Illustration by Masura Matsuda from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 1967
The only Star Trek movie I've seen in the last five years was a recent viewing of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, viewed by many as the worst Star Trek movie ever. In my defense, I saw it with Riff Trax with some friends and it was hilarious, okay? I should start by saying that I liked J.J. Abrams' new Star Trek better than The Final Frontier. More suprisingly, though, I liked it as well as (or better than?) my favorite Star Trek movies - II, IV, and VI of the original movies. The things I thought would be weak were unexpectedly good, although I was let down by a few things that I thought would be obvious strengths.
I knew from the opening sequence of Star Trek that I was going to like the script written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The introductory scenes are gripping and have an unexpected amount of emotional heft that caught me offguard - Chris Hemsworth and House's Jennifer Morrison are excellent as James Kirk's parents. It's a better beginning than my previous favorite, the world being destroyed by a giant space Ho-Ho and heavy rain in Star Trek IV. The story is structurally sound throughout, balancing action and character development, references to familiar Star Trek tropes and new stylistic touches and humor. I was worried about the movie's use of time travel - an overused crutch in Star Trek movies - as a central device, but it allows the reboot to connect to the old Star Trek while doing some things (one in particular!) that constitute obvious sacrilege to hardcore fans and get away with them.
There are a few weaknesses in the story - various plot holes and weird coincidences are glossed over or rushed past at an un-Star-Trek-like pace. Kirk's childhood scenes are pretty bad (Spock's are all right, though.) The big hole in the movie is the villain - Eric Bana is totally misused here, and it's too bad. It might be a necessary sacrifice to make in a story that is trying to do a lot of things at once, but the Romulan pirate Nero is as much of a cardboard cut-out as the ones of Trek characters you find in MIT dorm rooms. And the new thing of having a bad guy who speaks in regular-dude colloquialisms really doesn't work in the context of a Star Trek movie. I am actually quite hopeful for the sequels that are in the works - without all the reboot baggage, a Star Trek movie with this cast AND a great nemesis (not like the one in Star Trek Nemesis obviously) would be great!
And I should comment on how much I liked the cast in this. I was really worried about the smirking frat-boy Kirk I saw from Chris Pine in the previews, but I was almost entirely unbothered by his smarminess - he managed to evoke a young James Kirk without being really irritating. The rest of the core Star Trek characters are quite good - Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy was particularly great and deserved more screen time. I thought that the kid from Charlie Bartlett was not right for Chekov, and his accent bugged me (although it's obviously a reference to Walter Koenig's old performance) but looking at his bio I see that Anton Yelchin was actually born in Leningrad. And John Cho, Zachary Quinto, and Simon Pegg were all quite good. So I guess I should just leave these things to people who know what they're talking about.
Star Trek does a good job of having a broad appeal, while also including enough references to old-school Star Trek to keep a fan occupied. Hours after the movie ended, I found myself wondering if the use of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" in an early scene was a reference to the plan of Ensign Valeris (Kim Cattrall!) from Star Trek VI or to William Shatner's notorious mispronunciation (Youtube) of the word in the original series. Knowing how carefully constructed and smart this Star Trek is, it's probably both.
"Black Hole" by She & Him