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Thursday, 8 September 2016

Star Trek

Written by:Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman |Directed by:J.J. Abrams|Release Date:2009

September 8th was the day that Star Trek: The Original Series first aired on US television back in 1966 (Canada got it two days earlier, but don't tell anyone), so today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm celebrating its 50th birthday by sharing my thoughts on the movie Star Trek! Or 'J.J. Trek' or 'Star Trek 2009' or whatever you want to call it (the DVD volume label says it's Star Trek XI). The first Trek movie is called Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so they technically haven't given two films the same title here, but it's still unnecessarily confusing and I don't like it. What was so wrong with calling it Star Trek: The Force Awakens or something?

I love that they brought the old school font back though, as it looks great with that blinding J.J. Abrams lens flare. Some people aren't so keen on the lens flares though, or the fact that this is a prequel, or that it's a semi-reboot, or that it's an action movie... in fact a lot of things about it have aggravated certain fans. Critics on the other hand seem quite fond of the film, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 95% of movie reviewers recommended it, which means it's beating Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (88%), Star Trek: First Contact (92%) and The One with the Whales in it (85%)! That makes this the second most acclaimed movie on my site so far, after Aliens (98%).

Right, as usual I'm going to be taking screencaps from the DVD release and writing a bunch of SPOILERS underneath them for this film and maybe even those that came before it. I'll even throw in a couple of spoilers for Star Wars as well, because this movie's begging for comparison. Into Darkness and Beyond are 100% safe though.



The movie begins with a fantastic shot that rolls past the massive hull of the weird one-engined USS Kelvin as we hear communication chatter about the 'lightning storm in space' they're investigating. Not very technical, but not very technobabble either so I'll take it.

One problem the movie definitely doesn't have is sound design, as they brought in Ben Burtt, the guy responsible for all the laser blasts, droid beeps, engine roars and Sith Lord breathing in Star Wars. It's also directed by Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, and ILM's back providing the visual effects after taking Insurrection and Nemesis off, so all they're missing is the John Williams score. I wish just one of these Trek films could have a John Williams score.

The film puts The Motion Picture to shame with how quickly it demonstrates the massive size of the Starfleet vessel before utterly dwarfing it with a monstrous ship made of spiky black tentacles that's appeared out of nowhere. And the mysterious ship wastes no time in whooping the Kelvin's ass.

But the aliens stop short of turning the Kelvin into smoking space debris as they need someone left alive that they can chat with. And it turns out that they're Romulans, though the Kelvin crew wouldn't know that. So this is the second movie in a row where the antagonist has a ridiculously powerful Romulan super-ship huh?

The bloke on the viewscreen gives them instructions to send their captain over in a shuttlecraft to discuss a ceasefire and then switches the camera off. It's obviously a trap, as he could just beam himself over (or talk over the screen like he's doing now), but Badass Captain Robau goes along with it to buy his crew some time.

One misconception some people have about Star Trek is that the viewscreen at the front of the bridge is a window, not a big TV, despite the fact that there's no window on the model and they're always talking to people on it. In First Contact they even had the thing turned off to show a blank wall at first to get the point across. But then J.J. Abrams comes in and says 'Why can't it be a window too? Windows are cool,' and I can kind of see his point. It's great to be able to see the hull stretching out beneath them for once, and it provides some actual justification for why the bridge has to be up at the top of the ship where it's exposed!

I love pretty much everything about the Kelvin by the way: the design of the hull, the beat up look of the interiors, and Badass Captain Robau himself in his older than old school uniform.

The Romulan ship on the other hand is just weird arrangement of junk crewed by scruffy bald men in coats. But at least it doesn't look cheap.

The Romulans want to know where Ambassador Spock is right now. Proper Leonard Nimoy Spock I mean, not Zachary Quinto. But Badass Captain Robau hasn't even heard of him... because this is stardate 2233.04! And we actually have a hope of knowing what that means for once.

Stardates were originally designed to be a way for the writers to avoid pinning down the exact century Star Trek takes place in, but that ship's long since sailed so the system's been changed for this movie to be far easier to understand. Now it simply goes [YEAR].[DAY] and there's no messing around with decimal fractions of a day or anything like that.

So 2233.04 means that this scene takes place on the 4th of January 2233, 78 years after Star Trek: Enterprise, and 32 years before William Shatner's Kirk boldly got started on his 5 year mission. Meaning that Ambassador Spock is currently 3 year old Kid Spock.

Captain Nero's a bit upset when he learns the date, and he leaps up and impales Robau on a spear! Incidentally he's Captain Nero not Commander Nero like most Romulan captains because he's not a military officer, he's just a spiky mining ship captain with anger issues who's prone to murdering people.

Speaking of captains, I'm glad Captain Robau was badass from start to finish in this. In films like Star Trek III they made the other Starfleet captains look inept so that our heroes looked better, but in this film they're examples to for them to live up to.

Okay I don't like those antennae sticking up from the dashboard, that's the only thing I dislike about the Kelvin so far. It's a bit weird seeing all the command staff wearing blue though.

With Robau's death, first officer Kirk is now in charge of the smoking wreck of the Kelvin, and it's up to him to give the crew a chance to escape. George Kirk I mean, played by Chris Hemsworth. Kind of ironic that after all the times James T. Kirk went up against beings who claimed to be god, his own dad turns out to be Thor, God of Thunder. Also now that I think about it, Eric Bana is playing Nero, so this is the first real Hulk vs. Thor fight in the movies. I'm deducting 50 points though as they called a Romulan Nero; seems like the classy thing to do would be not calling attention to the Roman thing.

Crew are getting blown up left and right as they race to the escape shuttles, and a pregnant woman is wheeled through the chaos in an actual wheelchair with wheels. They've cunningly waited until this moment to reveal that George Kirk's wife is on board and about to give birth to baby James Tiberius Kirk on a shuttlecraft, so that's just cranked things up another level.

Tiberius is actually the initial suggestion thrown out for his first name but it gets shot down by George immediately on account of it being terrible.

This is a bit of a divergence from the way things were in the Prime Timeline, as James Kirk was originally born in peaceful Iowa a short while after this. Another big change is that George Kirk sacrifices himself by staying behind to ram the Kelvin into the Romulan ship and give the escape shuttles time to escape. So this is the second movie in a row where a Starfleet vessel gets rammed into a Romulan super-ship.

But the difference here is that this shifts focus from the epic space battle to the last conversation between Kirk's parents over the radio, playing up the emotion rather than the drama as he flies to his tragic end. Though her shuttle gets away so that's good at least.

And then this all turns out to be a pre-title sequence!

So this is where this bit fits into the film, as the dramatic new Star Trek theme by Michael Giacchino comes in. But it's only around for 30 seconds, as the movie's got other stuff to do. After watching a few of the Original Series movies recently it's such a relief to see a film that gets straight to the action without making me wait for a dozen names to go by first.

And I always had to wait and listen to the music, because Trek movie themes are fantastic more often than not and this is definitely not the exception.

Cut to a decade or so later, where a mysterious pre-teen has stolen his stepdad's antique car and taken it for a joyride around Iowa, Planet Earth. He reaches over to his Nokia-branded music system and puts on some classical music... Sabotage by the Beastie Boys!

I can't even list all the problems I don't have with any of this. It's great to know that things I actually like have survived into the 23rd century, as I've found the Star Trek future to be very... stuffy so far with regards to culture. I don't mind elite Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard listening to Gilbert and Sullivan as he sips his Earl Gray tea, but a utopia future needs more than violins and cellos in its music!

It's a bit dumb that he drives the car off a cliff though, leaping out so late that he's left hanging off the edge. A highway cop who is absolutely not a robot asks for his name, and he yells that he's James Tiberius Kirk! Well he wasn't likely to be Spock was he.

Meanwhile on Vulcan, young Spock has his own problems as he's being bullied by his schoolmates. He can handle their comments about his half-human nature, but then one makes a crack about his human mother and gets to see what his fists look like close up.

Many years later he's all grown up and is ready to join the prestigious Vulcan Science Academy. But the president of the council goes and makes a comment about his mother, and Spock decides he's had enough of this crap. He tells them to go fuck themselves (though his exact words are "Live long and prosper"), and goes to join Starfleet instead as a funky guitar riff starts to play.

The interesting thing about all this, is that none of it would've been changed by Nero coming back in time and attacking the Kelvin. Kirk's gone down a darker path without his dad around, but this is pretty much exactly what Spock's childhood has always been. Of course the frequent time travel in the Star Trek universe means that a big enough change to the present will also change the past... but screw it, I'm taking this to be actual Spock's actual origin story.

Speaking of Kirk, now he's all grown up as well, and trying to chat up a Starfleet cadet called Uhura in a cantina bar. He's being drunk and annoying and a cadet called Cupcake takes offence (in part because he called him Cupcake). So him and some other cadets decide to start an old school bar room brawl, to the disappointed looks of pretty much everyone else.

I love that alien's face by the way, plus the expressions he makes when he finds himself caught between Kirk and Uhura. I'm not quite so sure what I think about the Budweiser product placement here, though I suppose there's no reason that brand names and corporations would have to vanish just because Earth phased out money and greed.

Fortunately Obi-Wan Kenobi Captain Christopher Pike is around to break up the fight and have a chat with Kirk about his wasted potential. Kirk's an actual genius and his dad was a hero, but he's spending his time bleeding all over bars instead of talking computers to death and it'll likely he won't bed a single green woman all year at this rate. So Pike tells him to enlist in Starfleet and learn the ways of the Force like his father.

I love Pike as a character, he was great in the Original Series as Kirk's predecessor and he's great in these movies too. But he's got an interesting idea of what the Federation is here, calling it "a peacekeeping and humanitarian armada." Somehow I think he was supposed to be talking about Starfleet. It's like a captain in the US Navy getting the Navy and the United States mixed up.

Personally if I were going to describe Starfleet I'd probably mention something about the fact they're all about exploring. Seeking out new life, new worlds, boldly going where no one has gone before, that kind of thing.

So Kirk drives out on his bike to have a look at the Starship Enterprise being built down the road... which presumably explains why all those cadets are in the middle of Iowa right now (along with Pike).

Of course it's not the Starship Enterprise, as she's 13 years newer, far bigger and looks different, but she's got the right name and Kirk's suddenly getting ambitions of claiming her captain's chair some day. It's like when Luke Skywalker stared out at the two suns of Tatooine and dreamed of escaping his mundane life, combined with the time Mal Reynolds first caught sight of Serenity and fell in love.

There was a bit of controversy at the time about the Enterprise being built on the ground instead of in space, but I don't know if people have changed their minds on that since Into Darkness revealed the ship can easily reach orbit on its own power. If definitely doesn't seem like you'd want to build a 167 meter tall starship in a place where a strong wind could tip her over, but at least this way the welders don't suffocate to death in the cold vacuum of space if they tear their pants.

So the next morning Kirk gives his bike away and climbs on board the next shuttle to Starfleet Academy, still wearing the same blood-soaked shirt. Then somehow Dr. Leonard McCoy turns up as well, played by Dr. Leonard McCoy under the alias of 'Karl Urban'. I wasn't much of a fan of the actor until this movie, but this and Dredd have definitely shown me the error of my ways. The guy's awesome.

It makes no damn sense at all that McCoy would be in Iowa, enlisting in Starfleet on the exact same day as Kirk, but the writers have stumbled across the key to suspension of disbelief here: the audience are a lot happier to go along with things that make no sense if it leads to Karl Urban being awesome. Or just something awesome in general. We'll forgive transgressions of the rules of storytelling and logic if it gets us something we want.

Then the movie makes one more time jump to three years later, where we rejoin the miserable future Romulans! They've been screwing around in space keeping out of everyone's way for 25 years at this point, but they're Romulan so they don't look a day older. Their patience has finally paid off though as there's another lightning storm and this time Spock Prime comes through!

Scenes were filmed showing that the Romulans had actually been captured by the Klingons and spent the last 25 years on a prison planet, but that just complicates things so I'm glad they scrapped that plan. Even though it meant cutting Legends of Tomorrow's Victor Garber out of the film entirely.

Meanwhile it's the naked time for Kirk, as he finally manages to bed a green woman! Never happened during the Original Series I'm afraid. Well he gets on a bed with her anyway, but is interrupted when her roommate comes in... and it's Uhura! So now JJ Abrams has an excuse to show her in her underwear too. So cunning.

Uhura actress Zoe Saldana would later go green herself for Guardians of the Galaxy. And her green roommate Rachel Nichols was doing pretty well in human skintones as the lead in Continuum until it got cancelled.

Anyway three years together at Starfleet Academy hasn't exactly made Kirk and Uhura into firm friends. Which makes it kind of awkward when she's stuck operating communications during his Kobayashi Maru test later.

Hey the Kelvin bridge is serving double-duty as the simulator bridge. Works for me, I love this set. If it's still around the folks filming Star Trek: Discovery should nick it for their ship.

This is apparently Kirk's third attempt at the test, as just like in the original timeline he won't let it go. Thing is, it's supposed to be a surprise that you can't beat it, as it tests how you deal with a no-win scenario. It makes no sense to let cadets try the thing again.

I like how Kirk's eating an apple while he's cheating his ass off here, as it's a callback to how he was munching on one when he described the events we're seeing now in Star Trek II. Well not these events exactly, as Kirk Prime would've taken the test years earlier, but the outcome is the same:

He beats the no-win scenario by cheating his ass off. Which is why you don't let people take the test twice!

And we get a quick glimpse of what Klingon vessels look like in this alternate timeline through the window... which actually is a TV screen in this fake bridge. They're not quite exactly the same as in the main timeline, but if I squint my eyes slightly they are, so I'm happy enough. They call them Klingon Warbirds by the way, which is weird because the Romulans are the ones with the Warbirds. But someone accidentally called their ships Warbirds in the first episode of Enterprise too, so that's totally canon now.

We also get a look at the legendary Kobayashi Maru herself on screen for the very first time. She looks alright to me, I've no complaints.

Starfleet's actually not all that keen on having a dirty cheater in their ranks though, and it seems like the whole damn academy's come out to watch Kirk's hearing.

Kirk wants to face his accuser, because it's more interesting like that, so Commander Spock comes down from the audience! He explains that the purpose of the Kobayashi Maru is to experience fear of certain death.

Uh... no it isn't. I'm not just saying that because it's not canon or whatever, I'm saying it because it's a simulator. It's not going to make any cadet afraid about anything other than failing, unless they put a jump scare on the viewscreen. And guess what, now every single cadet in the building knows it's unwinnable. So good job guys.

Things don't go any further than this though, as Admiral Tyler Perry is informed that they've received a distress call... from Vulcan. So all the cadets get to go to space!

All except Kirk, who's grounded until this trivial Kobayashi Maru business is resolved. Fortunately McCoy's able to inject a vaccine into him to trigger some obvious symptoms and get him onto a shuttle as his patient. You'd think the regulations would prevent him from potentially contaminating the ship by bringing a sick crew member on board, but apparently the opposite is true.

By the way, this damp looking shuttle hangar is great. I love how huge and messy and chaotic it is. It's like the Star Trek we've been watching all along, except with the Vaseline wiped off the lens so you can see the details and imperfections.

Future San Francisco's not doing so well though, as it seems like people have been competing to see who can design the ugliest skyscraper. But it's not dystopian, it's just overcast, that happens sometimes. It makes the place appear more real than it has in the previous films.

Besides, this isn't the view we're supposed to be impressed by.

Can't have San Francisco stealing the space dock's thunder. Those ships docked around the outside are up to half a mile long so the station itself must be... uh... bloody massive!

Weird thing is the space station is spinning, as if that's going to help somehow. Those poor docking clamps must be under a ridiculous amount of stress as they struggle to keep the ships from being flung into space. The Prime Timeline Space Dock and Deep Space Nine also rotate, so I guess it's a thing they do to make sure everyone gets a turn to look at the planet out the window.

And here's the proper reveal of the new Enterprise! We still don't get to see all of it though, as it breaks the sides of the frame to maximise its apparent size.

I wasn't 100% impressed with the CGI Enterprise in Insurrection and Nemesis, but this thing looks downright beautiful. We're definitely at the point now where computer generated ships look at least as good as physical models. Or maybe I'm just being hypnotised by the way the light dances across the hull panels. So pretty...

Sure if I was the one running the movie, I'd have pushed the lower hull and pylons back a bit, and restored the inwards curve to the underside of the saucer so that she looks more like the original ship, but she's pretty good as she is! She certainly looks better in this than she does in Star Trek Beyond, after she has her neck narrowed and her warp engines pulled back. From side view anyway.

Incidentally the ships aren't to scale here, as the new Enterprise is actually twice the length of the old ship. This was necessary so they could fit a brewery inside.

On board we finally get to see the Original Series costumes in a movie! Well, close enough anyway. The director of Star Trek: The Motion Picture dropped the costumes and went with a different style because he wanted to draw attention to the actors' faces and not their clothes. So the uniforms in that film were made beige, like the walls.

This is the ship's bridge by the way, not the dressing room. It's easy to make that mistake though, with all the lights shining right into people's faces. Like the Kelvin bridge, the set is designed to mimic the layout of the original Enterprise bridge, but this is far shinier and cleaner. I can believe it's 30 years more advanced.

Captain Pike's in command, but unfortunately his helmsman is sick with... lungworms, ew, so Hikaru Sulu is sitting in for him! Fate is slowly assembling Kirk's crew on the ship. Though for some reason it's missed out Yeoman Rand, Lt. Kelso and Gary Mitchell.

Oops, Sulu leaves the parking break on and embarrasses himself in front of the bridge crew as the rest of the fleet zips away to help out at Vulcan. It's okay though, it's fate doing its thing again. Fate should get guest star billing in this movie.

Seems that in this era Starfleet ships have glowy bits at the ends of their warp engines that flash as they go to warp. The Enterprise is decades more advanced though, so it has extra glowing bits that open up when the engines are on!

Kirk's knocked out for the start of the trip to keep him from whining about the vaccine McCoy gave him to get him on board, but he comes around just in time to hear about an anomaly detected in the Neutral Zone... a lightning storm in space!

So he races down to the ship's brewery to find Uhura and wave his giant swollen hands at her, while McCoy keeps jabbing him with drugs. He overheard her mentioning a Klingon distress call when he was hiding under the bed in her room the other day and would like to know if they were attacked by a Romulan ship. Which is a hard word to say when an allergic reaction to a vaccine is making your tongue numb.

I remember seeing a clip of this scene when the film was being promoted, and I was surprised at how... not Next Generation it is in its energy and humour. Up to this point all the trailers I'd seen had made the movie seem pretty grim and serious, but this got my hopes up. I was also surprised to see that Uhura's missing her sleeves; I guess they're optional now in this strange new timeline.

Bit of a Dutch camera angle for you there. The camera is really floating around the characters now that they're on the ship, always whipping around to focus on who's talking, and it feels a lot more awake than the last few films.

Kirk brings Uhura up with him so she can back up his case that the lightning storm means that a big-ass spiky Romulan ship is probably the thing distressing Vulcan right now, and inadvertently gets her a job on the bridge alongside Sulu, Chekov and first officer Spock. So we're only really missing Scotty now I think. Oh and Dr. Piper, Lt. Kyle, Lt. Riley....

Here's one bit of weirdness in the movie though: Kirk's dialogue puts the scene where got caught by Uhura under her green roommate's bed as being "last night". So his Kobayashi Maru test, the hearing, and the entire trip to Vulcan all happened during the same day. Plus the spiky Romulan ship made it from the Neutral Zone to Vulcan as well. Star Trek ships aren't typically anywhere near that fast.

Still, it's not as bad as in Final Frontier, where the Enterprise reached the centre of the galaxy in 20 minutes instead of 20 years. Captain Janeway wishes she had Kirk's ship.

They come out of warp with shields up straight into a massive debris field! This crap never happened to Han Solo! Oh wait...

Turns out that Kirk was right about Nero visiting Vulcan and now there's broken pieces of starship where the humanitarian armada should be. R.I.P. Uhura's green roommate I guess. My brain is telling me that the bits of spaceship seem too big compared to the gigantic Enterprise, but I'm not listening because watching them scrape panels off the hull as Sulu tries to manoeuvre out of the way is awesome.

I think this particular shot was a mistake though, as it kind of drains all the threat out of the debris field when you see everything so tiny. Just fire photon torpedoes, blast a hole through it!

Actually don't do that, you might hit R2D2.

Nero appears on screen with a casual introduction and the same threat as at the start of the movie: either Captain Pike comes over alone in a shuttle or he'll blow his ship to bits. Spock and Kirk both try to talk their captain out of it, but Pike gives command of the Enterprise to Spock and makes Kirk his first officer... because he's got a plan.

The Romulan ship's got a structure hanging out of it that's cutting into Vulcan with an energy beam and they can't beam down to it with explosives while it's on as it's causing interference or something (they don't go into the technobabble of it). But there's nothing stopping them from parachuting onto it! From orbit! Like Kirk was going to do in Star Trek: Generations a decade or so earlier before his skydiving sequence got cut.

So Kirk, Sulu and chief engineer Redshirt hitch a ride with Pike in his shuttle and drop out when they're close enough to the drill. It mutes the sound while they're falling in space, which is cool but unusual. There was another bit earlier where a Kelvin crew member got blown out of a hull breach into death and silence, but the film typically only cuts out the sound effects when there's a point to it. Otherwise the space scenes would just be weird.

By the way that's Kirk with the blue parachute, as this movie's determined to keep him out of gold until the end. The engineer actually went first, but his reckless enthusiasm led him to pull his chute too late and he bounced off the drill into the beam. He may have been in the engineering department instead of security, but he was wearing red so that's a proper redshirt death! It also frees up the post for Scotty... who's sure taking his time showing up in this movie.

Sulu nearly swings in to the beam as well, but he kicks himself back over and retracts his tangled parachute to pull himself back up. Then he cuts the ropes with a fold-out space katana! I'm glad they gave Sulu a sword as that's totally in character for him, but having the guy of Japanese descent fight with a katana specifically feels just a little like if Jean-Luc Picard started fencing with a baguette.

Fortunately Kirk's already knocked the rifles out of their hands and the Romulan Sulu's facing brought a fold out-axe so now they can have a proper fight scene on this narrow metal disc a few miles above Vulcan.

The thing about Vulcan though is that it's got a thin atmosphere at the best of times, and the thing about Romulans is that they're basically Vulcans, with the same super-strength, so Kirk's getting his ass kicked here. In fact he's left hanging off the side for most of the fight while Sulu saves the day, but he's been training to hold on over a fatal drop since he was an 11 year old car murderer back in Iowa, so he's got this.

Sulu wins, they shoot the drill up with the Romulan rifles and all is good. Except Nero was pretty much done drilling anyway, so he sends down some 'red matter' into the hole, then begins to retract the drill with them still on it. Turns out that red matter is a bad thing, as it begins to create a black hole inside Vulcan's core, leading to the planet's inevitable destruction within minutes! But now the drill's deactivated, it's Chekov's turn to run down hallways as he races through the ship to use the genius transporter skills he's never demonstrated before in his 43 previous appearances to save Kirk and Sulu!

About two seconds after that drama's over, Spock gets them off the pad so he can beam down to evacuate the Vulcan High Council (and his parents). I'm just going to assume the Enterprise crew are also rescuing hundreds of other people off screen that they don't ever mention.

So we get to see the new transporter effect finally, and it's not one of my favourites to be honest. I like how it's a swirly 3D effect, but it's a bit too wiry and dull for me. I prefer more lens flares and sparkle in my beam.

Did I mention that Spock's mother is played by Winona Ryder in makeup? She's only five years older than Zachary Quinto, but the film was going to open 28 years earlier with her cradling new born baby Spock, so they went with a younger actress and added a couple of decades to her face.

This escape is supposed to be a really dramatic moment, but it's made a little comical by the way Spock's holster keeps jumping around as he runs. Also Vulcan elders keep getting crushed by statues and falling rock and that's hilarious.

Unfortunately there's a bit of a mishap as they're getting back to the ship and Spock's mother falls out of the transporter beam to her death, so that's something poor Spock and Chekov have to live with now.

And there goes Vulcan, one of the most famous planets in Star Trek, swallowed up by a black hole. So 100 years earlier in a third timeline, the Powdered Vulcan Timeline, Captain Archer's Enterprise is going to discover this cloud of debris scattered next to a mysterious lightning storm in space. And he'll smile.

The destruction of Vulcan is important to the plot, as up to this point you'd be forgiven for assuming that things were going to get back on track to how they were in the Original Series. Fate definitely seems keen on getting the classic crew together on the a ship called Enterprise (even if it's about a decade too early). But now that Vulcan's gone things can never be the same and nothing's safe.

If you're keeping track of the Star Wars similarities, this reminds me of a certain planet getting one-shotted by the Death Star. So next the Enterprise has to get dragged inside the Romulan ship by a tractor beam, so that Kirk and Spock can carry out a daring rescue to save Princess Leia. Uh, Captain Pike I mean. Now I'm wondering which of them would be Chewbacca...

Over on the spiky Romulan ship, Captain Nero has Captain Pike captive in his inexplicably flooded torture room, so that he can get the subspace frequencies of Starfleet's border protection grids from him. Those grids are apparently more of a threat to his ship than that fleet he just effortlessly wiped out... even though he seems to have gotten through Vulcan's border protection grid just fine.

We learn that his ship, the Narada, is actually a simple mining vessel from the future (the tie-in comics claim that it's been rebuilt with Borg tech, and I can't think of a better reason to ignore them entirely). Nero lost his wife and unborn child because the Federation did nothing to stop his world from exploding, so I guess they're both Princess Leia... except he's also Grand Moff Tarkin. Pike's a little confused by this though, as Romulus hasn't exploded, but Nero counters with my favourite line in the movie: "It has happened, I watched it happen, I saw it happen, don't tell me it didn't happen!" He's a remnant of the Prime Timeline who just won't let the old continuity go.

So as a homage to Wrath of Khan he drops a mind control bug down Pike's throat to get him to talk, because the sooner he gets the frequencies the sooner he can save Romulus... by making sure that the Federation isn't around to threaten it! By blowing up all their planets! So they won't be able to not save Romulus through inaction! He's a total nutcase this guy.

The Enterprise crew have figured out that Nero's heading for Earth next, but Spock's in charge and he's deduced that the Narada is from the future, so going up against it alone with their comparatively ancient state of the art starship would be pointless.

Kirk doesn't really want Earth to get blown up, so he tries to give Spock a logical argument for chasing the Narada, saying that if Nero's from the future they should do something he can't predict! Good luck outmanoeuvring your entry in his history books Kirk. Spock has an even better counterargument though: Nero's already changed his history, so this is all new to him too. Except this isn't his history realises Uhura, helpfully making it clear that Nero hasn't changed the Prime Timeline, he's created the Kelvin Timeline, and they're all in a parallel universe! She doesn't actually phrase it that way though.

Either way they're not going to Earth and Kirk gets a bit emotional about this, so Spock has to take him down with a nerve pinch. Then Spock does something a bit emotional and orders that they throw Kirk off the ship! They literally shove him in a pod and fire him at a planet. Was the brig going to be installed on Tuesday or something?

So now we're interrupting A New Hope with a visit to Empire Strikes Back's ice planet of Hoth! Why? Because they wanted to have Kirk be chased by giant monsters and couldn't think of a more natural way to slot that into the story I guess.

This is actually the Class-M world of Delta Vega, which is presumably an entirely different Delta Vega to one in Original Series pilot episode Where No Man Has Gone Before, due to the fact that it's next to Vulcan and not out near the galactic barrier (wherever that is). A message plays telling him to wait in the pod until authorities from the nearby Starfleet outpost pick him up, but he just has to go wandering. He even records a log as he goes, though for the first time in all of Star Trek he struggles to remember the exact stardate. He can remember the number of the security protocol Spock broke by kicking him off the ship in a pod though, proving he's a more competent officer than Rimmer from Red Dwarf at least.

Kirk runs away from one monster for a bit, until a Phantom Menace-style 'always a bigger fish' moment happens and he's chased by a worse monster (just eat the creature you've already killed you greedy asshole). Fortunately he runs into the one cave on the planet with a friendly occupant, who scares his attacker away.

It's our Spock! There's a lot of coincidences in this movie, but this one takes the cake. Not only did Kirk's pod land on the same planet as Spock Prime, within a few minutes walking distance, but he stumbled across him by pure chance. It's like falling out of a plane over Antarctica and accidentally running straight into your long lost brother, except much less likely.

Spock recognises Kirk on sight, proving that the characters may be played by different actors, but they're supposed to look identical to the original cast (not that there was any doubt of that). So Spock gives his old friend the pieces of Nero's story he's missing, using a mind-meld to make his exposition more visually engaging.

"129 years from now a star will explode and threaten to destroy the galaxy," is literally what he starts off with. Romulus was one of the first planets in its path, so Spock promised the Romulans he would save their world. He decided that the most logical way to do this would be to fly there alone and use a barrel full of black hole-creating red matter to stop the supernova. Even a galaxy-destroying supernova (an ultranova?) only needs a drop of the stuff to collapse, but he figured he'd bring enough to destroy every world in the Federation just to be on the safe side.

He was a little late getting there and Romulus blew up, but he did stop the supernova and save the galaxy! Nero was very fond of his planet though and confronted Spock in his implausibly spiky mining ship while he was still dangerously close to the black hole.

They were both pulled inside and sent back in time, but not to the same time. Nero's Narada travelled back 154 years and found the USS Kelvin on the other side but no Spock. Fortunately his crew of miners were able to do the maths on black hole time travel and they figured out exactly when and where Spock would emerge.

So they waited 25 years, grabbed Spock's ship when it came through, stole his red matter, and dropped him off on Delta Vega in some winter clothes to watch his planet get destroyed... without a telescope. You'd think they would've kept him on the Narada so they could watch him watch it happen, but nope. So now the Prime Timeline has lost Romulus and the Kelvin Timeline is missing Vulcan, either way that's a massive change.

Kirk gets a first-hand taste of Spock’s grief through the mind-meld, learning the key to understanding the Vulcans: just because they’ve trained themselves to suppress emotion, doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. Spock's not a robot.

He also learns that Spock knows about the Starfleet outpost, which raises the question of why he's in a cave. You know, this would've all made so much more sense if Nero had just dumped Spock at the outpost to begin with, seeing as they've probably got great telescopes there. Though the outpost already comes with another massive coincidence... because Scotty's there!

Montgomery Scott has been stuck here for the last six months due to an incident where he inexplicably lost Admiral Archer's dog in a transporter accident and he's a bit irate about that. This is 103 years after Enterprise though so I don't think it's meant to be the same dog. Then again with the shit that Dr. Phlox was doing in that ship's Sickbay, who knows?

Simon Pegg wouldn't have been my first choice to play Scotty, but he does a good job in the role I reckon. He doesn't remind me of James Doohan for a moment, which kind of stands out when you've got actual Spock right there, but I know he'll get more Scotty-like as the films go on so it's fine.

They need to beam Kirk over to the Enterprise to claim his destiny (and Scotty too obviously) but the ship left orbit hours ago and they're well out of range. So Spock cleverly rips off Scotty's famous plan from Star Trek IV where he gave the formula to transparent aluminium to its inventor, by giving Scotty his own transwarp beaming equation! The dialogue they have here makes no sense though.
Kirk: "Coming back in time, changing history, that's cheating."
Spock: "A trick I learned from an old friend."
He fell back in time by accident. He's not changing history. What are you even talking about? Anyway they step into a transporter inexplicably built out of a shuttle, and vanish.

Poster moment!

Acceleration to warp speed has traditionally been the flashy part of warp travel, with the actual journey part mostly looking like stars flying past. But this film skips the acceleration and puts the ship into a hyperspace tunnel. And Spock Prime just put Kirk and Scotty onto the ship. See, I knew that outpost must have great telescopes.

A lot of people think this super long distance transporter trick is absolutely ridiculous, and I agree. It just doesn't fit in with anything we've seen in Star Trek before. Well except for the tech used to kidnap the crew in Gamesters of Triskelion, or the folded-space transporter used by the terrorists in The High Ground, or the one the Voyager crew stole in Prime Factors, or the Iconian portals. But the important thing here is that Starfleet's never had this technology, because it's way too powerful for the stories they're telling, and having Scotty invent it in the Prime Timeline throws both universes under the bus! I don't like it.

Kirk materialises in an empty part of the Enterprise's engineering section, and so does Scotty... except he's stuck inside a tank of inert reactant (water).

Well at least now we know that beaming someone into water doesn't... dilute them. And now there's a comedy pipe escape scene as Kirk frantically tries to save the drowning Scotsman before he's carried off into the blender. It’s a bit of an anti-climax though as he eventually just opens a door and lets him out.

We're back in a Budweiser brewery here, standing in for Engineering now. J.J. Abrams had a choice between constructing a moderate sized Engineering set like Trek usually does, using green screens and virtual sets like Battlestar Galactica did for its flight deck, or filming on location like Red Dwarf, and he went with the shiny brewery option. He wanted to do as much as possible practically, to make the sci-fi world feel more tangible and believable, but he also wanted big spaces to show what the ships are like outside of the corridors and sell the huge scale of them. So the ship had to be scaled up to fit them inside!

The two stowaways don't make it far though before they're intercepted by Cupcake from the bar fight scene at the start, now an Enterprise security officer, who brings them to the bridge. So Kirk's back in the same situation he was before, except this time he has a new plan: piss Spock off.

I mean he was coming close to pissing him off last time, but this time he really pulls out all the stops, accusing him of feeling nothing about his own mother's death. Spock Prime's plan was for Kirk to get his younger self to reveal that he's emotional compromised so that Kirk can take command, but Young Spock is pretty much going to choke him to death before that happens.

Kirk tries to defend himself, but Spock has superhuman strength and a lot of anger to let out, so this fight was over before it begun. But the film keeps cutting away to the reaction shots of the other characters, and none of them are dragging the crazed Vulcan away before he literally murders a man right in front of them! I can understand Chekov keeping his distance as he was the one operating the transporter during the incident, but the others are bad Starfleet officers.

Luckily his dad Sarek is there to bring him to his senses, and Spock realises he has to give up command to Kirk. It's a shame really as he really was keeping it together remarkably well, escape pod hijinks aside. It's just that all his sensible choices were leading straight to Earth getting blown up.

And Kirk seizes control of the chair, finally becoming captain of the Enterprise, to McCoy’s despair and Uhura's great annoyance (did I mention that she's dating Spock?) So now they're pursuing the Narada to Earth.

Sarek catches up to Spock in the transporter room and they have a chat about his feelings and inability to control them. Sarek admits something that he never did in the Prime Timeline: that he married Spock's mother because he loved her. And maybe Spock shouldn't be trying for absolute control over his emotions right now. This advice helps Spock get control of his emotions.

Meanwhile the crew are having a briefing room scene as they figure out their next move. Except they don't have a briefing room set, so it's taking place on the bridge. Chekov comes up with a genius plan, and Spock walks in and says it makes sense.

In fact he announces that he'll be the one to beam over to the Narada alone before the drill jams their transporter so that he can single-handedly save the day. The Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestry you see, therefore he should have more luck using their computers... or whatever. It's interesting that they already know that the two races are related, seeing as it was a big reveal to the Prime Timeline crew back in Balance of Terror, but I guess it makes sense that the Kelvin incident would give them an early clue.  

You know what doesn't make sense? Kirk decides he's coming too... and they're not bringing anyone else. Sure most of the bridge crew are needed to make the ship go, but what about all the redshirts? What about Cupcake? Plus I doubt Uhura will be doing anything crucial. Sure she's a communications officer, but Spock's a science officer and Kirk's a nothing officer, and if they fuck this up then the Earth explodes, followed by 100 other planets, so why not?

And then there's this cool shot of the Enterprise emerging from the atmosphere of Titan.

Chekov's plan involves coming out of warp behind one of Saturn's moons so that the Narada doesn't know they're in the system, so they can beam over in secret. It's funny how they're fighting a Romulan ship here, but it doesn't have a cloaking device and the Enterprise is the one that's sneaking around.

By the way, the warp nacelles aren't the only bit of the ship that has moving parts now, as the blue deflector dish has an inner disc that splits into eight slices and slides open when the ship goes to warp. You can't really tell though unless you're looking out for it and even then it's hard to make out what's actually happening. I think the original Star Trek movie had the right idea when they just made it glow bluer the faster the ship is going.

Anyway Uhura gives Spock a kiss on the transporter pad and Kirk finally gets to learn that her first name is... Nyota. Only took them 43 years to confirm that on screen. Now we just need to learn Spock's full name and we've got the set.


The two protagonists accidentally beam right into the middle of some Romulans and have to shoot their way out, but they totally have each other's backs and it's all over in seconds. They've hated each other for most of the movie so far but now that they've murdered a few rooms full of people together they've suddenly become bros.

The sound design for this ray gun fight is really weird as it's like they're all using squeaky nail guns and shooting at pans; there's lots of shots ricocheting off metal here and no action music. I miss the way the old phasers fired a proper energy beam instead of a blaster bolt.

I'm not a fan of the design either. They look like they picked up a pair of cheap spray painted plastic toys by mistake, especially considering they have a coloured end to show whether they're on stun or kill.

Speaking of stun, Kirk decides to leave one Romulan alive for Spock to mind-meld with to get intel, and Spock rolls with it without stopping to wonder 'hang on, how does he know about mind-melds?' Kirk keeps him covered, Spock gets the location of the red matter and Captain Pike, everything's going great.

Well aside for the Narada drilling into Earth.

Nero's chosen to fire the beam right next to (but not at) Starfleet Academy, so even if his plan to blow up the world fails they'll still suffer from very slightly lower tides. They'll have to put a plug on that hole afterwards to make sure swimmers don't get sucked down to the Earth's core or cooked by steam.

Meanwhile on the Enterprise: more people running around the corridors!

Over on the Narada, the two officers find Spock Prime's ship and Spock immediately realises that a: it's from the future and b: it responds to his voice commands and calls him Ambassador. He also figures out that Kirk must have had his future self's help to get back to the ship, which is a bit of a leap but okay. Plus he calls him Jim and it's way too early for him to do that. They should've saved that for the sequel.

Spock takes his ship out (along with all the red matter) and flies down to San Francisco to shoot up the drill, while Kirk gets his ass kicked by Nero while trying to rescue Pike. He ends up hanging from his fingertips over a fatal drop again for at least the third time this movie.

Anyway Spock saves the Earth then lures the Narada away at warp speed. Once they're both far enough away he stops and swings around to ram them! Sucks for poor Kirk and Pike I suppose, but it'll get rid of the red matter and the Romulans in one tidy black hole, and the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few. Nero's not keen on this though and orders his crew to "FIRE EVERYTHING" filling the space between the ships with a thousand little green missiles. Spock on the other hand decides it'll be more dramatic if he doesn't fire anything, and just carries on flying right at them.

And then the bloody Millennium Enterprise warps in out of nowhere to clear a path so that Luke Spockwalker can blow up the Death Star! The ship's not so great at intercepting incoming missiles but give it a stream of missiles flying elsewhere and it'll obliterate all of them.

The TV series treated ship combat like submarine battles, Wrath of Khan was galleons in the fog, but this wants to be a little more Star Wars, so the Enterprise unloads from every phaser bank simultaneously for maximum pew pew pew.

Look at the amount of camera shake in that GIF, it's crazy. In live action this was achieved by J.J. Abrams tapping on the camera while filming. But ILM weren't filming their virtual models using real cameras so they apparently had to set up a motion sensor and tap the desk instead.

Kirk rescues Pike, Pike rescues Kirk, and then Scotty rescues all three of them by beaming them from two places onto one pad just as the red matter in Spock's ship ignites inside the Narada. It's lucky it's just a mining ship without shields really.

But somehow this leaves the Narada sticking out of a black hole without either instant death or time travel. So Kirk hails the man who ruined his childhood and nearly blew up the Earth, and offers him assistance, which is the most Captain Kirk thing he's done all movie. Spock's a bit emotionally compromised so he's not entirely on board with the idea, but Nero's a complete raving lunatic and rejects their help outright.

So the Kirk orders them to blow the crap out of the helpless Narada, making this the first time the ship's weapons have been used on an enemy vessel.

The Narada crumbles and implodes, and the Enterprise turns to leave. The trouble with black holes though, is that they really suck, and the ship just can't reach escape velocity. So as nasty looking cracks appear across the bridge (a good reason not to have a window there), Scotty decides to eject their warp core and blow it up to give them that little bit of extra force needed to break free.

They literally throw out their engine to go faster, which in this case seems to be a number of glowing metal pods. Works though.

Back on Earth, Spock accidentally runs into Spock Prime who reveals that he tricked Kirk into thinking that the two Spocks couldn't meet because he needed him and Young Spock to come together on their own. Spock feels he should quit Starfleet to help the survivors of Vulcan, but Spock lets him off the hook, pointing out that he can be in two places at once.

Then the older Spock goes to watch Kirk's medal/promotion ceremony as he's officially given command of the Enterprise by the wounded Pike. The guy's literally still wearing his cadet outfit, you don't think this is maybe a little too soon? Kirk I mean, Pike's wearing is awesome admiral uniform inspired by the one good costume in the Motion Picture. To be fair though a fleet's worth of officers just died, Kirk just saved the entire planet and has been confirmed to be the best person ever by the future version of his former worst enemy (Spock, not Cupcake), and no one here has any business making rational decisions after the crap they've been through anyway. Plus Into Darkness is all about him being given the chair too soon, so it works better for me in retrospect.

The movie ends with Kirk striding onto the repaired bridge in his gold tunic at last, Spock requesting the position of first officer, and Leonard Nimoy reading out the 'ongoing mission' opening narration as the Trek fanfare plays and they warp off to another adventure! Then an orchestral arrangement of the original Alexander Courage theme plays over the end credits and I suddenly get the urge to turn it off. Sorry, it just doesn't work for me!


CONCLUSION

Holy shit, how much did they pack into this two hour movie? I'm exhausted.

Alright, now that we're two sequels into the future looking back at a seven year old film, who was actually right at the time? The 95% of reviewers who recommended the movie, or the dissatisfied hardcore Trek fans? Well... they were all right actually, except for the ones who've rethought their opinion in the meantime, they were wrong.

But is this a genuinely good film or a brainless, shameless Transformers-style remake that uses dumb comedy and flashy effects to win over the lowest common denominator? Again I've kind of got to go with both. It's so nice to watch a Star Trek movie with an actual budget and energy to it though! They finally had the resources and talent to bring some proper spectacle to the series and a cast young enough to run down corridors constantly. It feels like a proper film and a great looking one too, when you can make out what's going on behind the lens flares. Michael Giacchino's score is great too, introducing a new 'Kelvin Timeline' theme for the films and emphasising the figurative mountain these characters have to climb to earn their happy ending.

I was a bit concerned about J.J. Abrams taking over the franchise seeing as he wasn't much of a Trek fan (especially after I read about what was in his script for a Superman reboot), but sometimes it's good to get an outsider in to bring new life and a different perspective... and sometimes it's not. Nicholas Meyer pretty much saved the Trek films with Wrath of Khan and Stuart Baird pretty much killed them with Nemesis, so it can go either way. Fortunately Abrams came into it with endless enthusiasm and a lot more respect than I expected.

The film's basically a 'What If?' story, but it matters because of original Spock's presence. This is the universe that our Spock ultimately ends up and becomes invested in, and that makes this more than just another parallel dimension. His presence legitimises the movie in the same way that Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher legitimised The Force Awakens. Sure the film has a very different feel and features recast actors on updated sets, but it acknowledges that the earlier stories happened and goes out of its way to coexist with them. This could've pulled a Battlestar Galactica and started over fresh, but it didn't, and my gratitude is endless because Star Trek's 50 year old persistent continuity is a big part of its appeal for me. Keeping it means that Discovery can tell new stories in the original setting while the movies continue along this branch.

It's definitely an entry point for new fans, especially people who've written the series off for being too dull and talky. It's a Trek movie by a Star Wars fan, for Star Wars fans. But calling it a straight rip-off isn't entirely fair... as it's also ripping off Starship Troopers. Or to be more accurate, it's telling the familiar hero's journey, giving Kirk an origin story he never had or needed before. It's also an origin for Spock though, and the two of them are the centre of this film. The rest of the characters get things to do, more so than in the earlier films, but they're definitely in Kirk and Spock's story and this actually works pretty well for me. Even if it does push McCoy aside to become comic relief rather than Kirk's advisor.

There's three big flaws in this film for me: not enough McCoy, it takes place in a universe ruled by destiny and coincidence where science and logic are meaningless, and the Enterprise doesn't look exactly like I want it to. Plus I suppose it's not as thoughtful as the episodes often were, but I can forgive that because it's not an episode. If dealing with deep philosophical issues was really the most crucial part of what makes Star Trek tick then The Motion Picture and Final Frontier would be the best of them. Sometimes I'm okay with more flash and less substance, as I'm perfectly capable of thinking too much about it either way.

In conclusion: the film puts a huge grin on my face, I love it. In fact I'd put it right up near the top of my personal rankings, perhaps even above Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country. I'm not saying it does what it does better than those films, the style and ridiculous pacing just appeals to me slightly more. Plus that intro on the Kelvin is about as perfect as these movies ever get.

Strange new worlds explored: 0. Vulcan's part of the Federation and Delta Vega had a Starfleet base on it.
New life discovered: 1. But only if Nero's torture bug was something new to Starfleet in this time period.
New civilisations discovered: 0.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: Does Spock going to a new timeline count?
Other ships in range: Loads of them. But not any more.


I won't be writing about any more Star Trek movies for a long while I'm afraid. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, you've got Doctor Who episode Sleep No More to look forward to.

Right, I'm done. Now it's your turn to write about the movie in the comment box underneath, unless we're in the timeline where you don't do that.

7 comments:

  1. I loved this right up until the point Kirk fires upon a sinking ship, then I felt sick.

    Of course Kirk would offer assistance, and if Nero refused, of course Kirk would say "screw you Nero", but what he would do is transport Nero from the ship against his will, not open fire. Not least because while Nero might be a stubborn bastard, that doesn't mean his entire crew has to die.

    It's a horrible un-Star Trek moment, makes Kirk into a murderer, and it put me right off the film, despite all its other qualities.

    Oddly enough there's a suggestion in the next film that they recognise they went too far, but I can't tell if it's backpedalling or if the rehabilitation of Murder-Kirk was planned from the outset as some sort of character arc. If it's the latter, it's hamfisted to say the least; you're asking for a lot of good will by starting your hero out as a bastard and then redeeming him two films later.

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    1. Yeah it's a strange moment, but I justified it in my head as being an opportunity they couldn't afford to pass up as the stakes were too high. In 30 seconds the Narada might have (somehow) broken free or been sent further back in time. Plus it was kind of Young Kirk's "I... have had... enough of YOU!" moment, as he puts his life in danger to save a man who's caused him a great deal of personal grief, but finds that his enemy's more interested in their mutual destruction. So he says 'fuck it' and kicks him into lava.

      But they really should've thrown a couple of lines in there though with Kirk asking "Can we beam the crew aboard against their will?" Scotty replying "They're caught in a black hole sir, are you serious?" and then have Nero's rant force their hand.

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    2. Yeah, maybe a line like that would have helped, but then again, we've got all of Scotty's transporter shenanigans elsewhere in the film, as you note above, so it wouldn't have been convincing.

      I suppose I see Star Trek as essentially being about optimism, even if now and then there's a bad guy who needs to be shot, but this ending was cynical and cruel and the opposite of optimistic, and so it felt wrong.

      I suppose also that one reason why I reacted so strongly to it is because up until that point I was enjoying the film a great deal.

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  2. Spending a few hours reading your Star Trek film posts and loving every minute. Great writing and plenty of interesting facts that I didn't know about in there too. Many thanks for writing and posting all of this.

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    1. I feel like reading this comment for hours.

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  3. My main problem with the story is that Nero (having traveled back in time) now has all this...time...to forewarn Romulus about the disaster to come, so they can take action and be ready when the...time...comes, to prevent/avoid disaster. So in a sense, he's just as responsible for his homeworld's destruction as Spock and the Federation were. Er, will be. (Oh, no, I've gone cross-eyed.)

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    1. It seems to me that Nero is as cross-eyed as anyone when it comes to time travel (and life in general really).

      I mean his whole scheme is to get revenge on planets that haven't done anything yet, for the crime of not doing anything in the future. But I'm sure that using the red matter to stop the supernova 150 years early was high up on his list of things to do. It's just that he also picked up Spock and he was eager to blow up his planet in front of him so he could get that ticked off the to-do list first. Blowing up Vulcan got him Pike who had the codes to Earth's defences, so he had to rush off and blow that up too before they got changed. And so on.

      But he was totally going to take action to save his world, once he was done taking revenge on them for not taking action to save his world until it was too late.

      Ironically Old Spock probably warned the Romulans after the movie and ended up saving the day with decades to spare.

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