Star Trek: Nemesis
Coming in at the very bottom of the barrel is Nemesis. This is the last of the troubled Next Generation films. Along with the TV shows Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Enterprise it killed the franchise. While Nemesis could have been a nice farewell to the Next Generation crew, it ended up being a dumb-downed, generic action movie that tried to turn the Next Generation cast into a bunch of punching and kicking action heroes. The writer’s complete misunderstanding of why people liked Star Trek The Next Generation ended with all the endearing qualities of the TV show being ditched in an attempt to market to a younger, action-loving audience. Not only did the gamble fail, it also spelled the demise of new Star Trek movies and TV shows in the works. Box office returns were so low that Paramount scrapped their ideas for new films and ended up settling on the safe bet of rebooting the original series.
Star Trek: Insurrection
While Nemesis completely failed to delivery anything of substance, Insurrection failed by simply being a bland and boring film. The whole production feels cheap. The sets look bland, the costumes are uninteresting and even the story seems to be a reject script for a mediocre two part episode of the TV show. Star Trek movies work best when they allow us to see our favorite characters in new stories with more scale and budget. Insurrection just gave us a story that had less scale than most episodes of the TV show. Coupled with “phoned-in” performances from the cast, Insurrection is the most boring Star Trek movie yet released.
Star Trek Into Darkness
The most recent box office release from the Star Trek franchise was a huge financial success. However, that does not give it any reason to be considered a great Star Trek film. Of all the flaws of Into Darkness, it is hard to pick just one as being the most frustrating. Was it the muddled script? Was it the absurd fan service that bordered on plagiarism? Or maybe it was the complete rejection of anything that made The Wrath of Khan such a great film? Whatever the main flaw is, Into Darkness is a messy, fast paced action movie that ticked along at such a frantic pace that you did not really have the time to recognize the flaws. That is until after the movie ended. Then you realized how disappointing the film was. Even though Into Darkness had fatal flaws, we do have to give it credit for a great Benedict Cumberbatch performance and excellent special effects.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
I almost put The Final Frontier higher in my list because of all the Star Trek films, this is the only one that almost enters the so-bad-it’s-good group of movies. Watching The Final Frontier is like watching a car explode in slow motion. You recognize the pieces of the car. You know that how they should fit together, but they seem to be flying apart so quickly that the car can not possibly be saved. Likewise, the pieces of The Final Frontier seem to resemble a great Star Trek film but they mix together in no discernible, comprehensive way. That being said, The Final Frontier is not a completely unenjoyable film, if only because of the sheer madness contained in its script. Whether it be Spock’s half-brothers, an alien who is literally God, a nonsensical revenge plot, or Uhuru’s dance scene; The Final Frontier careens from baffling plot point to baffling plot point with reckless abandon. It is a movie that has to be seen once.. and then never again.
Star Trek: Generations
Generations is a movie that had a solid idea at its core but ultimately failed in execution. Let’s talk about the good things first. Seeing Picard and Kirk work together is just great. Not only is it fun to see the two greatest Starfleet captains getting into shenanigans and saving the day, Patrick Stewart and William Shatner do a fine job playing off of each other’s very different acting styles. The concept of Generations was also pretty good and decent special effects paid off to make the movie visually appealing. Unfortunately Generations tends to ramble along with a script that obviously was better suited for a two-part episode than a feature-length film. A weak script really sucked the joy out of what could have been a great Star Trek film and turned it into a mediocre one. The only notable part of the film is seeing Picard and Kirk meet and work together. Generations is not a bad movie, just a mediocre one.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Coming right off of the tails of The Wrath of Khan must have been difficult. Seeing as the earlier film is so iconic, it is unfortunate that The Search for Spock fails to live up to expectations. In a misguided effort to keep the franchise going, the writers for The Search for Spock hammered the reset button; bringing Spock back to life, killing Kirk’s son and destroying the Enterprise. This is my biggest problems with The Search for Spock. It essentially undoes everything that occurred in the previous film. Besides that, the script never seems to meet the same scale and emotional resonance as The Wrath of Khan. That being said, the script does a good job delivering enough action and adventure to keep the audience somewhat engaged. Ultimately though, it fails to live up to the greatness of the previous films in the franchise. Like Generations, The Search for Spock is not a bad movie, just a mediocre one.
Star Trek: First Contact
Of all the movies on this list, Star Trek: First Contact is the most painful. I desperately want to love this movie. I want this to be the movie that I can show my friends so that they can see how great Star Trek: The Next Generation is. It has the Borg! It has time travel! It has the Enterprise-E! Alas, even with all those elements and admitting that this is the best of The Next Generation films, First Contact is a flawed outing for the crew of the Enterprise. First Contact suffers from logical inconsistencies in the story, and gets bogged down by an overly convoluted time travel plot. Worst of all though is a completely out of character Captain Picard. This last point is the worst sin of First Contact. The beloved, intellectual, compassionate Picard gets turned into a screaming crazy person who pulls stupid action hero stunts and blatantly disregards the safety and well being of his crew members. That being said, this is an enjoyable film. The action is great, the script movies along at a brisk pace, and production design is the best out of all the Star Trek films. The Enterprise never looked as majestic as it did in First Contact. However, the strengths of the movie never quite make up for its flaws.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Standing out among Star Trek films as being more of a political thriller than a space adventure film, The Undiscovered Country is a great and underrated film that serves as the perfect last mission for the original Star Trek crew. Nestled in the middle of the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, this film rode high on the re-surging popularity of the franchise and benefited from the directorial experience of past Star Trek alumni. With all the cast and crew working at their peak, The Undiscovered Country more than made up for the disaster of The Final Frontier and gave the original cast a well deserved farewell. Besides the nostalgia of seeing the old crew complete one final mission, The Undiscovered Country delivered a tight, suspenseful, and fascinating political plot wrapped up in Cold War symbolism. The Undiscovered Country serves as a wonderful farewell to the cast that started it all.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Since this film is now considered a classic Star Trek film, it is easy to forget how strange The Voyage Home actually is. Of all the films, this is the one that has the least amount of time spent on the Enterprise (the refurbished version of the ship only appears at the end of the film.) Most of the action occurs on Earth searching for humpback whales. Strangest of all, The Voyage Home seems to be partly intended as a comedy. Even though these elements seem risky in their own right, the final product is one of the most enjoyable films of the Star Trek franchise. Not only does The Voyage Home have enough action and adventure to keep fans satisfied, it is also genuinely funny. The most enjoyable part of this film is seeing the cast “let their hair down” and settle into a corny, lighthearted Star Trek story. Everybody performs excellently, whether it be in comedy scenes or in the more serious scenes making this is a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Star Trek (2009)
After the dismal box office returns and critical reception for Star Trek Nemesis, it looked as though the Star Trek film franchise was killed forever. Fortunately, Paramount decided to reboot the franchise by letting J.J. Abrams direct an alternate reality take on the classic Enterprise crew. Hardcore fans of Star Trek may disagree, but the J.J. Abrams has saved the franchise and kept the material culturally relevant. Although Star Trek (2009) trades action machismo for the refined intellectualism that characterized the TV show, the movie is so entertaining that we can hardly fault its slick and stylized action. With Star Trek (2009), the franchise became cool again, gathering a new generation of fans (myself included). Of course, I still prefer the philosophy and intellect of the TV show, but sometimes I just want to have fun when I watch a movie. As a straight forward space action movie, Star Trek (2009) delivers perfectly on all fronts.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Yes, as shocking as it may seem, I really love Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It is slow, perplexing and inspiring. Some people may find fault in The Motion Picture for its long uncut scenes and slow pacing. However, for those looking for an artful science fiction film about discovery, The Motion Picture is a wonderful film. I could write a lot about it.. In fact I did. You can read my little rant about how great this film actually is by clicking here.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Was there really any doubt that this would be number one? The Wrath of Khan is perfect film. It is the only Star Trek film to transcend the boundaries of the franchise to become not just a great Star Trek film but a great science fiction film in general. So what makes The Wrath of Khan so good? It is hard to pick out a single quality. The script is great and directed brilliantly. The Wrath of Khan moves at a brisk pace that remains suspenseful without feeling rushed. All of the space battles in the film look great (especially considering that they were shot with mid-80s special effects) and are able to stay suspenseful and thrilling throughout the film. Beyond the pure action elements, The Wrath of Khan succeeds on a character level as well. Kirk’s insecurities are very skilfully written and acted, Khan is a joy to watch on-screen and Spock’s stoicism has never been more poignant. Out of all these elements, what makes The Wrath of Khan great is that the director and writers were willing to take risks. Bringing back a villain from an original episode, making Chekov into a brainwashed puppet of Khan, and revealing that Kirk had a son are all great. But the biggest risk of all, killing off the most iconic character of the franchise, makes The Wrath of Khan a rich, emotional and classic film.