So let's get started on the plot. Let's start with the opening. Kirk's father ends up having to pilot the ship because the autopilot is broken to save tons of people. We see here the potential of what Kirk could be, which is a nice start. We also see Nero and his viciousness right in the beginning, and learn as well he's confused about the year. It sets us up perfectly as the villain is behind a major experience with Kirk's life from day one.
We then move on to Spock. As I said this scene is a great beginning to Spock as a character. It's also a great set up into understanding his motivations as well as establishing the basis for a theme to be built. It also shows us the converse of Kirk and Spock, which is great for the plot development and theme development of their friendship. It doesn't further any of the external plot, but a story is always better when he have internal conflict and struggle to enrich the action-driven external plot. It's why everyone loved the first Matrix. Neo is overcoming his doubts and learning all about this new world, being told he's meant to save it, and he has to come to terms with whether or not he's really meant for this. By the end he believes, has faith, and takes on Agent Smith one on one. This is where the change begins to happen. It culminates in his character arc when he is shot in the hallway, and when he stands up, despite all reason, he has completely changed and there is nothing he cannot do. Then he jumps into Agent Smith and makes him explode from the inside somehow--which was kind of weird--but we liked the win so much more because of the internal conflict. This is why this scene is good. It sets us up for important developments later, we see an internal conflict within Spock.
Then we move to these characters at different ages, older but not in Star Fleet, yet. Both show a certain amount of rebellious behavior, which shows us their similarities despite their very converse upbringings and personalities. Spock's does a good job explaining why he goes to Star Fleet, why he's rebelling against the Vulcan's purist mentality, and even his intelligence and hard work. In Kirk's scene we waste time at him being somewhere around twelve or thirteen driving a Corvette off a cliff because he's "a rebel," or as I like to say, "a fucking magic retard." Especially him braking and jumping out of this car so flawlessly to drag across the dirt to the edge of the cliff to catch himself and pull himself up? SEVERE EYE ROLL what was the purpose of this scene other than mind-numbing action? He's a rebel? We establish that just as well in the next scene. Got any other reasons? You're a fanboy faggot? Good to know. This doesn't really explore Kirk beyond the surface level. We don't see why he's rebelling, why he stole this Corvette or even from whom he stole it. Without understanding why we won't ever care. When Spock tells off the board and then says, "Live Long and Prosper," we all grin and say something to the effect of "goddamn right assholes!" When Kirk decides to take older fella on his offer to join Star Fleet, we kind of giggle as he has a silly conversation with the guy sitting next to him, and then suddenly realize, "hey wait a minute, why's he doing this? Why does he want to become a captain? Where'd this motivation come from? Why would he want to be in Star Fleet if he's a rebel? Does he have some sort of father complex? Could we have explored that when he was twelve rather than had some sort of obnoxious scene where he does super human shit at age twelve? Oh, I guess not. I guess I covered the following scene with Kirk, but let me briefly reiterate that before the final conversation after the bar fight, we get a real sense of Kirk's humorous, rebellious, and willful nature. It's great, but again, we have no sense of why. And without why, without understanding, we cannot really care. This is where the split truly happens between our love for the two main characters, and why Spock becomes significantly more interesting and Kirk fades into comic-relief/action-hero.
After this some boring things happen, we flash forward three years to see Kirk with his medical buddy chatting it up in uniforms, talking about some test we haven't heard of until now. Kirk beats the test after some strange malfunction, and then there is a board hearing where Spock and Kirk face off because Kirk cheated on Spock's test. We finally get to see our two main characters in the same place at the same time together. It's pleasantly humorous as they are so different, especially here, and are pitted against each other and disagree so foundationally, but we know they're supposed to be friends later on. This is dramatic irony at its finest. Well played, writers. Also earlier there was some obnoxious scene with Kirk sleeping with Uhura's green roommate, but Uhura mentions something about Romulans (aka NERO IS BACK MUHFUCKAHS). Anyways, the board meeting breaks because of a crisis (how convenient ACTION TIEM) and through a technicality Kirk's medical buddy gets him on the Enterprise. Of course, due to some humorous difficulties, the Enterprise is the last to jump into hyperspace. I didn't mention anything about predictability, but let's say I'll tap my foot at it. So here I tapped my foot impatiently at some predictability, knowing this would happen and that this would give them a delay before arriving to see all their dead friends.
So while Kirk is being medicated repeatedly in some ridiculous fashion, he's running around frantically because he heard the news transmission and heard about a lightning storm. He knows about his father's death. Gee, wouldn't it have been cool that we explored him and his knowledge in this? He wasn't sentient when this happened, he was barely alive, so he must've found out at some point. How? Did he look it up on his own because he felt empty never knowing his father, never having an older figure to truly look up to, to emulate? Ohhh, we never explore this. He just pulls out his knowledge of daddy and we just keep blundering ahead with the plot in the driver's seat because HEY GODDAMMIT WE'RE TRYING TO GET TO THE ACTION SCENES! He also brings up Uhura's interception of communications. Spock agrees that Kirk's logic is sound, despite their disagreements. Instead of this being perhaps a small moment between them, a foundation for their friendship despite their distaste for each other, we move right on ahead. So they still finish their course through hyperspace, only with a little more knowledge, now. Now we finally get to have our action movie.
Weee! Why am I doing thiiiiis?!
Here several major developments happen inordinately fast. The captain is asked to board Nero's ship. He asks Spock, Kirk, and some others to walk with him. He leaves Spock as Captain and Kirk as Commander, sending Kirk and two others to take care of some drill that is jamming the Enterprise's ability to communicate or jump into hyperspace. Meanwhile, Spock has to Captain the ship and take over if something should happen to our older character who is going to board and talk to Nero. So already we're splitting up our heroes to develop as much action as possible. I won't complain that these scenes were hard to follow or that I was in any way confused, but I will point out we have just begun a true face off with the villain. It's important not to overshoot your action too early. Characters splitting up to take care of several missions to ultimately bring down the main villain is generally a climactic element, used when we have the final showdown. A good example of this would be the Star Wars films. The first one involves Leia at the main station, Luke heading in to attack the Death Star, and Han popping up as Deus Ex Machina. In the second one, although it all converges at Cloud City, Luke confronts Vader whilst Leia and Han suffer difficulties and Han is lost to the hands of Boba Fett. In the third--this is the best example--Luke splits off from Han and Leia to confront Vader and the Emperor, to bring an end to the Sith, what is the underlying darkness behind The Empire. Meanwhile, Han and Leia struggle to blow up the shield generator for the new Death Star whilst Lando buys time before fighting the Death Star once its shields are down. OKAY STOP TALKING ABOUT OTHER MOVIES MY POINT IS that if you start with this, you're shooting yourself in the foot by making it harder to top yourself later, when you want to reach a climactic moment. That being said, this could be solved if we could see Kirk and Spock, although not necessarily on the mission together, be at odds with each other as the mission ensues. That way, in the end, when we have our climactic battle, we could see them come together. However, it seems the action sequences were only focused on one thing: action. We ignore our characters and their development during these scenes except for unignorable moments (like Spock's mom dying, which I shall henceforth refer to only as Plot Device).
So Spock remains on the ship reading the man's vitals on Nero's ship. The older man goes to talk with Nero, gets to hear Nero BAAAAWWWWWW a little bit, so we can understand his plight and motivation, albeit simple, and then demand for some sort of code or something never really well specified about Earth, maybe? Anyways, he's kept alive because of his lack of cooperation. Meanwhile Kirk is our action hero, so he's more or less base-jumping with two other buddies, one of which is in red, so we know he's going to die for fanservice. Instead of them finding a clever way to do this, they have him be a moron and just not want to pull his chute until way late, and then he gets sucked into the drill and dies. You think if he had the charges on him they'd explode and possibly cause severe damage to the drill right then? I don't know, whatever. At any rate, they land on the drill, and we need to have Kirk save his buddy to add forced drama. Then they get to a forced and boring fight scene where naturally two opponents conveniently have swords and the other two opponents kind of wrestle with each other. Kirk, although headstrong, is not the most amazing fighter, as we saw in the bar. So he's losing as the other man does something smart and kicks a guy onto a vent that burns him alive, then saves Kirk. Okay, cool, so now they're sort of even or something. Then they just shoot the shit out of the drill until breaks, which makes me wonder why they even had charges. Hey, these guys were in the drill, right? Maybe they had controls in there you could've just turned it off? Then you wouldn't have to fall ridiculously until you get beamed up? Or maybe you could have destroyed it not at the base of what's holding you up? You know? Maybe there are other essential places to shoot the shit out of it? Yeah, I know Kirk's willful and doesn't think ahead, but our other friend here seems to be a bit smarter, as he just revealed, maybe he could have pointed any one of these pieces of stupidity out? So now they machinery is leaning or something, and of course to milk more action out of this scene, much like milking a dead cow, Kirk's buddy starts falling towards the ground. He thinks it's a good idea to just jump off and try and catch him. Good! Now you'll both die! I have to wonder, couldn't Kirk have simply called in and said, "Hey, could you just beam us both up, hurry up and get what's-his-face he's falling to his death." Why did he have to be falling to his death with him? I also have to point out that paper-clip-chugging accented man is able to beam them here despite their ridiculous speed in falling. This will be important later.
So when the two are beamed back onto the Enterprise, they explain to Spock what's going on. He decides he must get down to the surface and save at least the Vulcan elders in order to preserve their race and culture. So when he beams down there he talks to them, and of course his mom, married to Vulcan ambassador to Earth (so why wouldn't they possibly be on Earth, or maybe have to live there, as Spock's father's job would deal a lot more with dealing with humans WHATEVS NEVER MIND ACTION SCENE) are all there. He tells them they need to leave, and the cave starts collapsing. So they need to leave before they get beamed. I'll accept this part, but then, when they're standing as a group to be beamed, Spock's mom is humorously--er, I mean, suspiciously--ERR I MEAN JUST HAPPENS to be standing WAAAYYYY in front of the rest of the group, so when part of the cliff crumbles, she's the only one who falls and is lost in the beaming. Wait a minute...isn't the guy who somehow managed to get Krik and his friend falling just minutes ago the one who's doing the beaming? Why does he just suck it up here and simply say "I'm losing her" in a way that still makes me want to chug a container of paper clips and have them cut my esophageal lining so that I choke to death on my own blood? Couldn't he save her too? SIGH A SIGH OF INCONSISTENCY. This is why this moment is known as Plot Device. I would have been fine with this moment despite the obviousness of her being separate if it wasn't just minutes, MINUTES I SAY ago that we saw two people falling much faster get beamed into the ship. Here, Plot Device is set conveniently so that Spock now suffers the loss of his mother, much like Kirk suffered the loss of his father, only Spock had known and loved his mother for many years. We feel bad for Spock, worry about him, and his character arc continues to rise.
Here, Spock makes the decision to try and regroup with Star Fleet while Kirk is pissing his pants saying they need to just run in and do it all themselves. I suppose it makes sense because he's a willful idiot, but it's clearly the dumbest idea ever. The only reason it works later is because of the newer technology and the knowledge that Spock will be able to fly a small ship docked on Nero's ship. Anyways, I can't help but wonder what Kirk's problem is, here, especially since Spock raises several points as to why Kirk's plan is fucking retarded. To make matters worse, Spock decides to maroon Kirk on some nearby planet with no resources just because he's an ass that's fighting security. Isn't he also your Commander? This makes him second in command, how do you have the right to just say, "fuck this guy?" Besides the fact that he's already proven himself to be an extremely useful asset to the team, whether or not he agrees with you. I'm sure security could handle him, as they do eventually lock him in some device and then drop him on this planet. Anyways, this whole development smacks of plot alteration for the sake of Fanservice. It's time for Fanservice to step in so we can all smile and get giddy about our favorite old characters and lose any semblance of plot.
Before I go further I also want to mention that there is a brief moment, after they've escaped Nero (without the old captain who was left on the ship), Spock and Kirk have a moment on the ship with the other characters in an attempt to deduct what in the blimey hell is going on. Spock logically concludes the only possibility is time travel. Nero is from the future. Here we spend a brief moment in the land of Science Fiction, where Star Trek truly belongs, and we see a moment where this film is actually attempting to be true to the old. Also, since it has science fiction as its foundational elements anyway (i.e. space travel, teleportation, etc.) they might as well do a bit of exploration. Unfortunately we don't get very deep into this before we jump back into action movie/fanservice mode, and we never really do much more exploring of it, which is kind of necessary when dealing with something as complicated as time travel. If you wanted to stay true to the old without necessarily being a complete and utter blundering ass, you could have tried any number of other science fiction elements that would have been less complicated and you could still have your precious action to make this movie approachable to as many folks as possible. Just saying... Also, around this point, we see Nero feeding old captain some bug that will make him tell the truth.
Climbing his way into Fanservice territory
So we now follow Kirk marooned on this planet. You might be wondering where this is going, or why in the hell this is happening. It's okay, we all are. Then Kirk is being chased by a giant monster. Ohhhh...more action...but mindless and boring...then he falls into a cave and when he's in danger an older fellow comes out with a torch and scares off the monster. Then he turns around and says, "I'm Leonard Nimoy--Spock from the future, I mean." We sit down with him and Kirk and we listen to what the fuck Nero's problem is and how Spock failed. They both got sucked into a black hole he created which for some reason instantly means time travel. Nimoy showed up 25 years after Nero because it's a black hole and time travel. You think he'd end up thousands of years in the past or something if it's that erratic WHATEVER SHUT UP so anyways, he was left on this planet to watch Nero destroy his homeworld. Now Nimoy needs to send Kirk back on the mission, but this time with Montgomery Scott and the technology he hasn't invented yet. So apparently he's next door, or something. I don't know, he's somewhere on this planet, conveniently. They talk to Simon Pegg, who's funny but the comedy is kind of forced, and Nimoy tells Kirk not to tell Spock he sent him. Here Kirk and Nimoy have a moment, which is sweet, but ultimately it truly undermines the theme of friendship. Right here, this entire sequence, aside from being so fanservice forced without even the slightest decency of a justification for so many coincidences (both marooned on the same planet, Scotty being there, black hole time travel etc.), we undermine the growing friendship between Kirk and Spock. I know I know didn't Nimoy tell Kirk not to say anything and that would somehow keep his influence from affecting and ruining their growth into friends? Yeah, but that was stupid. Kirk already, now, knows they will be friends. He also can understand Spock better, now. He immediately begins changing his attitude towards Spock here, because of these things. Yes he pisses him off to get his position on the ship, but still, when Spock comes back and Kirk decides to go with him on the mission, we're supposed to feel like they're buddies, even though they're not, really. But Kirk probably feels that way a bit because of what happened, and even responds more humorously instead of aggressively, "see, we are starting to learn about each other." We have again, successfully shot ourselves in the foot, only now instead of in the action, in the theme and plot.
Live long and insert self into movie somehow
So now Scotty and Kirk are beamed back onto the Enterprise despite it being in hyperspace. Hooray for fancy new technology. Of course, Scotty is humorously beamed although still next to Kirk, inside some container. At first I laughed, thought this was actually clever comedy, until it turned into forced action. Suddenly he's being drained through some tube that for some reason leads to spinning sharp shit that will kill him. And Kirk frantically finds some release button for some reason programmed in to open up the last section of the tube before the spinning things. It all just looked like water. What were the spinning mixer things for? What was that container or that tube for? What was the purpose of all of that machinery we just saw? ACTION SHUT UP so I had to sit back, roll my eyes, and try to pretend that part didn't just happen. Seriously, it would have been funny if we left it at him inside the container. Anyways, by hitting the release, Kirk alerted Spock to their presence on the ship. So Spock orders the men to get them. For some reason Kirk sees these guys and decides to try and run from them. I'm still not sure why. His whole purpose was to get there so he could talk to Spock. Maybe he thought they were going to just kick him off again? I somehow doubt that.
Hey, how'd I end up in this movie? I bet it's because I'm awesome.
So now we see Kirk and Spock together, and Kirk tries to get a rise out of Spock. Although predictable, I loved every moment of this scene, because again, we know Spock, we get him, we love him, and feel sorry for him since he lost his mother. So when Kirk is failing, he eventually moves onto Spock's mother and says, "You never loved her." Spock flips shit and they get into a fight that ends with Spock's hands around Kirk's throat. He's choking the shit out of him, and only after a few seconds of choking him does he realize what's happened. He resigns from his position and walks off. Again, we're moved. We actually know what Spock is going through, we see every bit of it, and we feel his pain. When we see him talk with his father, he refers to the same conflict he had as a child. He tells him that at the loss of his mother he is experiencing a sorrow and an anger that he cannot control. His father tells him what he thinks his mother would say, and then admits he did not marry his mother because of logic, but because of love. What a beautiful moment. I really do commend the writing here. Not only do we have a real moment with Spock's internal conflict which in turn also develops the theme of emotion vs. logic, but we have developed an additional build as Spock has admitted his conflict and also the cause even though without name: Nero.
So Kirk is Captain now, and decides to go guns-a-blazing back at Nero with a bit of new technology and a few ideas given to him by future Spock. The problem here is, well, we've had no rising action as far as the external conflict. All that's happened as far as the external conflict is they flew out, got attacked by Nero, lost their captain and a planet, then spaced the fuck out of there. Now they're going to space the fuck back but to Earth, because that is presumably the next target (but why, I really don't know). No, really, why is this the next target? What's Nero's issue with Earth? I thought he just hated Spock and wanted him to experience what he did? Didn't he get that? Isn't his revenge over? And how does Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise know that Nero would want to take care of Earth, next? Why? WHY? So there was no rising action. Kirk and Spock didn't eventually come to an agreement, didn't find a compromise, go on a hunt to learn something useful to go back at Nero. Instead, there's this strange lull in the rising action. It starts a great build, and then suddenly we sag back downward with Kirk coincidentally/accidentally running into Spock Prime and then learning everything and then going back to finish things. There was no struggle here, no external conflict development. Only background development, fanservice, and then just given all the things he needed to take on Nero. Given them. It really is cheating, as Kirk says, only because of this cheat we are cheated out of any rising action as far as the external conflict. So now, on our way back to see Nero, we're not really left with that feeling, "Here it is. It's finally come. They finally will have the last showdown." It's more like, "Here it is. It's finally come. Why did I have to sit through the rest of that shit?"
It is important that I focus on the lack of a rising action. A good rising action example would be in season four of Dexter. Throughout the season Dexter is getting to know this other serial killer, Trinity. At first he admires him, wishes to learn from him, but then discovers that he's not as good at what he does as Dexter thought. They slowly grow apart, but not before Dexter shows his true face. Then Trinity moves in on Dexter, finds out his real name and where he works. Finally, they both know they're after each other, they both know who the other is, what's going on. When they finally meet, when Dexter finally captures him, the moment is so anticipated, so longly awaited, the entire audience orgasms. Sex is not a bad metaphor, actually. You tease the audience, make them think they're going to get what they want, but then they don't. You build them closer and closer to this culminating moment, they know it will come, but that doesn't change the feeling they get when it finally does. We don't get any of that in Star Trek. We just get fluffy sugar that quickly dissolves in our mouth before we really get to taste it or sink our teeth into it. There's no build, we just walk into the bathroom and jack off into the toilet. Okay, metaphor over.
So now Spock and Kirk beam themselves with the new technology right into Nero's ship. Here we at least have the opportunity for a climactic internal conflict resolution with Spock, or a not as good one with Kirk since there's been no real build for his. Either way, we have the perfect opportunity. As they move in, all badass like, they find their way to this ship which Spock will pilot in order to destroy the drill, their shields, and then follow through to destroy the ship. Meanwhile, Kirk very boringly is going to go off and see if he can find old captain. For some reason, old captain is still alive, which is kind of stupid since Nero clearly has gotten what he wanted at this point, and we saw how he reacted when he got whatever information he could out of that captain twenty five years ago. Sigh another sigh of stupid inconsistency. Wouldn't it have been cooler if Kirk really wanted to go after Nero on purpose? Or maybe Spock? One of them being driven by revenge for what this man has done to them? Or even if they simply stopped him here they wouldn't need to destroy the entire ship, etc., but then had to face his inner fury? This would be especially great for Spock, since he would have to fight his logic vs. emotion, and perhaps there could be a reason to keep Nero alive, or if not, perhaps his emotions would get the better of him and he would do something foolish in trying to kill Nero rather than take the time to make logical deductions, and Kirk would have to stop him, help him, or in some way keep Spock from dying/letting his emotions get the better of him. Thus cementing their friendship, as well as complete the development of Spock and his internal struggle. It's like they had set up themselves perfectly for this beautiful arc. Instead of dealing with any controls on the ship that may have gotten rid of the shield or turned of the drill while Spock faced off with Nero, coming in late to help him, etc., Spock flies away to deal with the important stuff but in a removed fashion from all the tension that we've built. And he does it so easily we don't really see the "likelihood of death" that we heard about. Meanwhile, Kirk just stumbles upon Nero and then tries to hold him up for some reason, and then some nobody jumps out and starts beating him up. Then Nero jumps down and starts choking Kirk. He even says a line about killing him "just like your father" even though I'm not sure why he even knows this, let alone the fact that it's NOTHING LIKE HOW HE KILLED HIS FATHER ANYWAYS instead of there being an awesome showdown, even, that we've set up, Nero just gets up and runs over to BAAAAWWWW when he notices Spock has destroyed shit in this ship. Meanwhile, Kirk struggles with some nobody who calls his race weak and then Kirk says a stupid one-liner, "I got your gun" and shoots him and catches himself on the ledge. Maybe if I hadn't seen him getting up from a ledge somewhere around three of four times by now, I may have been a little tense. Like I said, the action shot itself in the foot ages ago. Still, there was plenty of opportunity for culminating scenes with all of the internal conflict. Instead, we abandoned that...for reasons I still am completely uncertain of.
I'm the cause of all your problems, watch me still be unimportant.
So Spock shoots some red matter at Nero's ship to create a black hole, and then he and Kirk both get beamed from their respective places back to the Enterprise. Here they have another very brief conversation with Nero that could have been interesting, but instead he simply BAAAAWWWWS at them and they humorously agree to blow the shit out of it as he gets pulled into the black hole they've just created. A few minor points here, but why did they do the black hole thing if they were going to blast the ship to bits anyway? And why wouldn't they get their ass away from the black hole immediately or even before they made it since that was the plan, anyway? Instead we have another extended milking-a-dead-cow action sequence of them trying to escape its pull. Also, wouldn't creating a black hole right next to Earth cause SEVERE problems? Instead the next shot we see of Earth everything is just fine and dandy. I understand this film wasn't trying to be extremely thought provoking, but you think a few of these issues would have crossed their mind.
Are we friends now? Uh...I think so... But why? When did we bond? ...Bond?
After all this we see happy scenes with everyone. Old captain was brought back and he was relieved as captain, his successor of course being Kirk. Spock asks to be Kirk's Commander and Kirk says it would be an honor. They shake hands and then we have Leonard Nimoy narrating something silly while the ship flies away. But before we see Spock get on the Enterprise, we see him call out to his father, who turns around and is not his father, but Spock Prime/Leonard Nimoy/Fanservice Embodiment. They have a conversation which slightly undermines Star Trek because technically Spock Prime lied and Vulcans don't lie because it's apparently illogical. It also is a poor attempt at completing Spock's character arc that they didn't follow through with the battle against Nero the very cause of his pain and suffering and where it would have really made sense OKAY WE GET IT THE POINT is here we have a brief conversation where Spock says the logical thing would be to leave Star Fleet and help his people. Spock Prime, however, points out he can be at two places at once, and should stay at Star Fleet. And then gives him this washover line to poorly complete his character arc and says, "for once do what you feel is right, rather than what is logical." And instead of feeling all warm and fuzzy inside I feel so cold and empty I could punch a small child without hesitation or guilt. This is the pinnacle of our anti-climax. And what better place to end, really?
Wait...what just happened...is the movie over now? Do we care? What's going on?