First, a disclaimer: I am not a Trekker. I’m not even a Trekkie. So aside from catching a few minutes of the original series here and there as well as renting films I and III in the name of research, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek was my maiden voyage with the U.S.S. Enterprise. I cannot, therefore, critique the movie with the fervor of a devotee, as I could with the Star Wars prequels—which were undeniably bad. I can only pass on what I judged as a new fan, who only a couple weeks ago didn’t know her Romulans from her Klingons. And the verdict is that it’s undeniably good.
It’s also very Cloverfield, which isn’t surprising considering last year’s unexpected monster smash was a pet project of Abrams’. Don’t grab your Dramamine just yet, though: Star Trek’s strength is its story, and it’s only during the action scenes that the editing goes into whiplash mode. The chaos is somewhat unfortunate—Cloverfield’s filmmakers were trying to squeeze every ounce of scary out of their barely-there budget, whereas Trek could afford steady views of its fights, aliens, and destruction—but compared to the cheesetastic effects the franchise has previously suffered from, Abrams has delivered a technical Nirvana.
The script’s sparkle is somewhat unfathomable coming as it does from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writing duo who brought you 2007’s wretched Transformers. Perhaps having more than a toy series as a launching point goosed their skills—though considering the film’s focus rewinds the franchise to its genesis, fleshing out how its beloved characters grew up and met not only each other but their fate, a compelling narrative would seem difficult to mess up.
Star Trek begins with a prologue showing future captain James Kirk’s unfortunate birth—while his mother delivered him alone, his father was dying in an intergalactic battle. Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up a cocky punk whereas Spock (Zachary Quinto) is a book nerd who antagonizes his bullies with lines like, “I presume you prepared new insults today?” When both end up on the Enterprise—despite Kirk’s failure to impress at the Starfleet Academy—to fight a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) who’s bent on destroying the universe, they’re not exactly best friends. But a black hole, some red matter, and multiple close calls later...well, maybe they can work together after all.
What shines brightest in Abrams’ rebooted universe is its stellar cast. Pine and Quinto were excellent choices to channel William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, respectively. (And yes, the latter makes a cameo, his voice as craggly as his face but thrilling nonetheless.) Uhura (Zoe Saldana) got a little sexier (and a first name!) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is actually Russian. John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) as Sulu and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) as Scotty are thrown in for fun, though mercifully the humor is never escalated to un-Trek-like levels. Best, though, even if his presence in this chapter is slight, is Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy. Who is this guy? Doesn’t matter if you know him or not; he’s got DeForest Kelley’s cadence and expressions nailed.
There seems to be a meticulously calibrated blending of old and new here, though fans might be disappointed that the show’s original theme doesn’t play until the end. (And that “Space, the final frontier” speech? Boy, is Shatner going to be pissed when he hears who recites it.) Regardless of your level of devotion, the film is engrossing and fun. There aren’t any teachable moments, such as the series’ continual parallels to the Cold War or lessons on racial harmony. Perhaps, if there is a message, it’s about not judging someone’s competency until he’s tested. Now that Abrams’ interpretation has been tested, it sure looks like Star Trek will once again prosper.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Directed by Gavin Hood
A Watchmen-esque fall from a huge opening weekend will likely be the fate of X-Men Origins: Beefcake. Er, I mean Wolverine. Sorry—it’s just that the amount of muscle on display is the film’s most remarkable aspect, unless you count how unforgivably dull it is.
Neither Hugh Jackman’s eyebrow-acting nor his near-bursting biceps can redeem the first movie of the X-Men franchise to focus on a single character’s origin story. Perhaps that’s because screenwriters David Benioff (The Kite Runner, 25th Hour) and Skip Woods (aha! Swordfish, Hitman) interpreted “focus” rather loosely: Wolverine may indeed explain how the title character got his adamantium slicers, but a gang of mutants obfuscates the plot, a problem that bogged down the first X-Men in 2000 and is even more of a drag here.
The script spans more than a century, starting in 1845, when Wolverine/Logan (Jackman) is still a sickly kid named James (Troye Sivan) about to discover that toothpicks emerge from his knuckles whenever he gets angry. James also finds out that the guy he called Dad wasn’t his real one, that and his friend Victor (Michael-James Olsen) is really his brother. Victor is also a mutant known as Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber as an adult), and over the course of the film’s prologue, he and Logan will go on to fight in and survive every war from the Civil War through Vietnam. Eventually they’re recruited by Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) to join a group of politically active strong-arms that includes Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, who’s surprisingly buff) and Wraith (Will.i.am, who’s surprisingly short).
Years later—keeping up?—Logan has ditched the gig and is happily domesticated in the Canadian Rockies, working as a lumberjack and living with a teacher, Kayla (Lynn Collins). Stryker shows up; Sabretooth shows up. There’s something about a rogue mutant (though not, in fact, Rogue) killing their own. (Again, Watchmen, anyone?) Then Kayla is killed, and it’s on. An adamantium skeleton will help Logan avenge her death? Then bring it!
At this point, the film becomes a crescendoing series of rrrarh!s (roared with arms askance) and nooooooo!s (bellowed with heads thrown back). Wolverine and Sabretooth fight each other about a billion times. (Schreiber is essentially reprising his evil-bro Defiance role, if the Holocaust survivor were instead a killer cat.) When Wolverine isn’t snarling from apparent ’roid rage, he’s arching his brow to prove that even with claws sheathed, he’s still a badass. And when the scripters decide to steal from Superman for a change, he shows up naked on an elderly couple’s farm, having run from Stryker’s lab.
It’s all a lot of bluster, with effects that aren’t so wow-inducing that they make up for the lack of a clear—or interesting—story line. The appeal of the X-Men, as with all superheroes, is their otherness, and whether each will struggle against his power or decide to embrace it. Logan opts out of the lifestyle for a while and only returns for the sake of revenge, but we don’t really see his essence tormenting him—or its discovery empowering him, which is what makes the previous installments’ focus on a school for mutant teens such fun. Fun, apparently, was never meant to be a part of Wolverine. After a while, even the brawn gets boring.