Let's pick up where we left off last week, with the less successful Star Trek films.
Star Trek Into Darkness: The second of Abrahams’ Star Trek reboot is Star Trek Growing Pains. 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 one person can and must take action regardless of the consequences. While Benedict Cumberbatch offers a fun play on Khan, the film suffers, as did Abrams' Rise of Skywalker, from being a slavish imitation of a much better film.
Star Trek: Beyond: Beyond has everything you would expect from a Star Trek movie: a dangerous threat to the Federation, the crew enjoying being in each other’s company, an alien female lead, and our heroes coming out just fine in the end. It also highlights just how much better Star Trek is suited for television. Spock is sad, Kirk doesn’t want to be in Starfleet. Yawn. The film’s other big weakness comes from its villain. Idris Elba is a superb actor buried in alien-ish makeup and a blatantly obvious back story. The cast’s chemistry alone makes for an enjoyable movie, but one that lacks that the character elements that separate a great Star Trek movie from a run of the mill summer blockbuster.
Star Trek Generations: The first film adventure for the Next Generation crew is a mixed bag. The film slogs along while the Enterprise searches for a mad scientist trying to get caught up in a magical energy ribbon. His ruthlessness and appetite for destroying solar systems means the Enterprise must stop him. Along the way Picard enlists the help of Kirk, long since thought dead, but actually caught up in the energy ribbon. The film gives the original Enterprise a nice send off, featuring a warp core breach and a crash landing of the saucer section. Where the film fails is in its treatment of Kirk’s death. Kirk and by extension the writers in charge of the Star Trek universe had always known that Kirk would die alone. The presence of Picard at Kirk’s death did not make it any more meaningful or purposeful. It did not seem to serve a clear purpose at all.
Star Trek The Motion Picture: The first film featuring the Original Series cast suffered from a distinct lack of action and from being too long. The longest of the Star Trek movies takes its sweet time investigating a mysterious object (one of the Voyager space probes) hurdling toward Earth. The costuming of the film is ridiculous to the point of distraction. The cast seems decked out in Starfleet’s line of casual lounge wear. The additional characters left over from the planned reboot of the TV series and were incorporated into the film are tacked on and it plays that way on the screen. Tellingly they are both written out of the film by the end—leaving the Original Series crew intact.
Nemesis: Nemesis again attempted to make Picard doubt his humanity and question the course of his own life. How did it accomplish this task? Introduce a Picard clone who has risen to lead the Romulan Empire. The fact that Picard clone has killed his way to the top while Picard himself abhors such behavior and the clone’s insistence that the two are identical leads to Picard doubting his own humanity. Similarly Data must deal with the existence of another android, identical to him apart from Data having the more advanced brain. Picard’s inability to recognize the differences between his own behavior and those of his clone do not fit with the character. In this nature/nurture debate, Picard comes down firmly on the side of nature, yet his own experiences across the Star Trek films and series argue otherwise. While killing off Data tugged at the heartstrings of Trek fans, the presence of an identical Data at least gave Star Trek: Picard a plot point to play around with.
Insurrection: A war-weary Starfleet willing to set aside its principles to ensure its longterm survival? Great idea. Bad execution. Instead Picard and the Enterprise, despite having the flagship of the Federation at their disposal, seem outmatched at every turn while helping the inhabitants of a small planet fight off those who wish to steal their secret to everlasting life. Perhaps best exhibiting the problem of the film, at a key moment in the film, the fate of Picard and his crew lies in Picard’s ability to guilt trip an alien into helping him. Plot action through a stern lecture from Jean-Luc Picard hardly seems a successful way to advance a film. Also in the film, Picard falls in love, Data befriends a little boy, Worf gets pimples, and everyone on the Enterprise gets their groove back.
Final Frontier: God is an evil space alien who looks like Karl Marx and needs a spaceship to leave his prison in the middle of the Galaxy. Along the way, Spock’s half brother brainwashes people by helping them confront and let go of their pain. Kirk, naturally refuses, arguing that he needs his pain. By the end of the film, Spock, McCoy, and Kirk agree that maybe there is no sentient creature known as God, but rather the spark of the divine lies in the hearts of mankind or alienkind or whatever. It is an overtly touchy-feely ending to a dreadful film. The less said about Uhura doing a seductive fan dance the better.