With the new Star Trek movie coming out soon, I've been thinking more and more about the 2009 Star Trek reboot, too much probably but that's another story. I've grown to both hate it and have an unhealthy fascination with it. It's not a good movie. But you can see where it could have been a good movie, and that's where the fascination lies.
The movie actually has a lot going for it. The special effects are superb without seeming cartoonish (like the Star Wars prequels or Avatar). The sets are well designed, the casting is good to even inspired, the movie's fast-paced, doesn't take itself too seriously, has fun with itself, and throws a ton of welcome homages and references to the original series.
It's just the story that's an absolute wreck.
Really, there's so much going on in this movie, and it moves so fast, you don't even really notice at first one key thing: the plot is absolutely incomprehensible. It literally makes no sense. Let's review it, in detail.
Okay, look, I can't do that here. It's too convoluted and it'll take too long (Red Letter Media does a very good job of breaking it down, anyway). Besides, I only want to bash the story as a setup for my alternate story. So I'll assume you're familiar with the plot. If you want to debate me on this its putridity, have at it.
- We're supposed to believe that the Romulans, who have mastered faster-than-light travel, who have mining ships that can wipe out half a dozen Federation starships at a clip (at least in this movie they do), can't see a supernova coming in time to evacuate their home planet? Huh? What? Does that seem, you know, logical? The entire plot hinges on that point. If the Romulans evacuate, Nero's family lives, no revenge story.
Just unbelievably lazy writing. Really, people should get arrested for taking that out in public.
I don't have a problem with Abrams doing the whole shattered timeline thing so he can rewrite the history and characters the way he wants. I could even accept him destroying Vulcan and killing off Spock's mother, if the story made sense. Any sense.
Now, here's my alternate plot, which keeps to the idea of what Abrams was trying to accomplish, but in the service of a decent story that actually better illuminates the backstories of Kirk, Spock and the rest.
Ready? Here we go, Star Trek 2009, reboot take two. Action!
First off, we'll accept everything in the Abrams movie up to the Kobiyashi Maru test. The opening is fine, compelling even. The young Kirk and Spock are fine, acceptable. We'd have only Kirk, Spock, and Bones at Starfleet Academy. Let the rest of the crew, including Scotty, be on the ship when they arrive. They are, after all, crewmen, not officers.
Okay, here's where we start diverging. Admiral Madea doesn't receive a distress signal from Vulcan in the middle of a disciplinary hearing and send everybody rushing off. Kirk, Spock, and Bones graduate and are assigned to the Enterprise, Christopher Pike being captain. They're off to their first mission, which is to explore reports of a renegade colony on a planet the Federation claims near the neutral zone and Romulan territory.
En route, Pike explains to Kirk, Spock, and his other officers what's really going on: the outpost is a Romulan advance military base, and they're going to attack and destroy it. Kirk will lead the ground assault. Kirk's already seen all the intelligence, which points to a civilian outpost.
Kirk's very uneasy about this, and he confides in Spock. He then confronts Pike, who turns hardcore. What do you think's going on here? Pike says. The Federation's under siege. He didn't recruit Kirk for some noble goal; he recruited Kirk because he needed soldiers. The Federation's dying, Pike reveals, and if it doesn't fight back, now, hard, it'll be wiped out. This is a fight for survival. If civilians die, they die.
Kirk isn't soft -- this has been well, well established -- but he also isn't a mass murderer. He refuses to lead the assault, and Pike throws him in the brig, court martial pending.
The Enterprise arrives at the system, but before they can launch their assault on the planet, they're attacked by Nero and the Narada, which is an actual Romulan warship. After an initial gun battle, Nero hails the Enterprise, and explains everything: in his past (but the Enterprise's immediate future,) the Enterprise did attack the colony, and they did wipe it out. Nero and his ship were attached to the outpost, but were drawn away before the attack (a Federation ruse (which is, in actuality, in effect; there's another Naruda off somewhere else (yes, it gets weird; click here for a bemused explanation))).
Nero's wife and family were wiped out. In their shame and anguish, he ordered the ship into a black hole, expecting to be destroyed. Suicide for his shame. Instead, he found the Kelvin, realized where he was, and when it was, and plotted his revenge.
Tell me that isn't a better setup. Of course it's a better setup.
Now the Enterprise is alone in the neutral zone, being chased by a soldier and father and husband intent on exacting revenge for an act Kirk and crew didn't yet commit. Kirk's let out of the brig; they need him, obviously. There's some good battles, and some cat-and-mouse chasing around the planet, with the Enterprise at one point even diving right into an ocean and hiding there, until Nero mines it. All kinds of dramatic stuff ensues.
Anyhow, the Enterprise escapes, Nero gives chase. They're stuck on impulse power, desperately trying to get back to Federation space, and Nero is just playing with them. Pike is mortally wounded, and amid all the confusion Kirk assumes command. In desperation, he decides to break off and launch one of the wounded warp engines toward the Narada, then hits the engine with a photon torpedo that explodes it and cripples the Narada. Kirk leaves his nemesis to die, and the Enterprise limps back to Federation space.
When they get back, the story about Starfleet planning a sneak attack is out, and it's a major scandal. Kirk becomes a public sensation for opposing the assault, and is becoming a real distraction for Starfleet, the senior leadership of which is still plotting war. Kirk makes a stellar speech about the essence of humanity and how it forms the core of the Federation.
They can't court martial him now. Still, he's getting in the way. Get rid of him, Admiral Madea says. Launch him into deep space, I don't care, just get rid of him, I don't want to see him.
A plan is hatched.
Starfleet makes a big show of their resolution: Jim Kirk, you are hereby assigned command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, with the express mission of exploring the furthest reaches of deep space, and making contact with new worlds and new civilizations in the furtherance of the core mission of the United Federation of Planets.
This will be, he's told, a five-year mission.
Now tell me that isn't a better set-up!