Remember how in the original Star Trek film series the even-numbered movies were the best? Apparently the current revisionist Abramsverse has flipped the script on that old adage, as this second entry is a step down from the superior first film. Some bitter fans have recently taken to calling this the worst Trek film of all time, which is complete rubbish when comparing it to clear winner Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or even the last Next Generation film if you want to bring them into play. No, this isn’t an entirely bad film, it just falls into the same trap as Superman Returns: sacrificing originality for nostalgia, but changing up the formula of that nostalgia so significantly that it alienates both old and new fans. It’s easy to imagine the giddy teenager-at-heart J.J. Abrams geeking out as he staged this reboot of the most fondly-remembered Trek film of all time, and it’s still great fun to see the energy he brings to the material, but unlike the bravura plot constructed for his first outing, this voyage ultimately falls flat.
Things start off promisingly enough, with our rakish young Kirk defying Starfleet protocol and Vulcan logic on a dangerous mission gone awry. When faced with the choice of letting Spock die in a fiery volcano or violating the Prime Directive, he opts to expose the concealed Enterprise to the pre-industrial inhabitants of a lush red planet in order to save his pointy-eared pal. The quality uptick continues with the easy banter between the well-cast crew members, some intrigue that finds Kirk temporarily relieved of command, and the introduction of terrorism at the heart of Starfleet orchestrated by imposing bad guy John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). I had some misgivings about the usually heroic Cumberbatch playing evil, but he proves more than up to the task, delivering a fully menacing performance that can cause maximum discomfort with as little as a brief intelligent, steely gaze.
With our antagonist exposed and our crew back in action, the two sides continue their battle in space as they boldly go into the final act. That’s where the film veers completely off the rails. I was largely entertained by the film up until the time the Enterprise is knocked out of commission and someone has to expose themselves to massive amounts of radiation in order to get their engines back online. Sound familiar? What follows is a reimagining of key Trek lore that deviates from the source and yet hews so closely to it that I watched in slack-jawed disbelief as the final scenes unspooled, hoping that they really weren’t going to play out the way they were headed. They did. Even the death that was so monumental in the original film is treated with contempt here, with a ridiculously easy resolution that removes all impact of the event regardless of your familiarity with the source material. And let’s not even get into the phone-a-friend scene that will act as an unfortunate likely coda to one legendary Trek career.
Let’s lay the blame where it belongs: not entirely on Abrams, but on his long-time stable of writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof. The cast is great, the effects and action are more than up to the task, the pacing is fine, and most of the film is fun, but that horrendous final act just smacks of laziness on the part of the writers. They should have known better than to tamper so severely with legacy, they should have worked harder to craft a meaningful conclusion, but as it stands, the film feels like they just ran out of ideas and went with whoever said “wouldn’t it be cool if…” first. Although it will be a shame if this four-year mission of the Enterprise has reached its conclusion, they shouldn’t bother exploring any more new worlds until they have their next script in order. Please don’t beam it in next time.
The Blu-ray image and sound quality are spectacular, with brilliant and precise image definition and immersive Dolby 7.1 TrueHD sound. Bonus features are a mixed bag, apparently due to some shenanigans at Paramount. The standard Blu-ray release comes with a half hour of bonus features of the standard making of variety, with detailed looks at the baddie, the Klingons, and one key action scene, but depending on where you buy your copy you may also be eligible for other retailer-exclusive features, packaging, and even director commentary that aren’t standard options. That commentary track currently isn’t even available on physical Blu-ray, existing solely as an iTunes download. Retailer exclusives are nothing new of course, but the breadth of alternate bonus feature offerings for this release, as well as the very noticeable omission of commentary track on the Blu-ray release, smack of a money-grubbing studio maneuver and a probable setup for a later all-inclusive special edition, further incurring the ire of the fanbase. The Blu-ray combo pack is rounded out with a DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy.