Star Trek - Film Series: Thoughts 'n' Stuff

Star Trek - Film Series: By Average Review Rating

(Averages from Imdb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic).


01. Star Trek (2009) - - - 8.1
02. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) - - - 7.6
03. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) - - - 7.5
04. Star Trek: First Contact (1997) - - - 7.4
05. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) - - - 7.0
06. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - - - 6.8
07. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) - - - 6.2
08. Star Trek: Insurrection (1999) - - - 6.2
09. Star Trek Generations (1994) - - - 5.9
10. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) - - - 5.6
11. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) - - - 5.6
12. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) - - - 4.6

Star Trek - Film Series: gARTh's Order, and thoughts...

01. Star Trek (2009)

- - - I love this movie. I love it as a Star Trek movie, but I think I love it more as just a great movie. The new cast may not be the original cast, or the Next Gen cast, and depending on your age or preference you're probably attached in some way to one or both of those. But, this new cast is still one helluva cast, and they have that spark and that chemistry that made the previous crews so relatable, compelling, and resonant. Pine's Kirk is not Shatner's Kirk, nor is any other character for that matter an exact copy of their original series counterpart (really, Karl Urban's McCoy is the only one that's truly like the original and it still works due in part to the perfection that is his introductory scene and how it plays). But they made these characters their own within this new film, and it works.

What works even more is how much fun it is, and while much fuss was made about the super-fast pace and the modern blockbuster style action thrills that don't feel like Star Trek of olde, I think if those movies had come out now they would've had all that. This movie also made Star Trek "cool" with mainstream audiences that might never have gotten into it before, partly due to the rise of geek culture with mainstream comicbook movies and such, but also because it feels like a summer blockbuster in the best of ways. And it's well written, the plot's pretty good, it manages to introduce the new cast of characters to those that knew the old versions and to those that are experiencing all of this for the first time, and it's highly entertaining to just sit back and watch.

I think this is the best Star Trek movie, and I like all of the rest, for the most part. But this is a Star Trek MOVIE, not a movie featuring Star Trek as you may have seen it on TV. And I think, because of that lack of restriction or ties to anything previous (other than the rebooting of classic characters in a remake sort of way), it was able to just be a movie. And while I like Star Trek a lot, and I like many fandoms of many different kinds - whether it be Harry Potter or Star Wars or whatever - I like movies more than I like the fandoms and the surrounding mythologies of the worlds and characters. If all of that adds up to a good movie, then I love it, because I'm a movie fan first and foremost. If the mythology surrounding it is great but the movie that features it is sort of okay at best, then I'm not really that big a fan of it. Because all that other stuff doesn't matter to me as much; the movie does. And Star Trek (2009) is a near flawless movie. How it may or may not relate to the larger fandom of Star Trek is beside the point.

02. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

- - - A great science fiction action film, with or without the Trek, Wrath of Khan brought Star Trek to cinematic life in ways that The Motion Picture just couldn't do (by sticking too close to the original series' tone). I personally think that, in a lot of ways, Wrath of Khan doesn't feel like Star Trek, and sort of reinvented what Star Trek should or could be. Star Trek was not action heavy until this movie, nor did it have an action movie's pacing (there's not really that much action in it, but it feels like there is due to the pacing and tone), and just like the 2009 reboot, this movie was a game-changer for the series. It brought Star Trek into the world of 80's science fiction action movies and made it relevent in a world dominated by Star Wars and the like. Montalban brings to epic life the most famous Trek villain of all time, and the movie's writing keeps it smart and witty and moving along towards the thrilling and  surprisingly emotional finale. The most important thing this movie did, though, is be entertaining. That's what The Motion Picture was missing most, and that's what Star Trek needed if it was going to survive. That this still holds up so well is a testament to this film's magic.

03. Star Trek: First Contact (1997)

- - - The only Next Gen film that I think really nailed what makes this new crew click while telling a compelling 'could only have been told on the big screen' story. It expands on the beginnings of Earth's move towards the Star Trek era of Starfleet peace. It expands on the villainous Borg and creates the second best Star Trek movie villain in the process. It deals with Picard's anguish and emotional issues over the situation in ways that Generations wished it had. It deals with time-travel in a less 'fish-out-of-water' way than Voyage Home and plays it more as a ticking-clock threat. And, more than anything, it's a great, fun, blockbuster film. Most of the Star Trek movies before the Kelvin era, even the best ones, have a way of feeling like Star Trek movies, and anyone that's not already a fan has a hard time "getting into them" because of this. First Contact is a Star Trek film, too, and feels like it... but, it's also fun enough and accessible enough that anyone can enjoy it. Up until this movie, the only other Star Trek movies I can think of that have that sort of 'mainstream audience' appeal would be Wrath of Khan and maybe Voyage Home to a certain extent (but even that one is mired down in a lot of plotpoints and character details leftover from the two films preceding it).

04. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

- - - Taken on its own, this movie is pretty awesome. I realize that it's hard to not compare it to the Wrath of Khan due to this movie's way of integrating previously known characters and stories and previously done scenes, and I get that it's weird that they decided to remake that stuff... but, again, taken on its own and on the merits of what it offers, I love this movie. I've watched it about six times, I think, and I've enjoyed it more and more every time. I can still watch this film and Wrath of Khan and enjoy them both, and neither does anything detrimental to the other because they feel like they're from two different Star Trek universes - which they kinda are. I'm not gonna try to convince you of anything, but I like it and have since I first watched it and think it's one helluva movie. I think Cumberbatch's interpretation works for the film as a kickass villain, I think the redo-scenes play out great and, even though you know what's gonna happen, the emotion is still there. I like the arc that Kirk goes on, from where he is from the previous movie and the beginning of this one to where he's at by the end of this. I seriously  don't have any complaints with Into Darkness, at all.

05. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

- - - The best Klingon story the movies have ever done, this film is highly underrated. Plummer's Shakespeare-obsessed villain, even with limited screen time, is the second best villain of all the original crew films. The story is great, the acting is great, the mystery driving the film is well handled... I mean, really, there's nothing here to not like. I find it interesting, in the years since this came out, how many movies use scenes seemingly taken straight from this. Everything from Chronicles of Riddick to Guardians of the Galaxy have handled their "hero goes to space prison" scenes in amost the exact same manner as Undiscoverd Country. Not sure if this was the first movie to do that, but it feels like it was. And, as a farewell to the original crew, this movie wraps things up in a way that feels right and leaves you satisfied.

06. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

- - - Every other movie to come out of the '80's that revolved around some corny "save the planet" message usually felt more like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (i.e. cheeseball with a capital "Uggghh!"). But, The Voyage Home's "save the whales" message works perfectly with the awesome character moments, the fun time-travel bits, and the desperation to fight the odds on a crazy save the world sceheme that makes it all somehow work together as a Star Trek movie. This is the kind of movie that, on the surface, shouldn't be as good as it is. It's a goofy story that was just smartly written, well acted, and is highly enjoyable to watch. It's held up great, too, over the years, with everything still playing out and working to the film's strengths, so even the 80's-ness of it doesn't really age it in a bad way.

07. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

- - - Way better than people tend to give it credit for, this is the most Star Trek (and by that I mean, a big screen continuation of the original series that spawned it) of any of the films. It's smart, it's interesting in a 70's science fiction sort of way (emphasis on the science), and while maybe it's too long and/or too slow by today's standards, it feels more in-line with classic science fiction films than leaned more on mood than action (more 2001, less Star Wars). It's not that much fun, nor is it an entertaining ride, but it does feel like a big cinematic experience and it captures a sense of awe and wonder about this space-age stuff that none of the other films have managed since... partly due to the fact that space-age stuff isn't that wondrous anymore. I completely understand why it's no one's favorite, but I also think it gets a lot of unfair hate, too.

08. Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

- - - It's not that this is a bad movie, because it's not, it just feels like too much - too late. Like the filmmakers, the cast, the crew, everybody was doing it because they were contracted to, or were expected to, not necessarily because they wanted to. Tom Hardy's breakthrough film role is actually a pretty legit villain as far as Trek films go, and the plot's dark turns are pretty well done, (really, the side-story involving Data and Data No. 2 is the worst part of this movie), it's just that by the end you'll be shrugging your shoulders, wondering why it was even made and why you should care. Seems like a strange film, too, for the Next Gen cast to leave us with. But, while watching it at least, it's fairly enjoyable for the most part.

09. Star Trek: Insurrection (1999)

- - - Possibly the one time where "it feels exactly like the show it's based on" might be considered a bad thing. This movie, much like Nemesis, isn't bad at all. In fact, the character stuff going on here is really good. F. Murray Abraham plays a good villain, and the story is intricate and well written. There's just, well, not much going on for seemingly long periods of the film, at least in terms of momentum or anything engaging. It's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that it feels too much like an episode of the show that's been extended out, and while the same has been said for The Motion Picture, that film feels cinematic and big and bold and exactly like what a TV show brought to the big screen should feel like (even if that one's a bit dated). Insurrection, on the other hand, is a tad boring... even though, other than that, it's a really good story worth sitting through.

10. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

- - - That this movie isn't at the bottom of the list is already wrinkling some of your noses, but it has some of the absolute best moments between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy of any of the films. The overall plot isn't bad, even if it goes off the rails at certain points (Uhura's dance sequence?) and has a hugely anti-climactic finale (getting there is decent enough, it's what happens to finish up that feels hokey, unsatisfying, and a little stupid). I don't hate it, though, and never have. Sybock is an interesting enough character and a lot of the early scenes with him play out pretty good, it just starts to unravel as it goes. But, it holds up better while watching it than some of the other films... namely...

11. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

- - - Going back and watching these films a few years ago, and then again recently on Blu-ray, out of all the Star Trek films this is the one that I used to like but now doesn't hold up the most. It feels cheap, more so even than Final Frontier. It's got some major pacing issues, feeling like a not-nearly-as-good Wrath of Khan at times, action heavy and kinetic and with a serious threat (in the form of Christopher Lloyd as Christopher Lloyd wearing a Klingon costume), and at other times it's boring, drawn out, and, well, just plain goofy. The story's good, it's just not very well done. This one feels like an original series episode, too, but not the parts of the episodes it probably wants to feel like. The only thing missing from the lamest 'hero vs. villain' battle a Starfleet officer ever had to endure is a rubber rock shaking in the shot (although, actually, there might be one or two). The Klingons, in their first big screen appearance, are underused and sometimes fairly laughable, coming across like the villains in your average Saturday morning cartoon than anything else.

But, there are good moments. Bones, in particular, gets to play a more lead role and it helps the film immensely, as well as all of the Vulcan stuff. However, in my opinion, I probably wouldn't ever watch it again if not for it's importance on the series' over-arcing story. There is a noticable and significant quality dip between Wrath of Khan and Voyage Home, and I'd say it feels like maybe it was rushed together, but it had two years between films like most of the rest of the films, so...? That I don't think it's as good as Final Frontier should really be all I need to say. 

12. Star Trek Generations (1994)

- - - Alas, Generations just isn't that good. The original cast stuff is great, but the cinematic introduction of the Next Generation is clumsy (putting it mildly), and if anyone watching this movie had never watched the show before - they probably didn't after. Picard spends most of the movie either as an unlikable a-hole, or brooding in the dark, or telling people he doesn't want to do his job (then later telling someone else to suck it up and do his job), or sitting on some rocks for like thirty minutes of the film's runtime doing absolutely nothing. Data, one of the most fun characters on the show, is flatout annoying here, and I dislike almost every moment he's on screen. Pretty much everybody else spends the movie reacting to Picard's a-hole-ness or Data's annoying behavior, and so you're left watching Whoopi Goldberg's minor character Guinan steal the show while Jonathan Frakes' Riker, also in a very minor role, tries to salvage the Star Trek in what's supposed to be a Star Trek movie. Malcolm McDowell's villain begins as a great foil for the crew, but quickly turns to hamming it up with speeches and goofy leers that simply make me want to turn this off and watch him in Tank Girl instead. And, when the two 'generations' meet, it's about as exciting as trying to smash two things together and hope they fit. I can barely sit through this movie anymore. It has its moments here and there, don't get me wrong, but it is by far the worst of the entire film series.

These are just my personal thoughts, and I know that the majority of people don't agree with my choices or reasons. I actually don't think most people agree with the list order provided by the review averages, either.

Closing thoughts...

I love Star Trek. But, I didn't used to. I liked some of 'em but never loved any of 'em. I think it's an age thing. When I was younger, Star Wars was cool and awesome, while Star Trek was sort of old-school and boring by comparison. But, as I've gotten older and my tastes have changed, I find that I like Star Trek a tad more, in certain ways. I like the original series, I like Next Generation, and I like the movies they led to (I haven't been able to get into the other series, by the way, in case you're wondering why I haven't mentioned them). Even the movies I dogged on here, there's still a lot to like in the stories they tell. I wouldn't give any of them negative ratings or anything (even Generations I'd probably give a 2.5 outta 5).

But, what I like most, I think, is Star Trek wrapped in a Star Wars package - Starfleet stories told in a hugely entertaining Star Wars-like way. That's why I like Wrath of Khan and First Contact so much, and why I think I love the new ones. I can get my Star Trek fix and my Star Wars fix at the exact same time, whereas growing up it was almost like one or the other, separately. It's not so different, in my mind, than loving James Bond wrapped in a Jason Bourne-like style, making the Daniel Craig Bond movies the undisputed best Bond films (sorry, Connery had the misfortune of acting in corny stories that don't age well in an era that didn't know how to film action scenes yet). Or, watching recent horror films that have finally figured out the best way to make a very modern horror movie using the best of what worked in the classics without it feeling like a ripoff of some particular classic.

Anyway, the latest Star Trek movie, Beyond, is currently sitting an an average review rating of 7.9, making it (at the moment) the second best Star Trek film ever made, only topped by the 2009 film. I didn't include it, because it's still a few days from release and that number will probably go down when all is said and done. But, the early word speaks volumes for this new series... Because the 2009 film is unequivocally the best received Trek film ever made, and Into Darkness, for all it's controversy and huffing-and-puffing amongst fans, is the third best received Trek film ever made. And now, Beyond is being well received.

Years from now, I wouldn't be surprised if I say that I like the so-called Kelvin Star Trek films on equal terms as the Star Wars original trilogy. Blasphemy, perhaps, but I've been saying that Craig is better than Connery since 2012, and as the years progress I get less and less push-back when I say it (meaning that others are starting to see it, too).

Popular opinion sometimes stays popular opinion strictly because it's popular to state that opinion, or something like that.

But, opinions (in my opinion, lol), just like tastes, should evolve and grow. And I think there are plenty of movie opinions on the internet based on nothing more than "that's what I'm expected to say so that I don't get attacked by everyone else that's already said it." Keeping in line with the majority rather than striking out on one's own and dealing with the flack. But, I've been loving movies that everyone's told me suck all my life, from Howard the Duck and Transylvania 6-5000 to Willow and Adventures of Baron Munchausen, these are all movies that I discovered and loved long before I knew they had bad reputations. Which means that the reputations, in my mind, have nothing to do with their actual quality and instead are based around "outside factors."

So... Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond, and the just-announced Star Trek 4, will - most likely - be "up there" with the best science-fiction franchises. Not because I have a nostalgic love for them that's reinforced by a surviving popular opinion, but because they managed to be great films despite any outside opinion/obstacles and any sort of modern-day adult cynicism about modern films not being as good as things that came out "'X' amount of" years ago.

They are quite simply consistently good movies, which is something neither previous Trek film series could manage. 

Star Trek Beyond hits theaters Friday, July 22nd. I will be seeing it during the Thursday night preview shows, because this is one of three movies I was most excited about coming out this summer (and I've already seen the other two).

- gARTh -