleet pyjamas in The Motion Picture! I really don’t like the grey uniforms with the hats I think everyone in them looks awful. Also McCoy’s medical tunic and whatever get-up he’s is wearing when Kirk wakes up after being mostly dead just make me cringe. McCoy already had a nice blue medical tunic established in TOS why couldn’t we have that? Also at least in The Motion Picture Deforest Kelley looked good in the white doctor’s uniform. Karl Urban does not.
I have to say that I initially really liked that the writers were going more subtle with the references to old canon, needs of the many line notwithstanding. I liked things like the use of Doctor Daystrom. I like that Carol’s mother’s last name is Wallace, likely a reference to Janice Wallace Kirk Prime’s ex-girlfriend from ‘The Deadly Years’. I like that her haircut looked like Doctor Dehner’s and that she and Kirk talk about being part of a family. A callback to the prime timeline in the genetic family they share in their son David. I like that they talk about Sulu liking command, obviously a callback to Captain Sulu from Star Trek VI. The point at which the referencing all falls to pieces though is the ending; where they try to remake Wrath of Khan and fail miserable. Now the role reversal is interesting, but I don’t care for it simply because the moment I saw the hand clip in the trailers I called that twist. I knew they would never be stupid enough to duplicate Spock’s death so I figured Kirk was the one in peril and I was right. I also called the Kirk not dying part. With the poorly slotted in scene of McCoy with the tribble I knew he wasn’t staying dead and all suspense and tension was gone.
Also Spock’s Khan line doesn’t hold a candle to Shatner’s. Guys that iconic moment is never going to be duplicated please give it up. Also I find that didn’t like Quinto’s performance as much as I did in the last film and I’m going to put that entirely down to the writing. Yes I could say that Leonard Nimoy’s performance is better and I do think it is, but Nimoy also had the opportunity to establish Spock over a longer period. To show him as a quiet internalized character that certainly had deep feelings, but the expression of them outwardly was rare and so when it happened you knew it was a big deal. With this new universe Spock has expressed rage and anger when he tried to kill Kirk on the bridge. He expressed revenge against Nero when he didn’t want to save him. He expressed love to Uhura with human customs and in public, twice. So his big blow up at the end means nothing to me because it’s nothing new. Spock has been expressing big emotions all over the place in these new movies, why am I supposed to care that he wants to beat Khan to a pulp?
And speaking of the big ending we once again have gaping plot holes just so we can have action scenes. McCoy has 72 other superhuman blood donors right there in his sickbay. There is no need for the big bruiser fight with Khan at the end other than that we need an action scene. The Enterprise is shown fighting the ship that I don't remember the name of out by the moon and then somehow getting low enough in Earth’s atmosphere to be effected by gravity despite not moving from their original position, why? So Scotty and Kirk can look cool as they race to the engine room. Also a lot of the theme of the film and the plot of it are built around Starfleet becoming more paranoid, more militaristic. That’s why Khan was discovered earlier and unthawed. But if this is all about making the borders safe and protecting ourselves why the hell does no one notice the giant space battle taking place right on Earth’s doorstep!?
Also the Khan thing doesn’t work for me. It was working when he described himself as a peace group guy and was on Kirk’s side, because I thought great they said they wanted to use the new timeline to take things in a different direction and they are doing just that. Taking this big bad from the original canon and having him be working side by side with Kirk? Good stuff. Also changing Khan’s backstory would confirm once and for all that this timeline is indeed completely separate from the prime timeline. It’s not just a branching off point from it, but is totally separate and always was, because something was drastically different before Nero appeared; and so all my continuity complaints from the last film went away. But then, then they had to go and ruin it by revealing Khan as a villain; and having the last twenty minutes or so of this film be a line by line re-telling of a film that doesn’t suck. You had it guys and you lost it. Instead of making something your own you again created spectacle and action over proper substance, and the only substance you have came from stealing it directly from a superior film. Seriously after four years the best you could give us was a bad re-telling of Wrath of Khan? You spend the whole last film talking up the new timeline and how everyone’s destines were changed and anything could happen, and then you just go over a storyline that was done perfectly well enough thirty years ago. What the hell is the matter with these filmmakers?
The last thing that really bothers me here is that I know I’m being manipulated by this film, and not in a good way. I feel like the people making this were going down a check list of all the criticisms they got on the last film and thought that if they just paid lip service to them that was good enough. People complained about Uhura only being Spock’s girlfriend we’ll have her shoot a phaser and be in fights that’ll fix it. People think Kirk didn’t earn his place in the captain’s chair. We’ll have Pike say all of that, but we won’t back it up, because once again the film shows that Kirk was right not to follow rules because Admiral Marcus is a war monger. People complained about too few women. We’ll bring in Carol Marcus and have her do stuff, like undress in the shuttle for no reason other than to give us a panty shot for the trailer. And while we’re doing that we’ll have some bullshit conversation about Christine Chapel. That character was played by Majel Barrett the great first lady of Trek and you decided it was better to use that character as a throw away Kirk conquest instead of letting her just be a goddamned nurse! Fuck you writers your misogyny is showing. I won’t put Gene Roddernberry up on a pedestal as some great supporter of woman’s equality, but why do we seem to be getting less progressive in this franchise as time goes on?
To sum it all up what I was really looking for in this film was the idea that this whole reboot concept could be viable. That they could work from their premise of making an alternate universe so they could tell new stories without being wrapped up in continuity. This was the film that should have done that and they failed utterly and completely. These guys have shown me that they can’t do anything new. They can just graft things together from other better sources and call it a day. That had great potential in this premise and they chucked it in the garbage. They could have made something good and lasting and instead they settled on rehashing and mediocrity. This film is better than the last one, but that is not a worthy accomplishment in my eyes.