My expectations for Star Trek were both high and low. High, because I love Wrath of Khan, and I think a good filmmaker can do a lot with these iconic characters. Low, because I'm still attempting to get the awful taste of summer-opener Wolverine out of my mouth, and I know the pitfalls involved in an origin story. However, I had a good deal of faith in JJ Abrams - I loved the first season of "Lost", I think Mission Impossible III is remarkably underrated, and anyone who wrote on the masterpiece that is Armageddon is alright by me. And, as ultimately expected, Star Trek did not let me down.
First off, it was impeccably cast. Zachary Quinto is a picture-perfect Spock (get him off the abortion formerly known as "Heroes", please), Chris Pine is a solid Kirk (Abrams was right to cast a relative unknown) and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the great Simon Pegg's Scotty was confined to just the last half hour. Even Anton Yelchin, known mostly by me as Larry's magician nephew on "Curb Your Enthusiasm", makes a purposely over-the-top Russian accent work as Chekov. I thought Abrams and company were in trouble when trying to fill roles already marvelously defined, but they couldn't have done a better job.
The special effects were also fantastic. This harkens back to the already mentioned Wolverine: for such a big budget, big expectations piece, it had some of the worst effects I've seen in a while. The fourth time Wolverine and Sabretooth bared their claws, turned into CGI versions of themselves and ran snarling at each other, the entire audience was snickering. And let's not even get into the whole "Deadpool" sequence at the end. But Star Trek starts off fast, with a huge space battle, and never really lets up. Say what you want about Abrams, but his transition from TV to big budget Hollywood movies is going about as smoothly as you could ask for.
If only it hadn't been rushed. This was one of the fastest two hour movies I've seen in a while, and I think there could have been more exposition in certain scenes. For example, Future Spock informs Kirk that he can take control of the Enterprise by having temporary Captain Spock betray his emotions...which he does in about 30 seconds. That's all it took? When the famed James T. Kirk is involved, you expect a more brilliant plot to be executed.
That's another issue - Pine's Kirk is brash, handsome and confident, but the script never offers the sense that he is an intelligent, all-encompassing leader. Even his outsmarting of the Kobayashi Maru test, an event much discussed in the Star Trek canon, turns out to be quick, easy and fairly tame. It almost seems like Kirk is TOO destined for success; every decision he makes is the right one, and all he has to do to execute them is show up. At the same time, this version hasn't been portrayed as a Kirk movie in the first place. It's an ensemble piece - the entire crew of the Enterprise gets their fair share. This isn't a bad thing, it's just different.
Also, I know origin stories don't always leave time for well-developed bad guys, but Eric Bana was particularly wasted as Nero, the angry Romulan. I read that JJ Abrams considered only two actors for this role - Russell Crowe and Eric Bana. Frankly, I'm glad it wasn't Crowe, because he deserves much better than this forgettable, uninspired villain. I don't blame Bana at all, though - frankly, even an actor the caliber of a Daniel-Day Lewis couldn't have done a thing with such a bland character.
In the end, though, Star Trek does about everything you could ask from a summer movie. It's not quite an Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but it's light years better than Wolverine or Indiana Jones 4. My expectations might have been raised for what a big budget summer movie CAN be, but that doesn't mean anything less than should be shunned. Abrams has taken a fairly niche-y series, cast it with relative unknowns and made it work. All things considered, that's a praiseworthy accomplishment.
As for the next one...why not go all the way?