With the lukewarm performance of the last Next Generation film — 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis — producer & director J.J. Abrams knew he had to do more than simply go back to the Academy years of the original characters. By the time this film was conceived, Star Trek was over four decades old and had accumulated more than 40 years of lore. As such, the universe of Star Trek was bogged down by its own elaborate tenets and had become somewhat sterile and predictable. Personally, I felt Nemesis was a solid installment in the series, but I agree that Star Trek was too mired in orthodoxy for its own good. Something needed to shake things up and that’s exactly what Abrams and his writers did with this film — not only do they place young Kirk & crew in an alternate timeline, they throw in drastic changes, like destroying Vulcan and allowing only 10,000 survivors. This, of course, offended fundamentalist trekkers to no end. They, in essence, responded the same way Charleton Heston did at the end of the renowned Planet of the Apes: “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!” Although I initially felt blowing up Vulcan was a bit much, Abrams’ changes accomplished his goal — they shook everything up, big time. More importantly, the film is entertaining and was massively poplular at the box office. It was a huge gamble, but it paid off.
Despite this, there were some things that held me back from fully embracing this installment the first couple of times I saw it, even though I was entertained. For one, like everyone else I had to get used to the new cast in the roles of the original characters, which I did by the time 2013’s Into Darkness rolled around. Secondly, the story is somewhat convoluted and it wasn’t until the third time I watched it that I fully grasped the major plot points (aduh). But this really isn’t a bad thing. It’s like certain songs you hear for the first time and you don’t wholly appreciate them, yet something keeps you coming back and they become lasting favorites.
What really turned me off was the sequence where Kirk is literally ejected from the Enterprise by Spock, lands on the closest planet to Vulcan and is randomly chased by an alien predator, and then another one — much bigger — which leads him to seek shelter in a random cave where —voilà— he meets old Spock! This series of coincidences was just too much for my logical brain to accept and it took me right out of the story. But a Trekspert explained to me that destiny is an important theme in the film. Although it’s an alternate reality, Kirk and Spock are DESTINED to hook up and become comrades and best friends. As such, events work in their favor to bring this about. I was able to see this on my third viewing, not to mention the fascinating irony of young Spock rejecting Kirk and old Spock saving him.
Bottom line: Star Trek is entertaining on so many levels. It has science-fiction, drama, comedy, romance, action and horror, not to mention the labyrinthian plot, and yet it all somehow gels together into a cohesive, entertaining whole and has re-watch appeal. Lastly, it’s just great seeing the original crew back in action, albeit younger versions of themselves, and with their original uniforms. Star Trek successfully introduces the original characters to a whole new generation and does it expertly. What more could you ask for?