This post contains spoilers from the point noted below, so if you’re sensitive in that area and haven’t seen it yet you might want to come back later.
Before I get into the movie itself, let me say that I greatly enjoy having a small-town movie theatre within walking distance of my house. They’ve recently upgraded to digital projection (for the first Hobbit movie), the prices are reasonable, and all my movie-going experiences there have been good. The two theatres are not large, perhaps seating 150 people each, but there were only around 30 other people in attendance for the Monday matinee, so not crowded at all.
I liked the first movie, which we re-watched the evening before, though my expectation was always that it would be a fun and action-oriented movie based in the Star Trek universe and not a great work of art that strictly follows canon. I went into this next chapter with similar expectations – it would be fun, have lots of explosions and cool effects, and be generally based on the pre-existing Star Trek universe with it’s own divergent take. I got that, but I think this one fell far short of the last movie and even my expectations in several areas.
First, the blatant fan service was… well, too blatant for me. The well-known catch phrases being uttered by each character, the rather tacky and telegraphed role-reversal (from Star Trek II) of Kirk and Spock saving the ship, the inclusion of Section 31 (everyone loves spies), even Spock screaming “Khan!” – if they’d toned it down and made it more subtle or occasional I would’ve enjoyed it, but it was too constant and heavy-handed for my tastes. A ton of fan service made more sense in the first movie, as an entry-point for old fans coming into the re-made alternate world, but I was hoping they’d move on for the most part in the second movie and just keep a few sparse trimmings, and that didn’t happen.
Second, while I understand the fan service reasons for including Leonard Nimoy and agree he’s awesome, I don’t see what plot value his appearance as old Spock had in the movie. It undermines new Spock’s strengths and abilities, and leads me to believe that historical records in this new Star Trek universe are significantly worse than those in the original – the old Kirk and Spock had no trouble knowing exactly who Khan was once his identity was deduced, now he’s directly telling you who he is and you can’t do a quick archives search?
Third, the portrayal of women in this movie is weak. I felt annoyed by this at the time, but didn’t put a lot of thought into it until I read Felicia Day’s post on the topic. My own take on it… Uhura had a few good scenes, but a lot of her role was “Spock’s emotional girlfriend”. The Carol Marcus character was worse, being basically ineffectual at all tasks and shown sneaking aboard ship without qualifications, changing clothes in front of Kirk, and being mistreated up by her father and Khan. And that’s it, there are no ship command officers who are women, no Star Fleet executive members who are women – it’s ridiculous once you notice (or in my case have it pointed out :)). This flies in the face of the strong women seen in any of the newer Star Trek TV series, and even in the original series movies. Even Dr. Carol Marcus in the original Star Trek II movie was a much stronger woman than the new Carol Marcus.
Fourth, there are huge gaping logic holes in the plot all over the place. I’m not going to go into all of them here (perhaps I’ll do a separate post when I re-watch the movie later at home), but let’s just say you need an active suspension of disbelief to get through. I was prepared to do that going in, but it’s admittedly is not always a strong suit for Star Trek fans, who at least like some logic to the pseudo-science.
So, that being said, what did I like?
The visual effects, cinematography, music, and sound were all excellent. I could’ve done with fewer lens flares, less going on at once in fight scenes (the space battles looked like Star Wars space battles, phaser blasts everywhere), and less of a white tile bathroom for the Enterprise bridge, but I’ll forgive all that for the rest. J.J. Abrams does know how to make a great looking and sounding movie.
The acting was generally good. Benedict Cumberbatch was excellent as Khan, but given what I’ve seen of him in Sherlock and elsewhere I expected that. The recurring cast from the first movie were all good. Noel Clarke’s small role was a high point for me. Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus was a low point, though it’s entirely possible there wasn’t much of a character in the script for her to work with.
The pacing of the movie was good, at no point did I feel it was dragging. Plot holes in the details aside, the high-level story arc does generally hang together. I really enjoyed how they handled Khan’s personality and actions in the first and second acts – in the third act I think he could’ve been significantly smarter, but that would’ve required either cutting things out earlier or making the movie longer, and it was just about right at 2h12. I will be interested to see if there’s a director’s cut released, and if so what changes there are to the plot.
I quite enjoyed many of the smaller ways that these new movies are diverging from the old movies/shows. For example, that the technology has been re-based from where we are now instead of based on 60s or 80s technology as we saw in previous Star Trek, so cities look more like our cities really might in the future with cooler tech, and the ship warp drive looks appropriately large, mechanical, and impressive. I really like the little alien companion Scotty has following him around. The extended diversity of the Enterprise crew is quite interesting, with a few different types of aliens, though (like women) they don’t seem to have made it into the higher echelons of Star Fleet yet.
Humour is always an important part of Star Trek, and this movie managed to get me laughing quite a few times without falling into the “omg you’re trying too hard” realm of Star Trek IV. And yes, quite a few of those moments were from fan service – I’m not immune, and I like it when done well, and there were many well done fan service moments. There were just also a lot of overdone fan service moments, which pulled me out of the moment and detracted from the experience.
So… I went in with an action movie expectation and was somewhat disappointed, but overall I enjoyed myself and don’t feel it was time or money wasted. I gave it a 7/10 (in comparison I gave the first one 9/10), and really hope they get a handle on the fan service for the next movie.