Let’s pick up where we left off last week by ranking the best films in the Star Trek franchise by their ratings according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Rotten Tomatoes Score 83%
The final voyage of the Original Cast rebounded nicely from the debacle of the Final Frontier. The film, made at the end of the Cold War, pondered the cost of the overcoming the hatred and fear that defined the longstanding conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. With Spock instigating a reconciliation between the two sides, the film provides some nice character moments for Kirk as he must put aside his prejudices and accept Spock’s humane reaction to the Klingons’ plight (they are dying). Indeed many of the humans in the film advocate letting the Klingons’ die, while logical and calculating characters like Spock advocate the humane route by aiding them. The film presages the work of Deep Space Nine by questioning the high morals that the Star Trek franchise had set to embody. Uglying up the reputation of Star Fleet gave the franchise some much needed breathing room as its high minded moralism threatened to devolve into lectures about contemporary soceity’s inability to overcome its own parochialism. Christopher Plummer delights as the Shakespeare quoting Klingon General Chang.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Rotten Tomatoes Score 85%
The Voyage Home completed the Enterprise’s journey back to Earth following Spock’s resurrection. But no journey home would be complete without time travelling back to the 1980s and hammering home, in classic Star Trek fashion, an overtly environmentalist message: Save the Whales! The notion that a giant black cigar would come to Earth after not hearing from whales for two hundred plus years is an incredibly stupid conceit. Yet some parts of the movie work remarkably well. Watching Kirk and Spock interact in the 1980s produces some very funny moments, including when Spock gives the Vulcan nerve pinch to a man playing his boom box too loudly on a public bus. Chekov asking for the location of the “nuclear whessels” remains amusing to this day. Even Dr. McCoy got in on the action by chewing out the antiquated medicine of the 1980s or as he called it the “Dark Ages.” The film manages to be preachy, but fun.
Star Trek Into Darkness: Rotten Tomatoes Score 87%
The second of Abrahams’ Star Trek reboot serves as Star Trek Growing Pains. The film stresses the growth of Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the crew into the characters that we would come to know in the Original Series. Kirk’s arrogance and innate belief in his own abilities and decisions finally come back to haunt him. He also learns that command means he must place the needs of others above his own. Spock’s growth as a character comes from his attempts to shield himself from pain, while recognizing that sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Benedict Cumberbatch ably demonstrates both Khan’s superhuman strength and mental genius. The film, however, suffers from imitating too many beats from the Wrath of Khan without the same emotional resonance.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Rotten Tomatoes Score 90%
No matter what Rotten Tomatoes says, Wrath of Khan remains the best of all of the Star Trek films. Installing Khan as the villain gave the audience a preexisting and antagonistic relationship with the highest of stakes. The film features strong action and character moments. The battle in the nebula between the Enterprise and the Reliant still plays well as two technologically advanced ships have to rely on the skills of their captains in order to survive. Kirk and Spock’s philosophical discussion about the needs of the many and the needs of the few highlights the core of their respective characters. Kirk always acted in the manner he thought best, regardless of the rules, and refused to accept the inevitability of death. Spock measured his actions carefully with the broader situation and when the situation called for it; he sacrificed himself to save the rest of the crew. The film provided a strong blend of action and character moments that represented the best a Star Trek film could be.
Star Trek: First Contact: Rotten Tomatoes Score 92%
Like Khan, this film relied on a pre-existing villain known to fans of Next Generation: the Borg. Also like Khan, the film succeeded by balancing action with explorations of its central characters. The opening space battle and the fight with the Borg during a spacewalk were both well executed. Picard must grapple with his guilt about his assimilation by the Borg and his overwhelming desire for revenge to prevent their assimilation of his ship and Earth. Data, meanwhile, struggles with his duties and loyalty to his friends as the Borg Queen offers him what he desires most of all: a chance to be human. Ultimately Picard offers to sacrifice himself to save Data, while Data rejects the offer of the Borg Queen and Earth is saved.
Star Trek (Reboot): Rotten Tomatoes Score 95%J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise understood the core relationships that defined Star Trek and employed them to create summer blockblusters. The cast largely embody the traits of their characters without falling into slavish impersonations. Chris Pine portrays Kirk’s brashness well. Zachary Quinto manages to demonstrate Spock’s relentless logic while also providing a window into his struggles with his own humanity. The film also plays with key themes from the previous films, but spins them in interesting ways, suggesting that no matter what changes in the timeline, these relationships and themes recur (a sort of Battlestar Galactica approach). Additionally Abrams never forgets to imbibe the film with a sense of humor and fun that attracted so many fans to Star Trek in the first place. Karl Urban’s McCoy and Simon Pegg’s Scotty carry much of the humor in the films and to great effect.