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To allow the filmmakers more freedom in developing the now iconic characters for a new generation, the reboot was set in an alternate timeline from the original films, created by the story’s antagonist, a Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) and Spock (played by Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy). It is an origin story of sorts, detailing the rise of James Kirk (Chris Pine), one of cinema’s most famous Captains, while introducing and developing all of the renowned characters of the starship Enterprise.
Directed by J. J. Abrams, the film is far more action-oriented than previous entries while still retaining much of the signature sci-fi elements and humor. The story is dense, seeing the rogue time-traveling Nero on a quest for revenge, blaming Spock for a tragedy that left his own homeworld destroyed. He is an insatiable villain in his pursuit of destruction, making him the most deadly of the Star Trek movie bad guys.
There are a number of great moments in the story, including the excellent opening sequence featuring Chris Hemsworth (in his film debut), but let’s discuss a pivotal moment later in the story that sees Kirk face Spock for control of the Enterprise.
One-hundred and twenty-nine years in the future of the film’s main story, Spock (Nimoy) is on a mission to try and save the Romulan planet, which is in the path of a sun going supernova. He attempts to use a volatile agent called “red matter,” which in even small amounts can cause an exponential chemical chain reaction that creates black holes. Spock’s plan is to ignite the red matter near the sun but it fails and instead, Romulan is consumed. Nero, who is off-planet at the time on a mining vessel is pulled into the black hole, along with Spock, where the two become locked in a time-travel chase. Eventually, Spock is captured and placed on the ice planet Delta Vega, marooned there in view of his home planet Vulcan. Nero plans to destroy the Vulcan homeworld so Spock can see it destroyed, just as he had watched his planet die. What makes this unique is that Spock, well advanced in years, is now in the same time line as his younger self, currently serving as first officer aboard the new starship Enterprise.
That starship has also had dealings with Nero, who captured its captain, a man named Pike (Bruce Greenwood), leaving Spock in command. Also on board is cadet James T. Kirk, who, due to circumstances that won’t be spoiled here, has a confrontation with Spock, who is already distrustful of Kirk from a previous incident at the Academy. In the aftermath, and in a strange set of coincidences, abandons Kirk on Delta Vega, charging him with mutiny. As luck would have it, Kirk narrowly escapes being killed by one of the planet’s indigenous creatures and stumbles into a cave where he meets . . . Spock.
Once accepting of the bizarre scenario, Kirk comes to learn of why Spock is here and what Nero’s ultimate plan is. That being so, he needs to get back onto the Enterprise, but as trans-warp teleportation hasn’t been invented yet, seems impossible. Fortunately, they are not far from a Federation outpost and a brilliant engineer named Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) who knows a thing or two about transporters. Plus, this Spock is from the future and already knows the key to their problem. But the real issue is how to get Kirk in the Captain’s chair.
Old Spock has a plan. There is a Starfleet rule (Regulation 619) that says if an officer is emotionally compromised, they must be relieved of duty. As the Vulcan planet has just been destroyed, Old Spock is quite sure, seeing as how he and his younger self are half human, they could be manipulated into demonstrating that emotional distress. Kirk understands, and along with “Scotty”, beam aboard the Enterprise.
After their arrival and arrest, they are brought up to the bridge where Spock is shocked to see Kirk but more so, how he was able to beam his way back. Pressed for time, Kirk has a mission and isn’t concerned with revealing the details of their arrival. All he needs to do is get Spock riled up enough to break and have cause to justify invoking Reg. 619. So he starts up right away, being sarcastic and blunt.
It quickly shifts to a personal evaluation of whether Spock feels any emotion for the billions of lives just destroyed, getting in Spock’s face until at last, the Vulcan breaks and attacks Kirk, eventually pinning him to a console and attempting to strangle him. Emotions he has. And they are strong.
Spock’s own father, who is witness to the encounter, stop his son. The enraged and emotionally overcome Spock relaxes his grip and steps away, flustered but aware of what has happened. A dutiful man, he then relinquishes his command and steps off the bridge leaving Kirk, who was appointed First Officer by Pike earlier, in the big chair. Now it’s off to find Nero.
The moment is crucial in establishing how Kirk got to be Captain of the Enterprise, which accomplished a couple of things. First, Pike had told him when he joined Starfleet that he could have his first command in four years. Kirk said he’d do it in three. With this action, he does. But more importantly is how. In a clever twist, Spock becomes responsible for Kirk’s ascension, essentially sabotaging himself. What’s key about this is how well the Kirk/Spock relationship is handled, especially given how the two are one of entertainment’s most cherished and long-standing friends. While having them fight was certainly a calculated and risky choice, the fact that we see Old Spock outline the strategy Kirk needs to take down the young Spock, gives Kirk the pass from the audince he needs so as not to be appear like the ‘bad guy’. Interestingly, we have sympathy for both sides.
There is a great dynamic here between Kirk and Spock (both young and old) and it’s made all the more effective for fans of the characters who know their history. This scene is, in an action-heavy film, a nice bit of drama, that gives Kirk a quick-thinking opportunity to shine. Better yet, it allows a moment in the film seen earlier when Spock was a boy and his human heritage is viewed as a detriment, even scorned, a chance to come full circle.
What’s so effective here, is that what Kirk does to Spock on the bridge, as he taunts him about his lost planet and dead mother, is actually make Spock all the more identifiable to the viewer. That will be a lasting characteristic in the Quinto-Spock, a departure from the more subdued Nimoy-Spock. This confrontation is, despite its aggressive tone, a building block for the two characters. Kirk claims the captain’s chair in front of the crew, who all recognize the ploy, and demonstrates a command that will soon have the entire ship, including Spock–destined to be his most trusted friend–on his side. It’s a great movie moment.
Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Eric Bana