Don’t get me wrong, I do like Star Trek movies, especially the ones with the original cast and characters. The re-boot done by JJ Abrams has been interesting because we’re forced to see the characters played anew by new actors and have to readjust our relationship to the new Kirk, the new Spock in the way we have come accustomed to readjusting ourselves to the new Bond or the Doctor Who or new Sherlock Holmes. What comes out of the readjustment is an insight into just what exactly is the character, and what makes them those characters. What exactly is the Kirk-ness in Kirk, or the Spock-ness in Spock? These kinds of considerations made the previous film at least somewhat interesting.
In the case of Star Trek series, which is an ensemble cast project, this means some characters are reduced to a trope, while others are parsed out for the sake of plot.
What’s Good About It
The film races along jauntily enough, that you never stop to seriously wonder about the plausibility of the plot. In fact, the writing is verging on ADHD as one plot point segues improbably into the next.
There’s a lot of things blowing up and breaking apart. The action is pumping. The Spock versus Khan fight towards the climax is good. The whole thing is a lot more exciting than the old, thoughtful, discursive, complex ‘Star Trek’ films of yore.
Zachary Quinto still makes a most excellent Mr. Spock. Without him I don’t think the re-boot would hold water. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan is an interesting development of that villain. Gone is Ricardo Montalban’s exquisite accent and in its place is a distinctly British kind of snark.
What’s Bad About It
The science in this film is atrocious. There are any number of science fiction movies with bad science in it, but this one happliy blows into the nonsensical in the first 10minues, when Mr. Spock uses a ‘Cold Fusion’ device to – get this! – cool down a volcano. Like… what? Cold Fusion doesn’t mean it creates lots of cold. You just wish the writers would read up some science before writing this kind of crap.
Then there is the doubly improbable moment when a space ship undergoing warp speed is attacked by another vessel undergoing warp speed. I just couldn’t figure out how they could begin to navigate at faster than speed of light, then find the target while still traveling faster than the speed of light, then fire weapons in the context of everything moving at faster than the speed of light. I mean, it looks good on the screen, but is that really good enough? Is that good enough for ‘Star Trek’? Wouldn’t this sort of destroy one of the pillars of the Star Trek universe?
The radioactive warp-core room is incredibly stupid too. It’s much bigger than the one in ‘Wrath of Khan’ where Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship, and you wonder where it actually fits on the Enterprise as presented in the film. The sequence where Kirk clambers up some massive coils to get to the warp core is more like something out of ‘Galaxy Quest’ where the ship presents itself with gratuitous obstacles. It’s just as Sigourney Weaver screams in that segment linked: “Whoever wrote this episode should die!”
I watched this thing in 3D IMAX. I hate 3D to begin with because what you get with 3D is never enough to off-set the dulled colours and contrast. I’m sorry James Cameron, but you’re simply wrong about this – 3D sucks. 3D and IMAX is like marrying the worst elements of both and celebrating the aborted foetus. Okay, so this is not the film itself’s fault but the whole movie comes across very messily in 3D IMAX. If you want to get any proper sense out of this film, I strongly advise that people go watch it in 2D.
As it is, I felt like a got a very detailed look at Chris Pine’s pores.
What’s Interesting About It
I’m really scratching here. This might be the first Star Trek film that’s actually not very interesting because it is so action-driven, there’s hardly a coherent thought about alien civilisations or space exploration or what inter-species politics might be like. It’s just smooth entertainment with the texture of a thick shake and with about the same nutritional/intellectual content. You would glean more about American thought on the alien and the complexities of multivalent politics from ‘Galaxy Quest’ than this film. The sad thing is that the parody came years and years before. In that sense the film never really rises above the challenge it sets for itself.
Drone War Abjection
The film sort of obliquely refers to the politics of drone attacks on exiled targets but it actually has very little to say except that Captain Kirk when appealed to his conscience, cannot go through with it. You sort of wonder what the big deal is really, when the President of the United States himself is mounting a reasonable argument in favour of it.
The president defended drone strikes as more precise than conventional attacks from the air, and less dangerous than operations involving American “boots on the ground”. The raid by special forces in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden “cannot be the norm”, he said. The risks had been immense, with a healthy dose of luck helping to prevent civilian casualties or an extended firefight.
Though strikes by distant drones were legal and had saved lives, Mr Obama announced that he had signed a new framework of guidelines, oversight and accountability governing the use of force against terrorism. Describing the deaths of civilian bystanders in drone strikes as “heartbreaking tragedies”, the president pledged that drone strikes would only be used when the capture of terror suspects was impossible, when terrorists posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people”, when no other government was capable of effectively addressing that threat and when there was a “near-certainty” that no civilians would be killed or injured.
In a reminder that the majority of the American public takes an essentially parochial view of drones, Mr Obama also found time to address the paranoid concern raised by such Republican senators as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz that the government might send armed drones to prowl the skies over America, to take out Americans suspected of terrorism without a trial. For the record, Mr Obama said, he did not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any American citizen—whether with a drone or a shotgun—without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over American soil, he added.
But he defended the killing of Anwar Awlaki, accusing him of plotting to blow up airplanes, and saying that when an American goes abroad to wage war against America and cannot be captured before carrying out a plot, his citizenship should no more shield him than a sniper shooting on a crowd should be protected from police marksmen.
Which, might not be convincing to some, is still a fairly bland proposition regarding the use of drones. It is easily conscienable for Barack Obama. You wonder why it’s not conscienable for Captain Kirk in this movie.
One of the more ugly developments in the Star Trek universe is the propensity for Klingons to be played by black actors. This is doubly underscore by Lt. Uhura played by Zoe Soldana mysteriously knowing how to communicate in Klingon. Yes, the easy answer is that she’s the communication officer so she might have had training in Klingon, but you have to wonder whether it’s easier to have her do it because she’s black. I find that kind of thing a lot more disturbing about the newer Star Trrek movies. It’s just as disturbing as seeing Orcs predominantly played by Maoris in what is a predominantly white-European cultural landscape of Middle Earth. Although, the laughable apotheosis is how the Clones in ‘Star Wars Ep. II The Attack of the Clones’ show us that Django Fett, Boba Fett and all the clones are Maoris.
All the same, what all this tells you is that the zero-zero coordinates of fictional space, even in 2013, is going to be located as ‘white’ and ‘male’ and that’s just about the speed of it.