Star Trek (2009) was released into theaters on May 8th, 2009. Despite my own personal reaction to it, it’s received a very impressive 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s not to say that Star Trek (2009) isn’t a good movie. It has some great action, interesting characters, and implements a nice dose of fan service to all the old and young die-hard fans of the old TV show. It’s no wonder J.J. Abrams, co-creator and director of the hit TV show LOST and one of my personal favorite shows of all time, would be picked to direct this film. Being a sci-fi nerd himself, and the show LOST even having references to Star Trek in it, aside from being a science fiction show, J.J. Abrams made a reputation for himself that fit the bill for a reboot of the shattered Star Trek feature film franchise.
I have to admit, as much as I love J.J. Abrams and even enjoyed Star Trek (2009), this movie is cluttered with plot holes, repetitive action, and poorly developed character arcs. I know it is rather bold to say, but the 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and the ultimate reverence from film critics around is short-sighted and, dare I say, unfair. The film begins with a very interesting start and development for Spock, and follows through rather well until the end, where he is in no way truly forced to face many of his inner demons. Kirk’s character is changed much from his original form. No longer is he truly a skilled leader with a natural inclination to lead The Enterprise, he’s a punk kid, albeit intelligent, who eventually “enlists” in Star Fleet because Captain Pike told him to. And then for some reason he has this motivation to not only join Star Fleet, but to be captain in three years. Perhaps if we actually understood his motivation, or at least felt it, it would be satisfying when he made it. The other characters, including Uhura, Sulu, Bones, Scotty, and Chekov, are all taken from their base characterization and amplified time a thousand. This, however, I find to be good aspect of the film as it made it much more enjoyable and idealized the importance of what it takes to be on such a ship as The Enterprise. It makes it an exceptional ship rather than a normal ship, which is great fanservice as it is more important to the fans. It also makes the characters more engaging and gives them each “their thing” so that newcomers can tell everyone apart easily.
Though Spock is well-built, the follow through in the final action sequence is squandered. At no point does his logic/emotion conflict come to a head after he has a talk with his father. Spock never has to make a decision on his own about this very inherent Star Trek conflict. Though the writers’ did find ways, albeit cheap, to finish both Kirk’s and Spock’s arcs as well as their friendship arc. All of this is in result of none other than: Leonard Nimoy–I mean Spock Prime. In fact, Spock Prime is what is used to complete almost all the standard story-telling techniques. Before I go into this, it is important to point out that it was smart for them to get Nimoy to show up in this film. It’s unfortunate to say, but William Shatner’s reputation as an actor and presence in certain Star Trek films (i.e. Generations), as well as his presence in things such as American Psycho II, left a certain taint on the memory of the classic Kirk. It was also wise because to have both Shatner and Nimoy would have taken away from the new, younger cast (Chirs Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock).
So as I said, it’s a good idea to bring in Nimoy, and better than bringing in both Nimoy and Shatner, and definitely better not bringing in Shatner–though he was upset about not being included. Anyway, Spock Prime, though a great fan service element, is too central to the plot for the story arc to end up having the payoff it wishes to have. In a standard story, the first act sets things up, and introduces a problem. Star Trek (2009) did this very well. The second act is where the characters go through the drama, the significant difficulties, but then overcome it for the third act, where everyone sets out together to tackle the problem. I’m not saying all films should be forced to follow this structure, but most do and it’s a tried and true method. And for a film like Star Trek (2009), trying to reboot a fallen, cursed franchise and bring in the masses while not alienating the fans, one should stick to the safe and powerful structure. Instead, act two is littered with coincidence after coincidence, resulting in Kirk meeting Spock Prime who sets up the friendship arc by pointing out how they are/will be friends, ruins the difficulties by instead giving Kirk everything he needs, which includes Scotty (Simon Pegg) who just happens to also be on this planet. Sometimes a coincidence is forgivable, or even a device used since ancient Greece, the “Deus Ex Machina” (Machine of the Gods). But when Kirk “happens” upon Spock Prime, who “happens” to be on the same planet as Scotty who “happens” to have the necessary beaming technology, the hand is overplayed and underwhelming. It also cheapens the arc for the characters to pull together, prepare, and go back and face the problem. Spock Prime is used, however cheaply, to attempt to finish Spock’s character arc. Though not very satisfying, it is nice that the writers’ at least attempted to accomplish this. But because the second act was ruined, the third act lost much of its payoff. Even in the action element.
The shortcomings in the action element are due to too much action and intensity earlier, as well as the failure in following through on the character arcs. If the story had built to better character climaxes during the final action sequence, it wouldn’t have mattered that the action was already over bearing. In the first confrontation with Nero (the end of the first act), the characters split up into three plot lines: (Captain Pike, Kirk, and Spock). This is only halfway through the film and the action is spread out three ways already. So when the action at the end is split three ways, it’s not as important or intense. It also doesn’t help Kirk and Spock with the friendship plot line when they are split up on the mission and thus don’t really get to show their growth into a friendship, which is already cheapened because of Spock Prime showing up and telling Kirk they’re friends. This is classic “telling” rather than “showing.” Basic writing flaws.
It is important to point out, however many flaws, that this film did what it wanted to do: reboot a fallen franchise and make it expansively profitable. And to its credit: it did just that. It did not alienate fans and it brought in many new viewers. If thinking from a purely production standpoint, this film is a success. Most importantly, it didn’t take any risks. And why should it? It needed to be as safe and malleable as possible in order to make the franchise worth rebooting in the first place. Though successful in its goals, the critical response has been, to me, still utterly shocking. To pretend a film is complete or perfect simply because it accomplished its goals is to leave the New Trilogy of Star Wars alone, as well. However, on Rotten Tomatoes, they received 62%, 67%, and 80%. And furthermore, many of the plot holes in the film (creating a black hole in our solar system, glass cracking on the view screen and the fact that the ship didn’t position itself farther away, Spock’s mother being ten feet in front of everyone else so she can fall and die, etc.) could have been easily fixed in a manner of minutes. An extra day or two spent on the script, a few more hours spent in editing, and these things would not have further alienated any audience members, but brought in more for those who enjoy consistency, believability, and re-watchability. As is, the film is an entertaining summer blockbuster, an enjoyable popcorn stuffing film, but it fails to reach beyond. Though it didn’t need to, it could have done so easily, and been much better and much more successful. I can only hope that if this franchise is continued, that it takes advantage of these lacking elements and makes a more solid film, now that they are less afraid of a risk or two. Though my point was not to take story-telling risks, rather–interestingly enough, to take less and to pull it together more solidly.