Star Trek (2009)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: John Cho, Ben Cross, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Winona Ryder, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Leonard Nimoy

One of the most popular episodes of the original “Star Trek” TV series was “Mirror, Mirror.” In this episode, as the result of a bizarre transporter malfunction, members of the Enterprise crew found themselves in an alternate universe where humans were savage conquerors, not peaceful explorers. The Mirror Universe was as unrecognizable to our heroes as it could possibly get.

By 2009, Trek fans were four years into the franchise’s first legitimate hiatus since the cancellation of the original series in 1969, and we were starved for new stories. When director J.J. Abrams came to the rescue with his “Star Trek” reboot, what he brought to the table was an exciting tale which erased the banality of early 2000s Trek, dared to take heavy risks, and did it all despite only superficially resembling the franchise that we knew and loved.

James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious womanizer whose father, George (Chris Hemsworth) died saving hundreds of his fellow crewmen, his wife and newborn son from a Romulan attack. It’s been 22 years since that day, and now Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) challenges the young Kirk to join Starfleet and become a better, braver officer than his father ever was. As of the year 2258, Kirk has nearly completed the four-year Academy course in just three, but he faces discipline for cheating the final exam. Instead of being grounded, he is snuck on board the Enterprise by Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban).

It turns out that the Narada, the same massive Romulan vessel which destroyed George Kirk’s ship, has returned after 25 years to attack the Federation planet Vulcan, home to the peaceful cousins of the warlike Romulans. These Romulans are from the year 2387 and their captain, Nero (Eric Bana), has been driven mad with grief over the loss of his wife and his home planet to a supernova. He blames this tragedy on Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who had been working on a solution to the problem but was too late to save Romulus.

Nero’s vengeance includes marooning the just-arrived Spock on a nearby planet. Meanwhile, the younger Spock (Zachary Quinto) assumes command of the Enterprise when Captain Pike is held captive for interrogation by Nero. Kirk leads an away team that includes helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) to disable the Romulan drill that is currently burrowing a hole through to Vulcan’s core. This allows for time enough to evacuate as much of the population as possible, but does not prevent the Romulans from destroying the planet. Spock personally beams down to lead the Vulcan Science Council to safety. This includes his parents, Sarek (Ben Cross) and the human Amanda (Winona Ryder). However, Amanda is killed before she can be transported.

While trying to process his unimaginable loss, Spock is further antagonized by Kirk, whom he maroons on the planet Delta Vega. It is here that Kirk comes face-to-face with the elder Spock, who lets him in on the fact that he does indeed feel emotion and that it is essential that Kirk develop a friendship with Spock. The engineer Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg) is also on Delta Vega, and he and Kirk return to the Enterprise so that Kirk can convince Spock to step down as captain and relinquish command to him.

As all of this is happening, Nero has extended his plans beyond Vulcan. He means to destroy all of the worlds of the Federation, the thought being that their absence would ensure the safety of Romulus. His next target is, of course, Earth. Isn’t it always?!

Kirk and Spock, on more cordial terms now, beam over to the Narada to rescue Captain Pike. Meanwhile, the Romulans have started their drilling, the cutting beam directed near San Francisco, California and Starfleet Headquarters. Spock finds the elder Spock’s ship still in the Narada’s cargo bay, flies it out to destroy the drill and leads the Narada away from Earth. Enraged, Nero orders Spock’s ship destroyed, despite his crew’s reminder of the dangerous, black hole-creating material that the ship carries. The Enterprise comes to the rescue, destroying the Narada’s torpedoes. Spock sets his ship on a collision course with the Narada and is beamed away just before impact. The resulting black hole destroys the Narada (with assistance from the Enterprise).

After the dreary, dismal failure of “Star Trek: Nemesis,” just about any kind of movie would have been considered a step up. 2009’s “Star Trek” is fresh, exciting, and funny in just the right places. Amazingly, it’s also a “Wrath of Khan” do-over with Romulans, complete with a depiction of the Kobayashi Maru test. The twist this time is that it’s Spock who is the target of the villain’s revenge, not Kirk.

The new cast blends together quite well. Chris Pine is a fine series lead. Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Anton Yelchin (as Ensign Pavel Chekov) do the best job of convincing me they are who they’re supposed to be. In particular, I can see much of Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley in the banter between the new Spock and McCoy.

It’s the environment that surrounds these characters which becomes a source of criticism for “Star Trek.” (That, and J.J. Abrams’ relentless obsession with intentional lens flares!) Little about Earth, the Enterprise, or the Romulans in this movie remind me of their counterparts in what’s now called the Prime Universe. The Romulans, in particular are a problem given that I’m supposed to believe they come from the original timeline/universe. I shouldn’t gripe about them too much, though, since fans in 1979 who were watching “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” for the first time probably felt the same way about the then-new look for the Klingons.

Through dialogue, it is implied that what we are watching here is an alternate timeline created when the Romulans arrived and destroyed the starship Kelvan (killing George Kirk).Here’s the problem: This ‘timeline’ already looked different before the Narada fired the first shot. This leads me to believe that this isn’t like in “Back to the Future” where you go back to a point in the past that is still familiar (based on memory/stories), make some changes, and it alters the present. It must be closer in spirit to “Mirror, Mirror,” wherein an entirely different universe exists. 2009’s “Star Trek” takes this approach a step further, with physical appearance changing along with behavior. Or, I could just be thinking too damn hard.

In any case, “Star Trek” is a bold adventure. Risky moves like the death of Amanda and the destruction of Vulcan would pretty much immediately kill the momentum of any other film in the franchise. But we’re in new territory now, and although some things can still happen in the same manner, nothing is written in stone and no one is 100% safe. This is not my father’s “Star Trek,” nor is it what I grew up with… but that’s okay. The sky is once again the limit.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Good review, Chuck. Since I’m not troubled by any time-line anomalies, I can give this Star Trek only my highest praise. I have enjoyed watching it over and over in the past five years when it appears on TV. I am extremely happy with all the casting, and I thought the plot, the pacing, the sets, the special effects, and the acting were all top notch.

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