Maybe because it’s a film franchise spun from a television series that rose from its own ashes by the will of its fans, but doesn’t Star Trek often seem inordinately obsessed with its own past? Most of the movies concern themselves with origins, father and son issues (The Search for Spock), or the revisiting of past actions upon the present (The Wrath of Khan). This one, a series reboot, offers all three: beginnings, parent stuff, and a recycled storyline, while explaining how James Tiberius Kirk and everybody’s favorite Vulcan made it through space academy and into their first pan-galactic adventure. It’s a prequel with a twist, but it’s not exactly boldly going where no man has gone before.
Make no mistake, though-director J.J. Abrams, the mind behind Lost and an unapologetic fan, is exactly right for the job, respecting Trek traditions while expanding them visually. And with the possible exception of a Cloverfield-like monster on an ice planet riddled with dubious plot coincidences, he’s made this film sheer pleasure. It’s extraordinarily well cast, dynamically paced, and, with subtle brilliance, it also manages to defy a major science fiction taboo by allowing a time traveler to meet himself without messy universe-ending consequences.
The cast triumphs, but particularly Zachary Quinto’s Spock-with his dark, troubled gaze and gliding poise-is graceful even when violent (he upstages Nimoy) and stays appropriately memorable at the film’s center. He’s far more interesting than Chris Pine’s hunky Kirk, though their fist fight is the best part of the film, and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) is hilarious as Scotty.
Abrams has a deep intelligence and a knack for somehow turning fantasy into something both more playful and philosophically serious. Like Judd Apatow and Joss Whedon, he’s a nouveau television auteur who glides easily into cinema. You may find Star Trek over-complicated-time travel logistics can exhaust-but it hangs together after multiple viewings. Remember, fans will watch this stuff forever in reruns and the constant recycling will surely help 40 years from now when they remake it again.