J.J. Abrams can't miss right now. He redesigned the monster movie for a new generation with last year's Cloverfield. He's been dominating the television landscape for the better part of the last decade (Lost, Alias, Felicity, Fringe). And his feature film directorial debut, Mission: Impossible 3, was the best yet in that franchise. Now, with his exciting and re-energized Star Trek (A-), he boldly takes the old-school Trek template and breathes fresh new life into its DNA. Powered by a young, sexy and talented cast and bolstered by eye-popping special effects and tremendous production values, this new Star Trek starts over from the beginning (ala Casino Royale and Batman Begins) and tells you to forget all that came before. Never being a "Trekkie," I went into this new movie as a lover, first and foremost, of the science fiction genre, basically looking for a fun time at the movies. And what I got was nothing less than supreme entertainment. The story is loony but what did you expect? Kirk (Chris Pine, a star in the making) and Spock (Zachary Quinto, perfect) clash for control over the U.S.S. Enterprise while contending with a nasty Romulan villain (played with evil relish by Eric Bana) who's bent on destroying most of the known universe (for surprisingly thoughtful reasons it turns out...). Abrams and his ace cinematographer Daniel Mindel (who shot Domino and Spy Game for Tony Scott) shoot the film with a vibrant color palette and include a series of near-blinding lens flares throughout much of the film to simulate the newness and the grandeur of space. The film has a gorgeous visual panache all throughout. There are any number of stand-out action set-pieces, my favorite being the ridiculous yet heart-stopping "space-dive" onto a space-elevator-like platform where Kirk, Spock, and Sulu battle some nasty henchmen. The movie breezes along at a frenetic but never incomprehensible pace, and thanks to the tight-enough scripting by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Transformers 1 & 2, Eagle Eye), you never really stop to second guess some of the plot holes (they’re there if you want to nit-pick). It's all too much damn fun to sweat the small stuff. The broad strokes are all right on the money, which is why it's easy to forgive some momentary lapses in logic, and the sheer idiocy of the idea that a space ship could outrun a rapidly forming black hole. Being that this is the first film in a new series (and with this movie closing in on $200 million in domestic ticket sales in less than a month you can bet there will be sequels), you have to wade through some obligatory scenes of exposition and set-up. One can imagine that the sequel, if handled correctly, could become The Dark Knight of pop science-fiction adventures. We'll see what happens, but I love where Abrams and his crew have taken us so far.
On the complete opposite end of the quality spectrum lives McTool's, err…sorry…I meant…McG's rancid Terminator: Salvation (D), a film that takes a fat dump on a once potent franchise of sci-fi blockbusters. Honestly, the less said about this disgrace the better. I had my doubts about whether or not this film would be any good the moment I head that McG was going to be directing. He's responsible for the two Charlie's Angels movies (a series of clips posing as complete works) and the overly sentimental football movie We Are Marshall. What producer thought that this clown was fit to tackle this franchise? Just because you've seen Terminator 2 about 1,000 times and just because you were a fan of Children of Men (Terminator: Salvation has a bunch of cool but unnecessary unbroken shots of heavily choreographed action and destruction) doesn't mean you're ready to take on a $200 million science fiction blockbuster. Hell, even the sort-of jokey Terminator 3 was a better movie; at least that film had a ballsy ending and some genuinely suspenseful action sequences. In Terminator: Salvation, the best that can be said is that the explosions went off at the same time that the cameras were rolling. The screenplay is a joke. The dialogue is beyond wooden and witless, and none of the spoken words are done many favors by the grunting and shouting that McG calls "acting" from a cast that looks bored stiff. I hate to say it, but for the first time to my eye, Christian Bale has delivered a completely phoned-in performance. He's John Connor, the leader of the resistance of humans who are fighting against the machines that started "Judgement Day" and wiped out most of humanity with nukes. The confused screenplay cuts back and forth between Connor fighting the good fight against Skynet, and a mysterious criminal named Marcus Wright who holds some sort of secret. Honestly, I am done "reviewing" this piece of shit. McG has dropped a wet-fart in the lap of series creator James Cameron; I'd love to hear what Cameron thinks of this travesty. Gone is the novelty of Terminator, the narrative and visual elegance of Terminator 2, and the brute-force of Terminator 3. Instead, we have a limp, PG-13 rated sci-fi/war movie hybrid that feels over-long while actually clocking in at less than two hours. Sure, the special effects are impressive, and the Terminator robots themselves have been lovingly crafted and built. I do commend the visual effects artists and the cinematographer, Shane Hurlburt, who have created a gun-metal gray, monochromatic apocalyptic wasteland that looks and feels authentic. It's just a pity that the performances suck (this new guy Sam Worthington is a total non-starter), that the script is junk, and that the direction is formless and flat. The film feels like a special-effects demo reel and not a complete piece of cinema. I won't be upset if this is the last time I see the Terminator saga on the big screen. And that feeling is probably the most disappointing aspect of the entire experience.