Directed by J.J. Abrams. It starts on planet Nibiru where the crew fail to respect the prime directive (non interference in a developing culture). Spock nearly gets incinerated trying to plug a volcano. Then it’s London in the 23rd century and John Harrison (Beneddict Cumberbatch) is the villain who attacks London and then the Star Trek headquarters in San Francisco, killing Kirk’s mentor. They go after Harrison who’s gone off to Klingon land, Harrison fights off the Klingons and is captured by Kirk. Harrison is a member of a new super race and his fellows are to be found in torpedoes on board “The Enterprise”. Kirk and his crew get involved in a fight over some bad history that Harrison shares with Kirk’s superior Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) whose daughter Dr Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) is on Kirk’s ship. Does Kirk survive radiation, rescuing his damaged ship? Who will win in the fight between Spock and Harrison?
The opening scene on planet Nibiru with its scarlet trees and chalky humanoids with black eyes is Star Trek’s acknowledgement that Avatar is a sci-fi game changer. It’s quite stunning in it’s depiction of alienness, the volcano scene is impressive. London in the future is a forest of gigantic ‘Gherkin’ buildings plus Golden Compass architecture and hospital hi-tech. The movie focuses on the details of a star ship from the fabrics of the upholstery to the Pompidou Centre tangle of tubes and machinery in Scotty and Chekov’s engine room. It’s a pity though that the Star Trek movies have succumbed to the long leather coated chic of the fist fight and the athletic run through the streets (why run when you’ve got space age vehicles). There’s too much violence and crash bang and wallop, as if we don’t get enough of that in all comic book films and their endless CGI. I had hoped for more imaginative issues in keeping with creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek’s mission in defending liberal values in an often brutal cosmos. For me, it would be more exiting to see The Enterprise crew deal with the cultural development of a planet like Nibiru or show a more nuanced exploration of ethical issues rather than the (admittedly entertaining) personality conflicts of the Star Trek characters we all know and love. Trekkie fans might be placated by the film’s presentation of the original ’60s characters as their younger selves. I often thought the perfect Star Trek TV series would be the 1960s characters with the production values of the Voyager series in the ’90s. Spock, as played by Zachary Quintano, is effectively apologizing for Leonard Nimoy’s very formal TV Spock. Quintano’s Spock is more humane as his adherence to logic is not a geekish fetish based on fear of emotion but an attempt to overcome emotional devastation. this rather undermines the 60s scenario in which Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) detested Spock for his coldness. Kirk (Chris Pine) is the cheerful, rule breaking picaresque oaf who never misses any fight going. His relationship with Spock brings out Spock’s emotional reserve as strength rather than Nimoy’s blank evasion. Spock has a relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and they argue like any suburban couple. Doctor McCoy’s use of colourful metaphors earns him a humorous rebuke from Kirk. The humour usually works in the same way as it did in the 60s. Scotty is played by Simon Pegg, the Scottish accent is straight out of Braveheart, he is yet another down to earth character with no time for the mystical pretensions that can infect the voyage. Sulu (John Cho) gets to be in temporary command, ready to ambush any crew member with understated wit. Anton Yelchin who plays the Russian, Chekhov, is himself a Russian but his accent made me think of the comical Ilya Kuryachin from The Man from Uncle. Benedict Cumberbatch as the bad guy John Harrison (who is also Khan) has a voice like a purring echo in a pumping clamp of a jaw on a face like a latex covered machine. I hoped for “Thus Spake Zarathustra” aphorisms but got rather conventional villain attitudes. This is a missed opportunity for a more thoughtful film but it’s spectacular. Nice to see Leonard included, if only briefly.