In a nutshell, the 2009 Star Trek film, directed by Lost's J.J. Abrams, did about as good of a job it could do at the task handed to it. Ever since 1994's Star Trek: Generations which was the end of the movie series with the original cast, the entire franchise has jumped the shark, it's been on a downward spiral. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (arguably one of the best written series as a whole) jumped ship in 1999. Star Trek: Voyager took off in 1995 and finally came home in 2001, an ending barely noticed by anybody not a real hard core Trekkie. The "Next Generation" movies with Jean-Luc and the gang were pretty good, First Contact being the best of them, but they didn't generate any new Trek fans and annoyed most of the ones that already existed, especially Insurrection. Those ended in kind of a weird and unceremonious way in the next film, which pretty much also ended the whole thing. That was and apparently is the last we'll see of that canon timeline.
And then there was Enterprise...
...or... Star Trek: Enterprise...
So what's Rick Berman and Co. supposed to do? They've sent Picard, Riker, LaForge (not Data) and the Enterprise-E on their merry way, the whole franchise is in stagnant, shark-jumped waters, and most Trekkies have either been desperately trying to remain loyal by reading non-canon novels or rewatching old stuff on DVD, or have actually blasphemed and moved onto other Sci-Fi endeavors like Babylon A.D..
They needed to reinvent the franchise, something that the Enterprise series tried and failed to do. It had its moments, however, but it created more problems than it solved. They needed something more than a lukewarm television series on a failing network like UPN. What they needed was a new Trek feature film, a summer blockbuster type of film, not only a good Trek film but a good movie in general that would attract new fans, create a new generation of Trekkies. The franchise desperately needed a reboot, something fresh, and something to boldly go where no Trek film or series had gone before (for good reason): "Young Kirk and Spock." And now you have the simply-titled Star Trek.
This was extremely risky, more so than strapping on a space suit and jumping out of cargo bay while your ship is traveling at warp 9. Tinkering with cadets Kirk and Spock and the established gospel backstories is... well... you might as well be a church trying to rewrite the story of Jesus. What they needed to pull it off was a really good story (not necessarily a TotallyAwesomeGreatLife-Rethinking story) and they had one. They also needed superb casting, which they had (especially the guy playing young "Bones" McCoy). They needed a fine director, something Abrams was up to the task for. But, most importantly, they needed some vestige from the original franchise to hold the hand of the hard core Trekkie to ease them into this potentially traumatic cinematic experience. The new movie had this as well, using probably the most recognizable figure from Star Trek.
And guess what? At least in my humble opinion, they pulled it off! The Star Trek people bet their last few chips, ended up with a royal flush and took the kitty.
"Captain, sensors are picking up Spoilers ahead!" "Evasive maneuvers, ensign!"
Before I actually watched it, I thought 2009's Trek would simply be a movie about young Kirk and Spock in Starfleet academy, how they met, how they met Uhura, Bones, Scotty, and the rest, and I thought it would go from there and possibly just rehash all the Original Series stuff with better special effects and technology that's 2009's version of the 22nd century and not 1969's, and I had thought that that wasn't so bad of an idea. But I was wrong. Delightfully wrong. They had an even better idea.
Many things were clever about this film, even the title "Star Trek" (remember the first film's official title was Star Trek: The Motion Picture). I can imagine a board room discussion about it ("Whaddwe call this, um, 'Star Trek: Young Kirk and Spock?'" "How 'bout, er, 'Star Trek: The Beginning?'" "Hey guys, how about simply titling it Star Trek?!") What was most clever was they "rebooted" the franchise, how they are introducing a new story of its beginning without giving the old one the proverbial finger.
The plot isn't that complicated: Captain Nero, a pissed-off Romulan from sometime after Nemesis, travels back into time through a black hole that was created by none other than Ambassador Spock (indeed played by Leonard Nimoy) using a black-hole creating... thingy... attempting to stop a supernova threatening to destroy Romulus. Spock stopped it, but failed to save Romulus, which is what put Nero into such a snit, and succeeded at sending his and Nero's vessels into the black hole. The movie begins with this much-advanced (and friggin' huge!) Romulan ship making Swiss cheese out of a starship with Lieutenant George Kirk, Captain Jim's father. The screwing with the original timeline begins when Kirk Sr. dying while ramming his little ship up the Romulan vessel's fundament, leaving Kirk's mom a single mother, who gives birth to the Trek icon aboard an escape pod. Using scenes from the early days of Kirk and Spock, the movie fast forwards a few decades to their academy days where they meet Uhura, Bones, Chekov, and end up aboard the Enterprise, commanded by none other than Captain Pike (which only the hardest of the hard core Trek fans will appreciate).
Captain Nero, well-played by Eric Bana, still pissed, and still time-traveling, decides to do the unthinkable: not only to attempt to destroy Vulcan, but actually doing it! Taking out revenge on somebody by destroying their entire home planet, making both the young and old Spock watch while doing it? Darth Vader would be proud. But, as the young Spock, unaware that his older self is lurking about, beams the elder Vulcans, including his father, but - oops! - just missing his mother, before the entire planet implodes, I couldn't help thinking: OK, surely they'll travel back into time and fix this! Right? Right??
Nope. Not this time. It was at this point that the purpose of the film began to dawn on me. A new Star Trek universe was being birthed, right before my eyes, one where there are only about 10,000 Vulcans and no Vulcan, a fatherless Kirk, a motherless Spock, and where any officer wearing a red shirt is sure to die first (oh, wait, that's one thing that doesn't change in this movie). In a brilliant way, they are rewriting the history of Trek without rewriting it. In other words, they're cheating, like Kirk did in the academy in this film with Spock's impassable test. But they're cheating in a good way. To prevent heart attacks in the theater which might've killed many overweight, middle-aged Trek fans, they introduced a new timeline without beaming away the old one. Using the new thinking on fictional time travel, as opposed to the old way where when you change history and create universe-destroying and audience-confusing paradoxes that necessitate acrobatic scripting, instead of changing history they created a new one, an alternate timeline. The old one exists somewhere out there, still, in the multiverse, where the Old Spock came from, where he will continue to be from as we trek into this new story.
Old Spock, by the way, would help Kirk take command from Captain Spock - left in charge of the Enterprise when Pike was forced to board Nero's Bigass Ship, help young Scotty board the ship and take his rightful place as engineer, which would end up helping the Enterprise save the day as usual, stopping Nero from making Earth another planet salad like he'd done with Vulcan. Nero - still as pissed as Rush Limbaugh during Obama's inauguration - is sent along with his ship, in pieces, back through another black hole, probably never to be heard from again, like the 2003 Hulk movie Bana had also starred in. Kirk, who had gotten in trouble by cheating Spock's test and had been threatened with disciplinary action by the Academy, instead receives a commendation and retains command of the Enterprise, setting up probably many sequels.
Cue Old Spock narrating the "Space, the final frontier..." speech, the Enterprise warping off into space, and fade to credits: a nice bow to put on this early Christmas present we've been handed by the Star Trek Powers that Be.
This was a good movie. While I was not as cynical as a lot of Trek fans about the last couple of movies (i.e. I enjoyed them) I think we can all agree that this was the first Star Trek film in decades that was truly a good piece of cinema in general, and not just a good (or bad) Star Trek film. Even non-Sci-Fi people (like most of your wives or girlfriends or sisters) will enjoy this movie. I have not gone out and actually polled people but I suspect it has achieved what it'd set out to do: excited old fans about Star Trek again and create new fans. Gene Roddenberry is probably not turning over in his grave. I'm sure it made some as pissed as Nero was, but I believe those to be in a minority. And to those people I say this: you have to admit, the Trek people had run out of options. They had to do something like this. It was time to stop beating that dead horse and birth a new one. Even though there had been some talk of a Deep Space Nine movie - and it definitely looks like we'll never get it now - Nemesis ended it all. We needed to begin anew. And, again, they did it while preserving the old, which we can theoretically revisit someday if we want (I mean, come on, it's Star Trek). Visit this new life and new civilization. Embrace this new journey, boldly go with it where no Trek film or tv show has gone before. Appreciate the 2009 movie for what it is and what it's doing. Fall in love with Star Trek all over again.
Release Date: May 8, 2009
Directed By: J.J. Abrams
Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Running Time: 127 minutes
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Chris Pine (young Kirk), Zachary Quinto (young Spock), Leonard Nimoy (Old Spock), Eric Bana (Nero), Bruce Greenwood (Pike), Karl Urrban (young Bones), Zoe Saldana (young Uhura), Simon Pegg (young Scotty), John Cho (young Sulu), Anton Yelchin (young Chekov), Ben Cross (Sarek), Winona Ryder (Amanda Grayson - Spock's mother), Chris Hemsworth (George Kirk).