Since the Golden Globe nominees were announced last week, I’ve seen a number of references to J.J. Abrams’ getting “snubbed” in the best director category for his “Star Trek” reboot — even that it should have gotten a “best picture” nom.
Now, I’m a big J.J. fan. His “Alias” and “Lost” shows are high-water marks in popular culture. I even sort of enjoyed his “Mission Impossible” installment (marred only by his penchant for the ol’ “perfect-disguise face swapping” trope). And I’m even a reasonably big Trek fan. But this movie was not the finest hour for either.
“Star Trek” is undeniably a brilliant reboot, which makes it a notable accomplishment all on its own. It manged to make this creaky old franchise relevant again, by introducing characters with depth and a sense of urgency about them. Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk is one of those surprise performances that make you rethink the character you know so well; outside of Trek circles (and heck, even inside some) Kirk had become kind of synonymous with buffoonish swagger and scenery chewing. Pine makes him crackle, to use a noxious reviewer word.
If anything, J.J. and his writers — Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman — deserved Globes, even Oscars, for the category “Best Character Development in an Overstuffed Ensemble.” Movie-makers should take notes on how the entire herd of A- and B-list Trek characters makes an appearance and has something relevant to do. Nobody is window dressing. No character is on screen simply as part of a fanboy checklist. That alone is a rare and satisying outcome of this reboot.
Tension stayed high throughout, as well. Someone was always in deep doodoo, and it never felt tiresome. (I’m not sure how they accomplished this. When Something Perilous is always On The Verge of Happening, it can make the story feel cheap and manipulative, but I found the constant jeopardy of the crew to be plausible, which makes it enjoyable. Another kudos, you writers.)
While good characters are usually more important than good plot, it’s the plot that sinks this movie’s Globe hopes, in my opinion. The story ball gets dropped squarely on the plot and its vanilla villain. Eric Bana makes the most of the tattooed brooder, Nero, but ultimately he has little evil-doing to do. There’s a time travel element, and a years-of-simmering-revenge element, and even an appearance by Nimoy himself, but none of these things covers up the fact that the plot drivers were directing traffic from the back seat. Given how carefully the characters were developed, I was a bit surprised that the central story felt so casually dashed out.
But maybe that’s the point. Perhaps the evil villain and his dish-served-cold weren’t the central story at all. Maybe J.J. thinks the character coalescence is really the hero’s quest in this film. Maybe if I think of it this way, I’ll enjoy the second viewing a whole lot more than the first.