Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Star Trek (2009) Part 1

"Boldly go where no one has gone before... for the first time."

The original Star Trek series is everything that is RIGHT with science fiction. You can deride it for its laughably bad special effects and questionable acting (if you're a soulless killjoy), but you can't deny its heart was literally in the most perfect place ever: a future where the human race has set aside all of its differences and united in the cause of making the universe a better place. Sure, it had its flaws such as gender wise it wasn't as progressive as it could have been with the majority of the women wearing micro skirts and being relegated to support roles, but it was still head and shoulders above anything else at the time.

It was by far my favourite show as a kid and fostered my lifelong long for sci-fi, a love that only grew as I got older and began to appreciate the deeper themes and social allusions of the show. Case in point: I PROUDLY identify myself as a TREKKIE and know wayyyyyy more about the show than I should admit in casual company.

Naturally when I learned Paramount was rebooting the franchise I was scared because I didn't want to see one of my most beloved works of fiction given the Godawful treatment so many other classic franchises have received. This fear escalated to sheer terror when I heard they were putting this huge responsibility in the hands of director J.J. Abrams, a man who had just burned me with a little show called LOST. And yes, I know he had almost nothing to do with the later seasons but at the time it was impossible to see his name and not get filled with dread.

Breaking with the usual tradition on here, I have seen this movie already. Twice, in fact. But that was only as a fan and not the smug nitpicking bastard I've become so it's time to see if it can survive my snark-o-vision intact, especially due to the fact this was written by kings of the blockbuster Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Grab your best green skinned gal, slap on some Vulcan ears, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Star Trek (2009)!

The film opens with the U.S.S. Kelvin investigating a strange lightning based anomaly in space, and right off the bat I'm going to bitch about my biggest problem with this movie that I've always had: the lens flares. Oh Lord, the lens flares. There is almost no shot in this film that isn't bathed in retina searing light, a trademark of Abrams's work that was cranked up to ELEVEN for this movie. He has since apologized for his excessive fetish, but BLOODY HELL is it bad here. Total Recall, you are officially off the hook.  Captain Robau calls in the disturbance to Starfleet, who are as mystified as to what it can be as he is. A TERRIFYING black ship emerges from the anomaly, so massive that it makes the Kelvin look like a little toy. It immediately opens fire on the Kelvin, completely disabling its weapon and warp drive systems.

The Kelvin gets a hail from the First Officer of the ship, demanding Robau come aboard to negotiate a cease fire. Robau starts heading towards the shuttle bay, asking his second in command to walk with him. The second in command is played by Mr. Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, who is actually making his cinematic debut here. Robau orders him to evacuate the ship if he doesn't return in fifteen minutes as he steps into an elevator, his last words being “You're captain now, Mr. Kirk.”.

Robau boards a ship and heads over to the enemy ship, where he is taken to meet with the captain of it, Nero. Nero is played by Eric Bana in what I consider EASILY his greatest performance to date, it's one of those increasingly all too rare times where the actor NAILED playing a compelling villain from the word “go”. Nero doesn't talk though, instead he just sits in his throne and looks bad ass while his second in command, Ayel, does all the talking for him.

Ayel projects a hologram of a strange looking ship, asking Robau if he's seen it. Robau doesn't answer, demanding to know why they've attacked his ship. Ayel brings up a hologram of the legendary Spock, asking if Robau if he knows where “Ambassador Spock” is. The Starfleet captain has no idea who this is, so Ayel asks him what the current stardate is.  Robau replies it's 2233.04, which REALLY pisses Nero off for some reason. He activates his multi-bladed spear and MURDERS THE SHIT out of his fellow captain. The Kelvin detects this immediately, Kirk ordering the ship to take evasive maneuvers as Nero's ship begins to open fire. He has the ship evacuated, as we add even more drama to the tension as his wife is about to give birth to their baby. He has her taken to a medical escape pod, promising he's on his way to join her.

This plan quickly goes to hell as Nero's attack takes out the ship's autopilot, forcing Kirk to stay behind and engage Nero long enough so all the escape pods can jettison to safety. He contacts his wife to tell her this in an incredibly emotional moment which gives way to an orchestral score as the shuttles fly to safety. The Kelvin almost completely disabled, Kirk plots a collision course towards Nero's ship. He calls his wife one last time, able to hear the cries of his newborn son. They decide to name him Jim right as the Kelvin collides with Nero's ship and destroys part of it.

PHENOMENAL opening, still one of the best in recent times and probably a lot further back than that. Also, how is it that in five minutes the painfully bland Chris Hemsworth turned in his most memorable and nuanced performance to date?  We cut to Iowa many years later, as we see a young boy driving a 1965 Chevy Corvette along the highway at breakneck speeds. On a NOKIA (yay for product placement in a Star Trek movie!) touchscreen built into the car, he gets a call from his stepfather who angrily demands he return the car. The boy hangs up on him and cranks up the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage”, which is something I NEVER thought I'd write in a Star Trek review.

His joyriding soon draws the attention of a police officer on a hover bike, ordering him to pull over. The boy responds by turning onto a dirt road, which soon takes him to the edge of a cliff. He jumps out of the car at the last second as the car goes crashing into the ravine in a nice slow motion shot, dusting himself off and nonchalantly asking “Is there a problem officer?”. I LIKE this kid's style! The cop asks who he is as we learn his name is James Tiberius Kirk, like there was every ANY doubt of his identity.

We jump across the galaxy to the planet Vulcan, so we can meet the other half of the interstellar duo, as we see Spock as a young boy. He's getting bullied by other Vulcans for being half human, because while Vulcans are emotionless aliens who worship logic they DAMN SURE aren't above good ol' fashioned racism. They cross the line when they call Spock's human mother a whore, leading to him PULPING one's face into oblivion.

Later Spock's father Ambassador Sarek comes to discuss the incident with him, explaining he needs to learn to control his feelings so they don't control him. We skip ahead further to when Spock is a young man, talking with his mother over his upcoming- HOLY SHIT IT'S WINONA RYDER! What happened to hear, anyway? She was one of the biggest stars in the world and then just vanished from the face of said world. I know she had that whole shoplifting scandal, but was that really enough to sink her career? Hell, in this day and age of celebs getting more popular for doing something illegal she would have become a Mega Superstar for that.

Spock is now played by ultra awesome actor Zachary Quinto of Heroes fame, who actively lobbied for the role as well as being the number one choice of the fans to play the much beloved character. I honestly can't think of a more perfect choice to play Spock, Quinto was truly born for the role. Hell, you can say that for basically every single actor Abrams cast in this movie.

Anyway that's enough gushing for now, Spock is preparing to undertake the Kolinahr discipline, which will purge all emotion from him. This involves joining the Vulcan Science Academy, which has to be approved by a committee of fellow Vulcans. They readily approve him, but when the Vulcan minister makes an offhand remark about Spock's mother being a “disadvantage”, Spock is all “FUCK YOU, I'm joining Starfleet!”. Spock really loves his mother, in case you haven't got that by now.

Back to Iowa, where a grown up Kirk is hanging out at a bar filled with Starfleet recruits getting read to ship out the next morning. Kirk is now played by Chris Pine, but really more like Chris FINE AMIRITE ladies?! This was Pine's big breakout role, as his largest film role to date had been co-starring in Princess Diaries 2, which apparently was a thing. You'll probably get tired of me saying this, but like everyone else so far Pine hit his role right on the target. He's as wonderfully cocky as you'd imagine a young James Kirk being, with just the right amount of invincibility and swagger mixed in.

He is immediately drawn to one of the recruits, flirting with her and learning her name is Uhura. She is portrayed by the lovely Zoe Saldana, who I'd say currently rivals Jennifer Lawrence as the most popular actress in Hollywood today. He asks what her first name is, but before he can find out four douchebag recruits tell him to quit bothering her. She tells them she doesn't need their help, but things quickly erupt into a bar room brawl because this IS a bar, after all.

Starfleet Captain Pike puts a halt to the fight, ordering everyone outside. He talks with Kirk, as he is a huge fan of his father. Looking up Kirk's record and finding he has a genius level IQ, he suggests he enlist in Starfleet which Kirk just laughs off. Pike says with his talents he could be an officer in four years and have his own ship within eight, but Kirk isn't listening at this point. Pike leaves, daring him to do better than his father who was a captain for only twelve minutes but managed to save 800 lives.

This gets through, as Kirk does indeed show up to board the departing Starfleet shuttles the next morning. He tells Pike he'll “do it in three years”. He takes a seat, meeting the next important figure in Star Trek lore, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Bones is played by yet another awesome actor, Karl Urban, because Abrams wanted ONLY the best for Star Trek. I remember watching this in the theater and just constantly feeling optimism for what was unfolding before me.

Watching it now, I am aware that the characters aren't as layered as they used to be, rather the film takes their biggest defining trait and makes it their entire character. This isn't really a criticism as much as it is an observation, because this is a movie versus a TV show so sacrifices have to be made. Bones was always frightened of technology to an extent on the show, something they ramped up for the twenty hour long movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This movie is playing homage to that, as Bones is now VERY afraid of technology and starts listing every single thing that can go wrong with a launch to Kirk. Kirk, speaking for generations of Star Trek fans, politely informs him that going into space is kind of part of the job. Bones replies that after his divorce he has nowhere else to go, that his wife got everything except his “bones”! HA! That's some clever freaking writing there.

Three years later we see Nero's ship flying through space, which raises a few questions to say the least. If you're like me, you're wondering WHERE THE FUCK WAS HE THE LAST TWO DECADES?! How does a ship that big just vanish after destroying a Starfleet cruiser? Was Nero binge watching all the shows he missed on Netflix? Not quite, the film will clumsily address this in awhile so stay tuned.  They arrive at a destination ordered by Nero, which Ayel tells him his empty. Nero says they will sit there and wait for the arrival of the one who allowed their home world to be destroyed, the same way they've waited 25 years for this moment. Right on cue the ship from the hologram in the beginning arrives via another lightning portal, Nero ordering the ship captured. He says “welcome back Spock!” as he watches the ship fly towards them.

On Earth, Kirk tells Bones he's taking the Kobayashi Maru for the third time. For those of you new to Star Trek, the Maru is a Starfleet space simulation test that is used to test candidates ready for command. The key is that the test is unwinnable as it involves being attacked by Klingon ships, rather designed to gauge character over anything else. Kirk, who doesn't believe in a no-win scenario, is confident he has found a way to pass it this time.

He tells Bones he has to go study, but somehow this takes the form of making out with the green skinned Cadet Gaila in her dorm room. It's a bit hard to recognize her with the green paint, but Gaila is actually played by Rachel Nichols whom you might remember from the WRETCHED film Alex Cross.  She is here because Abrams, like all good directors, is very loyal to his actors as he had previously worked with her on his increasingly weird sci-fi spy show Alias, which I would actually like to review someday because I have a LOT to say about that one.

Her roommate, who just happens to be Uhura, comes home early so Gaila makes Kirk hide under the bed. Uhura is excited because she just picked up an emergency transmission from a Klingon prison planet saying something has destroyed 47 of their ships, but before she can go into greater detail realizes there is someone under Gaila's bed. Kirk pops out and promptly gets kicked out, trying in vain again to get her first name.

This piece of crucial information gets kind of buried by all the sexy hi-jinx going on, so let's take a quick break to catch up. The cause of the emergency transmission was Nero, who was actually being held on the prison planet for those missing twenty-some years. This raises the immediate question: how did the Klingons capture the most badass ship in the galaxy?  We cut to the next day as Kirk is underway in his test, Uhura and Bones serving aboard the mock crew. This scene is hilarious, as Kirk is so unconcerned about the attacking Klingon ships that he starts eating an apple. He easily passes the test by destroying all the ships, which draws the ire of its creator, Commander Spock.

This leads to hearing presided over by the head of Starfleet Academy, Admiral Richard Barnett. Barnett is played by... TYLER PERRY?!?  Rhaaargh, too many Alex Cross flashbacks! Make it stop make it stop! Ahem, anyway Spock has accused Kirk of cheating on the test and they have a back and forth about the point of the test. Before anything can come of this, the Academy gets a distress call from Vulcan. Since the primary Federation fleet is deployed elsewhere, Barnett orders all available cadets to board ships and head out.

They are given their assignments, but Kirk is left behind as he's on academic suspension. Bones, assigned to the U.S.S. Enterprise, is about to board but then takes a look back at his friend and his heartbreakingly sad hang dog expression so he decides to do something about it.  Uhura has problems of her own, as she's been assigned to some loser ship and not the Enterprise. She tracks down the assignment officer, who just happens to be Spock. We learn she was a student of his in the academy as she bitches him out for not putting her where the real action is. He quickly backs downs and changes her assignment, proving he TRULY is a man of logic.

Across the base McCoy shoots Kirk up with some kind of vaccine that causes an allergic reaction in him and makes him very sick. WHY are their vaccines just lying around in plain sight in the hangar bay? That's kind of weird. Even weirder is this is enough for him to take Kirk aboard the Enterprise, because... he's sick? Wouldn't they REALLY want to keep him off the ship now? This is kind of silly, but whatever, Kirk's on the Enterprise where he belongs now.

The legendary ship is introduced to us via some Enterprise porn shots, but in a SHARP contrast to Star Trek: The Motion Picture they are maybe twenty seconds tops versus twenty YEARS in that nightmare of a film. Spock reports to the bridge and HOLY SHIT I have to stop a second and find my sunglasses to finish reviewing this. Up til this point, the movie has been moderate on the lens flares but here they go “SCREW IT!” and turn the Enterprise into a brightly lit rave that'd put a David Guetta concert to shame. It's almost like a parody from here on out.

Captain Pike orders the ship to Vulcan, which serves as our introduction to Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, played here by the surprisingly versatile John Cho. This scene is rather humourous as he forgets to disengage the “external inertial dampener”, leaving the Enterprise stranded at the base as the other ships warp off. It's likely he's the great-great-etc grandson of Harold Lee and was high off his balls, leading him to forget something so simple.

We meet the co-pilot of the ship next, Ensign Pavel Andreievich Chekov, a “Russian whiz kid” played by Anton Yelchin. 2009 was a huge year for Yelchin, between this and his featured role in the misguided Terminator Salvation, he acted in two films that grossed over $750 million dollars. Chekov's gimmick of speaking HEAVILY accented English has been, surprise surprise, cranked up to the the max here so we get he's the comic relief.

He announces to the crew that a lightning storm has been detected near Vulcan, which instantly catches Kirk's attention as he knows EXACTLY what that means. He races off to find Uhura, confirming that the attack on the Klingon colony was Romulan in nature. This is a bit of a flub if you're a non-Trekkie, as Nero and his crew are Romulans but this is the FIRST TIME the film has told us that. If you didn't recognize them by sight, right now you'd have no idea why Kirk is talking about Romulans.

We briefly cut to Vulcan, where we see Nero's ship has launched a giant tendril that is drilling into the surface of the planet. Kirk, Bones, and Uhura run to the bridge to tell Pike that Romulans are attacking Vulcan, Pike believing him and putting the ship on red alert. They warp into Vulcan airspace to find the rest of their fleet decimated, finding themselves under attack by Nero's superior weapons. However when Nero realizes this ship is the Enterprise, he calls off the attack and hails them. He does the ol' “I want your captain to come aboard bit”, Pike agreeing to save the ship.

As he gets ready to leave, he assembles a strike team of Kirk, Sulu, and Engineer Olson (whom we'll just save time and call “Red Shirt”) to lead a secret attack on the tendril attacking Vulcan. He leaves Spock in charge with the added twist of promoting CADET Kirk to First Officer, in what has to be the largest career jump in military history.

The trio ride along in Pike's shuttle up to a point, then leap out to do a “space jump” to land on the tendril's platform. Kirk and Sulu make it, but SHOCKINGLY Red Shirt does not. And, naturally, he was the one carrying the explosives to destroy the drill. Kirk and Sulu are attacked by two Romulans manning the platform, taking them out in a very well done and TOTALLY EASY TO FOLLOW fight sequence. The camera isn't shaking and it's not rammed into their sides, thus we can actually see what's going on so this feels like a real fight. CHEERS! This fight is even made cooler by the fact that Sulu takes out both the Romulans and saves Kirk, as the film is doing a decent job so far of making sure all the characters get some screen time.

Having no charges, the two improvise and start shooting the shit out of the drill until it quits working. Unfortunately, they're a bit too late as the drill has already reached the core of the planet. This allows Nero to launch a probe filled with “red matter” into the hole, which creates a singularity and starts destroying Vulcan.

Click here for Part 2!