Loved it. Almost every choice was the best possible choice except the odd waterslide incident. And now, below a very large SPOILER GAP, a discussion of how what will be the most successful movie of the summer kicks conventional screenwriting "rules" in the junk.
Captain James T. Kirk, the protagonist of the movie, does not have the development executive's beloved "character arc." He has no arc at all.
He starts as an arrogant sonovabitch, and becomes a slightly more motivated arrogant sonovabitch. He does not learn to sacrifice, he does not learn to work well with others -- he takes over the goddam ship. He's right all the time, he never doubts he's right, and the only obstacle he occasionally faces is when other people aren't sharp enough to see how frikkin' awesome -- and right -- he is as quickly as they should.
He never has an end-of-Act-Two "low point." Being stranded on the ice planet? Please. He spends those few minutes dictating a memo about bringing Spock up on charges when -- not if, when -- he rejoins the fleet. Oh yes, and then not one but two deus ex machina's get him back to the ship in time.
Does he learn Spock's precious lesson about fear? No. Does he learn what it was like for his father to willingly stare death in the face and sacrifice himself? FUCK no, that's Spock in the starship in the end, making the kamikaze run.
These are not flaws, by the way. These are the moves of a supremely confident director/storyteller. And it adds weight to an argument I've been making for some time: heroic franchise characters often have revelatory arcs rather thn transformative arcs.
A transformative arc is the classic feel good "a bad person becomes a good person." This is the Disney arc, the classic arc, although frankly many people confuse a character's circumstances changing with a transformative arc. Star Wars is the perfect example. "Luke Skywalker is a farm boy who becomes a hero." Well, sure. But he wasn't a cowardly farm boy. He wasn't an insecure farm boy. As soon as holo-Lea shows up, he is on-mission. He didn't leave his loving family behind, he was burnt out of his shitty hut he hated anyway.
He wasn't a farm boy who never believed in the Force, once he's introduced to the idea. Hell, turning off his targetting computer during the trench run is the least surprising thing he could do. Now if HAN SOLO suddenly showed up believing in the Force, well, that's a change. As a matter of fact, Han's the one with the transformative arc in the movie... Just like Spock's the one with the character story (kinda) in Trek.
A revelatory arc # is one in which the story of the movie is revealing how the hero (and the virtues he represents, which you the writer wish to highlight) is exactly the right person to solve the movie's problem. It's more an echo of the old school morality play. "Behold how misfortune comes unto the world. Now see what kind of man may set it right!" The protagonist of this sort of movie triumphs by holding on to whatever virtues he has, and often by becoming even more confident in them.
Indiana Jones has no transformative arc (and yes, Don, I know what you say, and I call shenanigans). Batman has no arc (Ollie Queen does). Superman is arc-less. WALL-E has no arc. James Bond has that fake "no, I really love her this time" arc in some of the movies, but c'mon. None of the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean have arcs. They become something else, but rarely choose to become something else in direct opposition of their previous character.*
Oh, and Star Trek kicks "Why Now?" in the crotch also. I swear, if I never hear "Why now?" again in a meeting, I'll be the happiest man alive. Why does the story start now? Because that's when the story needs to start in order to tell the best possible version.
Discuss my hack-dom, supporting and opposing examples in the Comments.
# (TM JOHN ROGERS YOU MUST ATTRIBUTE IN YOUR SUPER-FANCY SCREENWRITING SEMINAR AND SEND ME SOME OF THE MONIES YOU ARE TAKING FROM GULLIBLE WAITERS etc.)
* I had the odd experience of seeing Pirates 2 & 3 in near empty theaters back to back, and I'll argue that if you strip away what you expected those movies to be, the entire trilogy works as a pretty spiffy magical fantasy novel.