One of the coolest sequences in the latest Star Trek movie — the silent plummeting of several members of the Enterprise’s crew through space as lights play across the clear visors of their helmets — looks a lot like 2001, A Space Odyssey. A subsequent fight on the small platform of a giant drill seems inspired by the (much more exciting) fight on the floating ship at the start of Return of the Jedi. A ship that tries to make the jump to light speed finds its engine fizzling instead, as in Star Wars. And when one giant beast nabs another as it’s about to eat Captain Kirk on an ice planet, the moment is practically spliced in from Jurassic Park.
J.J. Abrams’ barely competent reboot of the franchise provides a reasonably engaging story with a time-travel twist and a nice set of special effects. Planets implode and ships zip through black holes. Perhaps the most useful effect, on Eric Bana as the evil head Romulan, is the makeup that renders him unrecognizable. I’ve had my fill of Bana appearances in summer blockbusters, so it’s fine with me if he disappears with a shaved head and face tats that make him look like a biker dude gone to seed.
The movie, which departs from established Star Trek mythology in several respects, starts with an effective scene about the birth of Kirk. He and Spock grow up on different planets but with the same misunderstood-outsider pose. Spock, who as a boy is being bullied for being half-human (his mother is played by Winona Ryder), also represents the movie’s half-thought plea for civil rights. Spock considers himself a victim because the academy admits him on some sort of affirmative action deal for half-Vulcans.
Meanwhile, Kirk, growing up in Iowa, is a chaos-loving townie growing up near the Starfleet Academy, taking out his frustrations on the accelerator of his hot rod. Like the later fight scene on top of the drill platform, a car-chase bit that illustrates his wild side is clumsily cut. It’s supposed to be exciting but it isn’t, with its images thrown together in a salad.