Star Trek has been around for 50 years. The first nationally televised episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” originally aired on September 8th, 1966, and, from then on, the series has seen its commercial and creative ups and downs. To some, Star Trek has always been at its best on television, while others prefer the grandeur of the films.
Of all the Star Trek films, none have been bigger or more bombastic than the reboot series, created by J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost, Felicity, Mission: Impossible III), and featuring an all new cast playing younger versions of the crew from the original series. As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the groundbreaking and progressive science fiction saga, a third film in the reboot series, Star Trek Beyond, is coming to theaters on July 22nd.
Despite, or perhaps even because of, their commercial success, the reboot series is a polarizing subject among Trekkies, equally loved and loathed by fans all over the world. For this list, we’re going to take a look at both sides, dissecting both the good and the bad of the reboot films. Here are 15 Things The Star Trek Reboots Got Right… And Got Wrong.
First off, 2009’s Star Trek won universal acclaim for its reimagining of the original series’ cast with 21st century actors who recalled the original performances without being impersonators. Lifelong Trekkie Simon Pegg as Scotty won universal acclaim, as did the late, great Anton Yelchin as Chekov and Karl Urban as Dr. ‘Bones’ Mccoy. Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto were praised for taking their characters outside of their usual boundaries, with Spock in particular being a younger and more emotionally vulnerable version of the more rigidly logical classic incarnation. Plus, featuring the original actor, Leonard Nimoy, in a substantial role (and a cameo in the sequel) is the icing on the cake of legitimacy for the reboot films.
Some people aren’t as keen on Chris Pine’s take on the legendary James T. Kirk, feeling that he’s too “normal” in comparison to the larger-than-life William Shatner, who imbued his Kirk with a righteous authority that Pine simply lacks. Pine’s younger, less disciplined, Kirk resembles a frat boy prone to temper tantrums, though he does grow into the role as the films go on. By the end of Into Darkness, we’re confident that he’s the Captain Kirk we all know and love, but it will be up to Star Trek Beyond to prove this to truly be the case.
Bad: Lack of Intimate Character Drama
The cast isn’t wasted, but the scripts for the new Trek films are just too kinetic for anyone to truly get to test their acting chops. There are moments here and there, but nothing that can compare to William Shatner and Christopher Plummer trading verbal jabs in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, or the subtle and nuanced performances in episodes of the original series like one of our personal favorites, “The Conscience of the King.”
Star Trek Into Darkness fares somewhat better in this regard, but lost a lot of fans during its minutes-long sequence in which Pine’s Kirk, rather than using his words as an adult should, delivers a laughable and ineffective beatdown on Benedict Cumberbatch’s John “I’m Definitely Not Khan” Harrison. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk and Khan never actually share a scene in person, nor do they have a sequence of hand-to-hand combat. To be honest, we’re not sure if Chris Pine’s Kirk possesses the gravitas to engage his enemies without falling into a superfluous action scene. We’d love to find out, but it would be up to Paramount to allow the films to be so bold.
Good: Special Effects & Production Design
Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Star Trek and it’s 2013 sequel are gorgeous films. The 2009 film was actually supposed to be a 2008 film, but was pushed back from Christmas to the following summer, which gave ILM extra time to fine tune the special effects, and it definitely shows. We still get chills during the scene where the Enterprise emerges from hyperspace with phasers firing; it’s an image that 50 years worth of children have visualized in their heads, but had never really been seen in its full glory on the big screen.
The foot chase at the end of Into Darkness is another highlight, showing more of Earth than we usually see in Trek, and showing off the magnificent power of a righteously enraged Vulcan with a kinetic energy never before seen in the franchise. Then, of course, there’s the bridge of the Enterprise, which is a totally new beast compared to the original, but which still works well with only slightly-updated versions of the classic uniforms.
Bad: Dumb Action Movie
With an increased focus on fancy special effects and mind-blowing action sequences comes a decreased emphasis on making an intelligent script. While Trek at its best has always told sci-fi stories about real world issues and themes (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” Star Trek VI, “A Taste of Armageddon”), the J.J. Abrams movies rely more on flashy effects, broad characterization, and full-tilt momentum to keep the audience barreling through to the end credits. Into Darkness fares somewhat better than its predecessor in this regard, as it is more of a political thriller (though not nearly as relevant to real-life politics as its detractors, and even screenwriter and certifiable conspiracy nut Bob Orci himself, would have you believe) which gets conveniently hijacked by Khan in its final act.
Pardon us for repeatedly going back to Star Trek VI (which, for our money, has the best mix of action, drama, character, plot, and spectacle in all of Star Trek), but that movie takes the time to have General Chang read Hamlet in an alien language and then comment, “Shakespeare is best when read in the original Klingon.” It’s okay to let these movies breathe, ebb, and flow; we don’t want or need a massive action sequence every fifteen minutes if there’s enough meat in the script to keep us enthralled by the characters or the heavy themes of the story.
Good: Nostalgia & Fanservice
From the design of the Enterprise and costuming, to the way Anton Yelchin’s Chekov pronounced his “V”s; from the presence of Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) as Kirk’s predecessor in the captain’s chair, to the mention of “Admiral Archer” and his prized beagle, there are winks and nods abound in Star Trek 2009, to say nothing of the presence of Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role, 28 years after appearing in Star Trek VI, the grand finale of the original series.
Many have argued that Star Trek Into Darkness is overly reliant on the past, that it echoes scenes and imagery from Wrath of Khan too closely to be able to stand on its own two feet. We hope that Star Trek Beyond takes a step back and errs closer to the 2009 film with enough subtle fanservice and nostalgic imagery for longtime fans, but with an entirely original story that doesn’t require any prior Trek knowledge to appreciate on its own merits. An encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek should enhance one’s viewing experience; it should not be a requirement for entry.
Bad: No William Shatner… Yet.
There’s a fine line between fanservice and shameless pandering, which is probably why this hasn’t happened yet, but on one level, it’s entirely inexcusable that the original James T. Kirk, William Shatner, has yet to make a formal appearance in the Star Trek reboots. The main problem is that a mere cameo would not suffice, for fans or for the man himself; legend has it he was offered a cameo in the 2009 film, as an archival recording of himself, but Shatner wanted a more substantial role, on par with Nimoy’s, and turned it down.
The latest rumor that made the rounds last year was that Shatner would appear as an older version of Chris Pine’s Kirk, which would be cool… But not cool enough. It’s gotta be all or nothing. We’re talking the Enterprise going into the future of the Prime universe and rescuing Kirk from his untimely and underwhelming fate at the end of Star Trek: Generations, setting the stage for the continued adventures of Captain Kirk in the 24th century.
Good: Sequel, Prequel, and Reboot, All at the Same Time
Nobody likes reboots. Even the good ones are met with a level of hate and vitriol that a distant sequel or revival would not receive. Fans feel betrayed by reboots, like their long-term love and support of a franchise is being totally ignored just to appease a younger audience.
Star Trek found the best solution for this conundrum with its creative use of time -travel and alternate realities; Spock, after the events of the forgettable Star Trek: Nemesis, accidentally time travels back to the past, taking a powerful mining ship, full of vengeful Romulans, with him. This makes Star Trek 2009 a sequel and a prequel. Said mining ship launches an unprovoked attack on a Federation ship, creating an alternate timeline. This makes the film a reboot, since the events of this new timeline are in no way beholden to the original timeline, and the timeline is altered enough for sufficient artistic license when it comes to redesigning familiar elements. For example, did you know that Enterprise in the 2009 film is nearly three times as large as Enterprise from the original series?
Fun Fact: Star Trek’s time-travel shenanigans were the inspiration for 2011’s Mortal Kombat game, which featured Thunder God Raiden, at the end of the battle featured in MK: Armageddon, sending a message to his younger self from the original MK game, who then tries to alter events to save the future from the devastation of Shao Khan’s rule. It’s was both a reboot and a sequel, and everybody loved it!
Star Trek has always billed itself as being a show focused on original ideas; strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations… Basically, it was a show that went where no man had gone before, so to speak. One can imagine the endless eye-rolling when we discovered that the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness was Khan, a character who had already appeared in an episode of the original series, as well as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
But no discussion of the unoriginal reprisal of the classic villain is complete without mentioning the unforgivable whitewashing of the casting. Khan was envisioned as a Sikh, and of Indian heritage. In the episode “Space Seed” and the film, Wrath of Khan, the character was played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban; not exactly spot-on casting, but to have any person of color being a legitimate threat to the white hero of a network show, both physically and mentally, was a progressive move, one of many for which Star Trek became famous. For the character to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in Into Darkness was a shame. Cumberbatch isn’t just a white actor; he’s literally the whitest actor.
Benedict Cumberbatch looks nothing like Ricardo Montalban, and the character’s change of race in Star Trek, a series that broke ground with its multicultural casting, is nothing short of a travesty. But here’s the thing: Benedict is actually excellent in the role. As easy as it is to bemoan some aspects of the reboot’s version of the character (and believe us, we bemoan the hell out of it), it’s an incredibly watchable performance, and one of the main highlights of Star Trek Into Darkness.
As much as we try, we can’t help but love Cumberbatch’s raw, menacing, cunning, and duplicitous version of Khan. He kicks so much butt in the film, and chews the scenery in classic Star Trek style. The way he hijacks the plot from the evil Admiral Marcus feels so natural and impressive, and the final act of Star Trek Into Darkness absolutely vibrates with palpable tension, high stakes, and unique action sequences which differentiate themselves from the whiz-bang action of the 2009 film.
Bad: Star Trek 2009’s Script
Warts and all, we love Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness. One thing that always bugged us about Star Trek 2009 is how the script is so full of plot holes, we imagine it must have been printed on slices of swiss cheese. It’s one element where even the most ardent haters must admit, Star Trek Into Darkness fares much better, as the script is much tighter and holds up much better against scrutiny, Tribble Ex Machina notwithstanding.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the logical gaps of the film. In Star Trek 2009, Spock maroons Kirk on a desolate planet where he is promptly set upon by a giant, Cloverfield-esque monster. Had Kirk would up as worm food (the overwhelmingly likely outcome), Spock would be downright guilty of murder. Then Kirk, after making a miraculous escape, is rescued by none other than the original timeline’s Spock, who had been marooned by Nero. We’re not sure how large Delta Vega is, but it’s one hell of a coincidence that Kirk is marooned within walking distance of Spock, and they both are able to hike to a small outpost where none other than Montgomery Scott is in his own form of exile. Scott, of course, is handed the formula for trans-warp beaming on a silver platter by the elderly Spock, which allows himself and Kirk to beam from Delta Vega all the way back to Enterprise, which by now is roughly a million billion miles away. What’d they do, use The Force?
Speaking of trans-warp beaming, if someone can be beamed from one side of the galaxy to another, what’s the point of even having spaceships? Thinking too hard about these serious script issues has caused multiple members of the Screen Rant staff to go permanently cross-eyed.
Good: Peter Weller in Into Darkness
In comparison to the Star Wars-esque story of Star Trek 2009, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness is a considerably tighter affair. The Enterprise is sent on a military op which fuels disillusionment among the crew until the mission is revealed to be the work of a warhawk admiral, who is then overthrown by Khan through a series of expensive-looking fight scenes and stunt sequences.
Said “warhawk admiral” is played by none other than Peter Weller, who had earlier helped to soften the blow of Star Trek: Enterprise’s cancellation with guest appearances in two of its last and best episodes, “Demons” and “Terra Prime.” Weller’s character, Alexander Marcus, turns out to be the father of Carol Marcus, who, in the Prime timeline, is Captain Kirk’s baby mama.
Weller imbues his character with a self-righteous and foreboding aura that makes him equally charismatic and off-putting, which makes the audience uniquely drawn to him, as well as anxiously unsettled by his deceptive nature. It’s not a classically Star Trek performance, and in a film so beholden to convention, it stands tall as one of the few elements that dares to be different.
Bad: Glossed-Over Utopian Future
In Star Trek, humanity has been through devastating wars and come through to the other side, enlightened and wiser. After an entire history defined by human-on-human violence and endless war, mankind finally reaches peace with itself. In Star Trek’s version of the 23rd century, humanity has completed its mission on Earth and has set its sights on the stars. Indeed, the future of Star Trek is a veritable utopia, where the concept of money no longer exists and every person is an equal and beloved member of society, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Star Trek 2009, on the other hand, has Kirk getting into a bar fight after unsuccessfully trying to flirt with Uhura. Both reboot films feature scenes set in bars, and, while nobody is shown paying for any drinks, that element of society is never remarked upon, and is more of an Easter Egg for fans than a commentary on the potential (and hopeful) future of humanity.
Good: Leonard Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy made his bones as Spock, First Officer/Science Officer of the USS Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike and then James Kirk, in The Original Series. He continued to play the role in all six Original Series films, with a guest appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Star Trek 2009, Spock serves as the connective tissue between “old” Trek and “new” Trek, and his scenes are among the best in the film, especially his extensive sequences with Chris Pine, where he really draws out the inner Kirk from Pine’s somewhat unfocused performance in the rest of the film. Pine surely took note, as he delivers much more of a showcase performance in the sequel, and we have extensively high hopes for him in Star Trek Beyond.
Nimoy returned for a minor-yet-crowd-pleasing cameo in Star Trek Into Darkness, in which he tells his alternate-timeline self how to combat Khan. Leonard Nimoy passed away in February 2015, and Star Trek Into Darkness, the blockbuster 185 million dollar film continuation of the little NBC show that became a cultural phenomenon, stands as his final film role.
Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek 2009 and its sequel makes the movies more real, more legitmate. They’re not just pretenders to the throne, they’re the next chapter in the never-ending human adventure that is Star Trek.
Bad: Split The Fanbase Right Down the Middle
Star Trek has had strong periods of creative and commercial success, and its had its off-seasons; season 2 of Enterprise, for example, or Star Trek: Insurrection. Just awful.
However, Star Trek 2009 opened up the franchise to wide mainstream appeal, and for that reason alone, longtime Trekkies felt like their exclusive club was being invaded by regular people who never watched the show, that their favorite sci-fi universe was being dumbed down for general audiences, and that the recasting of figures like Kirk and Khan was nothing short of sacrilege. On the other hand, more accepting or easy-going fans welcomed the new films — and the Junior Trekkies that came with them — with open arms, understanding that Trek needed to evolve to survive and that the new films still carried the DNA of the originals.
Perhaps the worst thing about the new Trek films is that they divided the fandom, with the more militant Trekkies declaring Trek ruined forever, and one fan convention naming Into Darkness the worst Trek film of all time. Really, guys? Even worse than Star Trek V, Insurrection, Nemesis, and Generations? Gimme a break.
Good: Made Star Trek Popular and Cool Again
We’re getting a new Star Trek television series in 2017. The truth is, a new TV series would not be forthcoming if it wasn’t for the resounding success of the Star Trek reboot films. Star Trek, while popular, was something of an exclusive fandom, almost impenetrable for casual viewers. When Star Trek 2009 blew up the domestic box office, earning over $250 million in ticket sales, the vast library of Star Trek episodes and films (ten films, and over 700 episodes of television) became hip again, with their timeless themes and socially relevant storylines reaching a whole new generation of viewers.
In addition, IDW is publishing Star Trek comic books, meaning that there are even more Trek adventures to be discovered by fans old and new. Regardless of one’s opinions on the Trek reboots, there’s no denying how awesome it is to see kids dressing up as Spock for Halloween again, and discovering the original stories by way of the new movies.
So, do you love the Star Trek reboots? Do you hate them? Do you enjoy them but prefer the Prime timeline? Or do you love it all? Maybe you’re a Star Wars person who wandered here by accident, in which case, thanks for reading this whole article. Whatever your opinion, sound off in the comments section! But keep it civil, for Star Trek is all about peace and love.