I’m a huge Star Trek fan. In fact, I think it’s one of the most important pieces of science fiction ever created. Gene Roddenberry gave humanity a glimpse into a possible future where we no longer hold ourselves back. We stopped clinging to old prejudices and superstitions and began learning our place in the universe. Star Trek is all about examining our past in order to properly guide our way forward. With that in mind, what important lesson about ourselves did I learn from J.J. Abrams’ addition to the sci-fi saga? Something about a black hole; angry Romulan is angry; and everyone is okay with Spock committing attempted murder. Great.
Let’s talk about the things I like before we get to everything else. I understand that it’s only trying to be an action movie, and I’m not necessarily against the idea. There are plenty of straight-up action movies that are near and dear to my heart (Die Hard says hello), so I don’t have an aversion to plot-light pieces of entertainment. I also think the casting is pretty brilliant across the board, with special mentions going to Karl Urban (Bones), Simon Pegg (Scotty), and Zachary Quinto (Spock). I was definitely never bored by anything, and in an action movie, that’s essential. But right there is where my praise has to end. It’s sad, really, but it is what it is. I just don’t buy what they’re selling me.
I’ll start with my most damning criticism. I already mentioned how I don’t mind some movies leaving the plot behind in favor of good action, but Star Trek’s narrative makes almost no sense whatsoever, and that pisses me off. It’s about a rogue Romulan mining ship with a captain called Nero (Eric Bana) hell-bent on revenge. His home planet, Romulus, was consumed by a supernova, and he blames Spock for its destruction. I don’t have any idea why. The only explanation Spock gives in the movie is that he tried to help prevent the planet’s collapse and failed. I don’t recall anyone else even attempting to help out, so why the hell would he lash out at the only person who did? But that’s not the worst part. The worst part – as per usual – has to do with time travel. Whenever time travel is used as a plot device, it’s usually a giant pile of garbage. J.J. Abrams and the rest of the people behind the scenes apparently realized that sad fact and decided to make their Star Trek a living embodiment of the notion.
The way Spock tried to prevent Romulus’ destruction was by using something called “red matter.” What it really is or how he got it is never explained, but it can somehow create black holes in space. Spock’s plan was to dump some red matter in the path of the supernova, thereby sucking it into the newly-created black hole. That part, I’m fine with. But then…time travel. Both Spock and Nero’s ships are accidentally pulled into the black hole with Nero’s reaching it first. Instead of just getting sucked into oblivion, though, the black hole acts as a time-warp and sends him 25 years or so into the past. Why? Because Spock said it maybe, perhaps could at one point. There’s no damn reason for a black hole to be a means of traveling to the past. That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I expected some of the technical stuff to be a little far-fetched, but there’s a reason for the word “science” in the term “science fiction.” That black hole crap is not a part of any science I know of, and it’s insulting to me that someone wrote that thinking nobody would notice or care. It’s lazy as hell and indicative – to me, at least – of a lack of respect for the audience on some level. If it’s true that most people don’t care, well, that’s on them, and that’s another topic for discussion.
But the bizarreness of the story doesn’t end there. There’s a part where Spock and Kirk get into an argument about something. The subject of the disagreement doesn’t matter, though. What does is Spock’s reaction to emotional stimulus: He knocks Kirk unconscious, throws him into an escape tube, and launches him onto a frozen planet that they happened to be passing by at the time. I’d like you to think about that for a second, because no one in the crew did. He literally strands a Starfleet officer on an inhospitable planet with no rations or way of communication simply because he made him angry. As far as I can tell, that’s attempted murder. Kirk later tries to piss Spock off so he can relieve him of duty due to being “emotionally compromised.” Excuse me, but I think he was pretty emotionally compromised when he sent Kirk hurtling to his highly-probable death. The only real solution to that is a court-martial, but like I said, nobody batted so much as an eye at his actions. If this was a Next Generation episode, it would entail a lot of moral and ethical discussions and the weighing of ideals in the face of practical matters. Not here, though.
The movie also forces me to assume that Nero sat around in one spot for 25 years, just waiting for Spock so he could exact revenge. Once his ship passes through the black hole, he instantly takes out a starship. After that? No idea. I’m pretty sure he just put his ship in park and sat there. You see, another little detail about black holes I wasn’t aware of is that while only seconds pass between Nero’s ship and Spock’s going through it, 25 years pass for Nero on the other side. Just because. The closest thing to that making sense can be seen here.
Another huge problem with the black hole sending people back through time is the fact that, oh, I don’t know, didn’t Spock just send an enormous space fireball through it? Apparently, it just got sucked up and went away, though, so all is well. Maybe it’s kind of like The Terminator when it explains how only organic material can travel back; no metals or weaponry. But the skin covering the terminators is basically just a cloth draped over a hunk of metal, so….oh, son of a bitch. Just forget it.
Getting back to Star Trek, another annoyance of mine is the fact that they show a starship being built in the middle of Iowa. You can’t just build these things and then launch them into space; that’s the whole point of having space ports orbiting the planet. Starships are not meant to take off or land. I had the same problem with Voyager, but it was a lot more egregious in that turd of a series. Here, though, I’d say this is more than a quibble, but nowhere near as deal-breaking as the whole time travel crap is. Nevertheless, I’m throwing it on my list of bad science that ruins the whole thing for me.
I also have an issue with Bones getting sidelined in favor of the T & A factor, a.k.a. Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Don’t get me wrong; the problem isn’t that I don’t believe attractive people can be good at things. Of course they can. But it just seems like they made her character a super-genius as a way of bribing us into believing she’s more than just her looks. But then there’s a part where it’s sort of implied that she slept her way to the top, so I don’t know what to make of that. I wanted more Bones. That much I know.
There are a few more examples of bad science and character issues, but I think you get my drift. The Wrath of Khan and Nemesis already dealt with revenge, which unfortunately means this incarnation is pointless. If you go into this movie with your brain totally turned off, you’ll probably be entertained by the visuals and the fast-paced nature of the proceedings. If you actually want themes with real meaning and science fiction that doesn’t assume you’re an 8-year-old, just stick with the T.V. shows and the older movies.
*This review was originally posted on Tyson Carter’s blog, Head in a Vice, for his IMDb top 250 project. Since he’s re-tooling his site and focusing more on indie/horror reviews, the project is being discontinued and all of my guest reviews will be lost if I don’t re-post them here. Go check out his blog if you get a chance; it’s well worth your time.