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Monday, August 17, 2020

Star Trek Reviews: Trek Reboot Movies

Part Six of my reviews for all of the Star Trek shows and movies, split across several posts for each “stage” of Trek:

  1. Early Trek (TOS, TAS)
  2. TOS Trek Movies (ST MP through ST VI)
  3. ’90s Trek TV (TNG, DS9, Voyager)
  4. TNG Trek Movies (Generations through Nemesis)
  5. Enterprise
  6. Trek Reboot Movies
  7. Streaming Trek (Discovery, Picard, Trek shorts)

See the first post for an explanation of my letter-grade ranking system. The short version: C is average, something I have no strong feelings about one way or another. To avoid uncontrollable rage, please remember: Average is not Bad. It’s just average.

This post covers the Trek Reboot Movies, my name for the trilogy started by JJ Abrams. I expect there to be less controversy over my opinions on these because the films are already divisive. Everyone’s already heard strong opinions about these movies.

Star Trek (2009)

Rating: C-

Let’s get something out of the way first: I make a distinction between

  1. What I don’t like about a film/show, and
  2. What I think is bad about the way that film/show was made.

I base the letter grade on #2, but don’t factor in #1. This is why, for example, I gave DS9 and Voyager the same letter grade, but mentioned that I liked Voyager a lot more. I don’t like DS9’s heavier reliance on long plot arcs, but I acknowledge that these arcs are technically well-executed.

I have to say this because there are a lot of things I dislike about the 2009 Star Trek film that are *content-related *, like the way characters from the TV series who were decades apart are now suddenly all in the same class at the Academy, or the way these characters are promoted to random Starfleet ranks weeks after graduation because, hey, the ranks need to be the same as they were on TV. But these elements don’t lower the letter grade unless they are also style-related or story-related.

I don’t think ST 2009 has a very good story. The plot is OK, although frankly I am tired of time-travel plots. But the story is Not OK. It has two parts:

  • Kirk is undisciplined and angry because he had no father to raise him; and
  • Spock is too ashamed of his human side to form a friendship with Kirk.

In theory, we know Spock will become friends with Kirk both because of past media (TOS and the TOS movies) and also Ambassador Spock tells Kirk and his younger self this. And in theory, part of the resolution of Kirk’s story is based on Kirk learning self-control from Spock, via that friendship. But tell me the truth: if you had no knowledge of any other Star Trek media, if ST 2009 were the first and only Star Trek story and we judged it on its own merits, would you say that Spock is friends with Kirk at the end of the movie?

I certainly didn’t feel it.

And I certainly didn’t think Kirk learned anything by the end of the film.

Instead, what we have is a plot with no real story. The characters are introduced, events are set in motion, a bunch of stuff happens, and then we’re done. And what’s worse, all of this happens via some really poor stylistic choices: shaky cam, lots of lens flares for no reason, lots of camera tilt for no reason. I really don’t like looking at this movie, and the absence of a good story make the effort at looking at this ugly thing not really worth the trouble.

I also have to say that the whole “Kelvin Timeline” thing seems unnecessary. Not the time travel plot itself, but specifically making Spock (Leonard Nimoy) travel back in time to be part of the plot. The only reason to do this is to tie the events of ST 2009 into the previous Trek material so that it is part of “canon”. But why do that? I call this film a reboot, because that’s obviously what Abrams wanted to do: tell his own story using characters and background that kind of resemble the original characters and background.

But trying to come up with a canonical reason why the details of the 2009 film don’t match the details of the rest of the franchise just makes it a half-assed reboot, a reboot they couldn’t commit to. If they had kept the part about future Romulans traveling back to destroy Vulcan and Earth as retribution for losing Romulus in the future and ditched the part about Spock coming back, and if they hadn’t done such a bad job with the story as described above, this would have been a better movie.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Rating: C-

I was expecting about the same from ST: Into Darkness, but I was immediately surprised that the story wasn’t as bad as the first reboot movie. It was actually compelling. I didn’t even mind the rather transparent use of Khan to manipulate fans into liking the film.

And then there were these random bits of bullshit half an hour before the end.

  1. “McCoy, what are you doing to that tribble?”
  2. “Uhura, get Ambassador Spock on New Vulcan on the phone.”

There was zero reason for McCoy to be doing anything to a tribble at that moment. He’s only doing things to a tribble to set up a deus ex machina moment later on. It’s cheap, bad writing.

There’s more of a reason for Spock to contact Old Spock to ask about Khan… but not in the middle of a fight . More crappy writing. Really ticks me off, because (again) I was engaged with the film up to that point, and then I shouted “What?” at the screen.

Plus, although they try hard to make Kirk the central figure of the reboot series, they’ve gone through two movies so far and he’s completely unlikable. Spock’s character is actually the better one in this film. He actually learns something, has a character transformation. Kirk? The speech at the end makes it sound like he’s different, too, but I didn’t really buy it.

Still, although there’s a lot of lens flare, there’s less shaky cam than the first movie, so it looks better. That’s worth something, right?

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

No rating on this one. I tried to find a way to watch this before I got to Part 6 of my Trek reviews, but no deal. However, if I figure out a way in the future, I’ll add a separate review.

Next Post: The streaming era begins.

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  1. I rather enjoyed Star Trek Beyond, but I don't care for the other two.

    1. I've heard conflicting opinions on those three movies. One person told me they only liked the first two.

      The way I see it, "average"-range movies or even below average movies can be enjoyable if some of the incidental details appeal to a given viewer. The movie might have someone's favorite actor, or might have a dark anti-heroic theme, or lots of military paraphenalia. There are lots of '50s B-movies about rockets that I like despite them being poorly made, simply because I got a thing for space rocket movies.