For its shrinking but famously rabid band of devotees, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek—along with the four spin-offs it spawned—has always been more than a ripping-good sci-fi Western; it is a grand utopian vision of our future grounded in a generous view of human nature. Star Trek asks hard philosophical and political questions with the unwavering faith that we, as a people, are up to the challenge, and the belief that the answers it gives can reveal to us an image of our best selves. But probing optimism doesn’t increase Paramount shareholder value. After the success of The Next Generation in the late Eighties and early Nineties, ratings for subsequent incarnations of Star Trek went into a free fall, and recent movie sequels haven’t fared any better at the box office. The cancellation of Enterprise in 2005 marked a nadir for the franchise, and for a time, it seemed unlikely to recover.
In this context, J.J. Abrams has taken a sly approach in trying to reboot the franchise with the latest cinematic Star Trek installment. Judging by the first ten films, it’s nearly impossible to make a good-to-great Star Trek picture (the success rate hovers around 30-40%—The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country, and First Contact undoubtedly qualify, and maybe The Voyage Home, depending on who you consult). Spirited, exciting, and richly entertaining though it may be, the latest Star Trek doesn’t even try to be a good Star Trek movie—and by the standards of the franchise, it certainly isn’t (this seems to be Abrams’s apparently successful trick). Abrams’s film has nothing profound or significant to say, but as a blockbuster adventure picture, it satisfies in spite of (and, in part, because of) its relentless superficiality.
Click here to read the rest of Chris Wisniewski’s review of Star Trek.