Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Star Trek Movie Rankings UPDATED: Part One

As we did a few weeks ago with the Star Wars movies, it's time to update our rankings of the Star Trek movie pantheon. Last time, we did rankings by Rotten Tomatoes score, but not this time. This is our personal rankings. Here we go from best to worst. Engage.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: 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 of the Mutara Nebula between the Enterprise and the Reliant plays like an old submarine movie as each captain must rely on his skill 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, 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 VI: The Undiscovered Country: 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. Indeed many of the humans in the film advocate letting the Klingons’ die, while logical and calculating characters like Spock propose a humanitarian approach. 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 Starfleet gave the franchise some much needed breathing room as its high minded moralism threatened to develop into merely lectures about contemporary soceity’s inability to overcome its own parochialism. Christopher Plummer delights as the Shakespeare quoting Klingon General Chang.  

Star Trek: First Contact: 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 are well-executed action pieces. Meanwhile, Picard must grapple with his guilt about his assimilation by the Borg and his almost blind desire 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 IV: The Voyage Home: 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 immensely fun. 

Star Trek (Reboot): J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise understands the core relationships that defined Star Trek and employed them to create a summer blockbluster. 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. By the end of the film, the characters are in place where they need to be for future films. 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 to great effect.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: The Search for Spock struggled to balance the devotion of Kirk and the rest of the crew to Spock and incorporate other elements to the plot. The film begins well with Kirk and crew orchestrating the theft of the Enterprise to go and retrieve Spock’s body from the Genesis planet and reunite it with his consciousness (fittingly left in the brain of Dr. McCoy). The film drags with Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon villain. He appears out of nowhere and decides to kill Kirk and steal the Genesis device. Why? It’s never really made clear other than that he’s an evil Klingon. Most of the time spent on the Genesis planet seems to drag down the plot of the film. Even after retrieving Spock’s body and killing the villain the crew must still restore his soul. The film features the destruction of the original Enterprise and the death of Kirk’s son David at the hands of the Klingons. 

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