Star Wars has never been better!
There is a scene about halfway through the new Star Trek film that neatly sums up the entire endeavor. In it, Kirk is stranded on Hoth--I mean an ice planet--where he is chased by a Ton-Ton--I mean ice monster--only to escape narrowly, before being chased by an even bigger monster!! Indeed, it is both the best and worst possible critique possible to say that in his re-booted Star Trek movie, J.J. Abrams has made the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. Eschewing the more traditional Trekker themes concerning ethical dilemmas, alien diplomacy, and the aforementioned heavy-handed messages of tolerance in favor of awesome space battles, action, adventure, hot young people, and a movie where the fate of entire galaxies rests on questions of fatherhood. All this proves once again that J.J. Spielberg Jr. really should have been given the reins to the Indiana Jones and the Jedi franchises, rather than have them totally defiled by whatever tripe spills out of George Lucas' face gullet, but as it stands he's ended up with Trek and made a movie that at the bare mininum has only a small, but tolerable, amount of precocious children and cute alien side-kicks/happy meals.
The critical consensus seems to be that this new Star Trek is of its moment, because it's fun and full of optimism about the future, which like our current Obama moment, is filled with an attractive, multi-racial, multi-species, "humanitarian" armada ready to deploy their galaxy-hopping mac-stores at a moment's notice. Indeed, it might be a testament to our national moment, that this is one of the first movies in recent memory to portray the future as something other than completely fucked up and overrun with the undead. Starfleet is quite a bold representation of "San Fransisco" values, as the film makes clear that its location is basically the Berkeley campus, but I wonder if we shouldn't take a closer look at the ramifications of such comparisons. If the Federation really is how we see our bright, shining, new future under our Vulcan president, what does that really say?
Well, first off, it means the future is an entirely militarized technocratic, hierarchy, though we are assured that this is only for non-aggressive, diplomatic purposes, "soft power" if you will. Wearing a uniform is the path to self-realization and fulfillment for all young people, and I'll be damned if the movie didn't make it look disturbingly awesome. Also I can't help but wonder if the critics didn't seem to notice that for a movie that is so fun and optimistic, a large portion of the plot revolves around a planet-wide holocaust of some six billion pointy-eared souls. This is largely unresolved by the end of the film, the destruction of an entire civilization really just a trivial stepping stone along the path to the films' biggest concern: will Kirk and Spock be friends? (Yes!)
It is the Kirk/Spock dynamic and origin story that is the center of the movie--though not quite enough "Slash" potential--and though it seems to fly in the face of the Trek motto that the needs of the many outweigh the few, in favor of the needs of some kick-ass twenty-somethings outweigh that of the entire universe, Chris Pine and Zach Quinto do a great job with their characters. The best part of the movie is seeing the cast do work and have fun with these iconic characters. Karl Urban does mostly an impression of "Bones" McCoy, but a great one. Of course, Simon Pegg steals scenes as Scotty, and "Harold" even gives a shout-out to Sulu's fencing abilities (sadly, he keeps his shirt on). Oh, and Uhuru? Super-hot, and thankfully she gets more to do than be a secretary. Eric Bana does good work as Romulan villain Nero, whose wacky and nonsensical space-time antics cause all kinds of problems for our heroes, and in doing so gives Abrams & Co. a whole new alternate time-line to run wild with for the next three or four Trek films. Maybe the next black hole they go through will send them to the island from Lost. I'm holding out hope for Terminator--please God, I don't want it to suck--but Star Trek is probably the best movie going this summer.
Bonus -- In addition to several shout-outs to Nokia and Budweiser--always nice to be reminded that such well known brands will still be going strong four centuries from now--there is scene in the beginning that I'm sure you've seen in the trailer, where a ten year old Kirk tools out in his step-father's now antique convertible. What you won't get in the trailer, is that that Kirk is pumping The Beastie Boys' 'Sabatoge' on the car's radio. I just like the idea that in the 24th century, you can listen to classical music like "Ill Communication."
The Federation's cultural archaeologists have deduced that this is an example of "rap music", and from what they can tell it was a form of music pioneered by mostly jewish kids from the "Upper West Side" of Manhattan, growing out of similar traditions like Klezmer.
Update -- For all you Slash fans in full Pon Far...