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You might be pretty far into Star Trek, JJ Abrams' reboot of the sci fi grand-daddy before you put your finger on what it is about this time out that feels so different. It's not that it seems that, for the first time in franchise history, the set designers have been asked to come up with something new, but . . . but . . .
Well. OK. It is sort of that, although what the set designers appear to have come up with could be described as "Apple Store." But never mind the fact that the Enterprise looks new and exciting. I was making a point.
It's not so much that the action has been ramped up, or that the space battles have been given a sense of . . . well, of space, so that you can (for example) conceive of where each vessel in a space battle actually is, as opposed to (say) just being a model on a viewscreen, but . . .
Well, OK. It is that, too. All too often in the past, space battles on Trek have been a lot like watching somebody play a video game. Abrams delivers the action, as well as a twisty plot that miraculously manages to carve out room for original Kirk/Spock stories without going urinal on the vintage memories. Yay, him.
No, those aren't the aspects of the movie upon which you'll be trying to put your finger. It's that, in the Abrams world, Trek is more about the muscular action and the cool set design, and less about the ideas, more about the individual hero and less about the team. Yes, there is plenty in here about alternate pocket dimensions, etc., and each youthful team member (Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, Scotty, Bones and more are all in attendance) gets their brief moment to shine, but really it's all about Kirk (Chris Pine, channeling Shatner smarm by way of Buzz Lightyear plasticity) and Spock (Zachary Qinto of the great philosophical TV epic Heroes, once again winning Best Eyebrows) and their simmering sexual tension/battle for control. Will the calm, cold, rational Spock, with his years of training and obvious competence and logic, find the path to victory? Or will it be Kirk, with his his total lack of interest in any of those things, his impulse control problems, his. . . um, collagen-injected lips and . . . well, everybody really liked his dad. And people keep saying that Kirk is brilliant, even though he acts like a cocker spaniel who just drank a Red Bull.
Whatever. Spock realizes that Kirk is totes The One and cedes the reins of the Enterprise to Eyebrows McLips. This makes no sense, and pretty much unequivocally makes the point that the popular jock who never studies and has everything handed to him should naturally be in charge of things. I'm not sure that's the message our age needs, but hey! Did I mention the space battles were pretty awesome? They were. Just don't look for any of the larger pop sci-fi ideas that usually clutter up the doings, not this time out anyway.
I think it's fun, but I'm not sure it's Star Trek.
On the other hand, almost all Star Trek movies have kind of sucked, so . . .
On the other hand, I'm out of points to make. And hands.