Now that I’ve reviewed all of the Star Trek movies for this column, the collector-nerd part of me wants them on one convenient, easy-to-find shelf for easier perusal. So this column will act as a one-stop ‘box set’ for my 13 Star Trek movie reviews, from “The Motion Picture” to “Beyond.” With Star Trek celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, it just felt right.
Personally, I don’t do rankings–my favorites depend on my mood at the time I watch–so I’ll arrange summary reviews along with the links to my full reviews chronologically; not in the order they first appeared in this site (like the Prophets of Deep Space Nine, I have issues dealing with linear time). Some of my older reviews may be a bit…well, primitive, since I’m in a never-ending battle with my editor-self over formatting, style, etc. so apologies in advance for any ‘continuity errors’ you may see in the links.
So, without further ado, here are ALL of my reviews of every Star Trek movie.
******STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!******
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
Despite the flack it received at the time (and still receives today), I still think Robert Wise’s admittedly flawed film is an overlooked masterpiece. Part of the problem is with audience expectations; released on the heels of “Star Wars,” producer Gene Roddenberry and company delivered something much closer to “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Fantastic Voyage” instead. The story sees the Enterprise and her reunited crew (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig) setting out to intercept a gargantuan energy cloud on a direct course for Earth. Yes, there are pacing issues, and some of the characterizations feel a bit drier than usual, but the movie is visually sumptuous. ST-TMP is also one of the few Star Trek movies to tackle a genuine science-fiction issue (artificial intelligence) instead of a black hat heavy out for vengeance; the downside is that the story is very reminiscent of TOS Star Trek’s “The Changeling”. That said, seeing the cast reunite aboard a sleekly refitted Enterprise is still a treat–it’s like having old friends narrate a spectacular new planetarium show.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982).
The Enterprise is pulled off a training mission when madman Khan escapes exile and seeks a super-terraforming device (“Project Genesis”) to use as a weapon. TWOK is the Star Trek movie that changed everything, for better and for worse. Yes, the amped up energy of Nicholas Meyer’s more nautically-styled, military-themed movie gave the stalled Trek movie franchise a much needed shot in the arm, but it also unwittingly set a precedent for the too often misused ‘black hat seeks revenge/super-weapon’ story (see: “Search For Spock,” “Generations,” “Nemesis,” “Star Trek 2009,” etc). Nevertheless, this leaner, harder-edged sequel puts Starfleet crew members in mortal jeopardy (Peter Preston, Chekov, Captain Terrell, Spock), while gracefully weaving the mortality of its aging cast into the story itself. Ricardo Montalban chews the hell out of the scenery as Khan, and the crew’s farewell to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock left me devastated. In fact, Spock received such a moving funeral scene that I almost wish the character didn’t return—almost. I mean, come on–it’s Spock, right? He’s gotta come back…
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984).
Kirk and crew steal a decommissioned Enterprise and set out to the Genesis planet to reunite Spock’s regenerated body and soul–which now resides within Dr. McCoy. Naturally, the Klingons (led by Christopher Lloyd) arrive to complicate matters. Producer Harve Bennett (the unsung Gene L. Coon of the Star Trek movies) hammered out a solid script in short order to bring Spock back from the dead. Perhaps lacking some of the sophistication of its two predecessors, TSFS wears its heart on its sleeve. More than any of the other Trek movies, this underrated entry is all about this group of characters–in fact, the crew’s devotion to each other, and to their fallen Vulcan friend, is the impetus of this story. Leonard Nimoy returns, both as Spock (in the film’s final minutes) and as a first-time feature film director as well. As a newbie film director, Nimoy gives the film an almost made-for-TV aesthetic that actually fits very cozily with the Star Trek TV canon of the time. Overall, TSFS was well worth ditching a day of high school for back in June of 1984…
Full Review: “Star Trek III”: 35 years of searching for Spock…
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).
The exiled former Enterprise crew takes their captured Klingon vessel back to 20th century San Francisco in order to find two humpback whales to save Earth’s future. 35 years young this November, TVH saw the Star Trek movie franchise reach out from its fanbase comfort zone and into genuine crowd pleasing. The movie takes full takes advantage of actual San Franciscan locations to tell its fish-out-of-water tale–these kinds of movies were wildly popular at the time (“Beverly Hills Cop,” “Coming To America,” “Crocodile Dundee,” etc). Leonard Nimoy’s directorial style feels much more surefooted this time out, and the entire cast seems invigorated by the fresh, oceanside air (away from indoor sets). With both time travel and an important ecological message, TVH feels like Star Trek “firing on all thrusters” (to quote Dr. McCoy in the movie). TVH works as both science fiction and crowd pleasing pop comedy.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).
Directed by William Shatner himself (exercising the favored nations clause he shared with two-time Trek movie director Nimoy), the movie was co-written by Shatner, along with David Loughery, with an assist from producer Bennett. The result is a horribly uneven–at times laughably bad–$30 million remake of the Original Series’ “The Way to Eden” (yes, the one with the space hippies). In both, we see groups of rag-tag cultists hijack the Enterprise on a religious quest to find Eden/God on a forbidden planet. Substitute renegade Klingons for Eden’s Romulans and the parallels converge. At least “The Way To Eden” had catchier songs. Laurence Luckinbill (“Boys in the Band”) throws himself into the role of the self-styled Vulcan prophet, Sybok, and it helps, but he deserved a better movie. Despite the nosedive in quality from TVH, there are a few scenes in TFF that almost redeem the wreckage–most notably the campfire scene between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, as well as explorations of the trio’s darkest secrets (via Sybok’s mind-melds).
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).
Directed once again by Nicholas Meyer (TWOK), with a story idea from Leonard Nimoy, TUC is about “the Berlin wall coming down in space.” This 30 year-old movie uses peace with the dastardly Klingons (following a Chernobyl-like disaster on a Klingon moon) as a thinly-veiled metaphor for peace between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Kirk and the Enterprise are sent as envoys to a very different kind of Klingon leader (David Warner), but things go to hell when a conspiracy enabled by a rival Klingon general (Christopher Plummer) draws Kirk and McCoy into its web. It’s up to Captain Spock and newfound Captain Sulu (George Takei) to combine forces and bail them out. TUC is often my ‘comfort food’ Star Trek movie–the one that pushes all the right buttons. It deals with such classic Trek issues–overcoming prejudices, accepting change, embracing an uncertain future, etc. It also says ‘goodbye’ to the original crew’s adventures with just the right level of sentiment (made all the more bittersweet when you realize how many of them are gone now). As retirement parties go, “The Undiscovered Country” is a classy affair.
Star Trek: Generations (1994).
The first Trek movie for The Next Generation‘s crew, GEN sees Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) entering a heavenly realm known as “the Nexus,” where he hopes to find an MIA Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and bring him back to the 24th century in to prevent Malcolm McDowell’s “Soran” from destroying an inhabited solar system. The “Nexus” of GEN is reminiscent of the alien illusionary powers seen in TOS Star Trek’s pilot, “The Cage”, which saw an earlier Enterprise captain (Jeffrey Hunter) debating whether to remain inside of an idyllic fantasy life or roll with reality’s punches. I first saw GEN during some very difficult personal crises in my own life, and the movie’s message of perseverance in the wake of tragedy (Picard’s brother and nephew die in a fire) was just the tonic I needed at the time. That message of hope (Trek’s trademark optimism), combined the timing of the movie’s release, makes it hard for me to be wholly objective; however, I can safely state that the movie features solid acting from Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner (as the newly emotional android, Data), and William Shatner (who is a bit more subdued here than in other entries). GEN also features gorgeous cinematography by John Alonzo (“Chinatown”) and a dreamlike score from TNG composer Dennis McCarthy.
Full Review: In Defense of Star Trek: Generations”…
Star Trek: First Contact (1996).
FC sees the crew of the newly commissioned Enterprise-E chasing cybernetic zombies known as ‘the Borg’ back to the 21st century to prevent their meddling with a key point in Earth’s history–the creation of warp drive and first contact with the Vulcans, which both happen on the same day in 2063. Having watched it again fairly recently, FC is as solid and enjoyable as I remember 25 years ago. Despite some minor flaws (as all Star Trek movies have, to varying degrees), FC deftly mixes humor, drama, action and even body horror (the Borg assimilations are a bit more David Cronenberg-ish than they were in TNG). The cast all have their moments. Marina Sirtis’ Deanna Troi gets a great drunken barroom scene. Patrick Stewart’s Picard nurses an Ahab complex with the Borg (following his own assimilation during the series), while a villainous Alice Krige goes full dominatrix in her portrayal of the Borg Queen. First-time feature film director Jonathan Frakes (Commander Will Riker) does an absolutely superb job. FC forever changed the course of Star Trek, as Picard’s 21st century incursion arguably created a different version of the ‘prime’ Star Trek universe, which influenced every Star Trek that followed (including “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Star Trek: Discovery”).
Full Review: Re-assimilating “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996)…
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998).
Jonathan Frakes directs once again, as Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E (Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden) violate orders to visit an idyllic fountain-of-youth planet inhabited by a group of intransigent New Age squatters (600 or so non-native colonists) who resist Starfleet’s efforts to make them share their world’s gifts. Picard and crew nobly defend the inhabitants’ right to be selfish, and in the end, everything is back to status quo–the Enterprise crew leaves a planet they will never again revisit, Data has fully reverted to his earliest self (ignoring all of the character growth he’s had during the series), Picard is still single, Geordi (LeVar Burton) is blind again, etc. Only Riker and Troi have any lasting character development, as we see with their future wedding in the sequel. Unlike the high stakes of other Trek movies, nothing of genuine consequence happens in INS. It’s little more than an overproduced, frustratingly average two hour episode of TNG (not one of the better ones, either). Even Frakes’ energetic direction doesn’t help the meandering story. I really wanted to love INS when I first saw it theatrically 23 years ago. Sadly, the fault lies not in our stars, but in this incredibly average installment of Star Trek.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002).
Picard and Data meet their doppelgängers–a clone and an earlier model android, respectively–who are both part of a greater Reman plot to overthrow the Romulan Empire and the Federation. NEM is a deeply flawed film that raises many potentially interesting questions, but does little to answer any of them; focusing instead on dune buggy chases (not even kidding), phaser battles, and other bits of repetitive action business. The movie has somewhat uninspired direction from editing maestro Stuart Baird, who imparts a generic, early 2000s action-movie sameness to the material. One of the reasons the Star Trek movies were rarely as creatively successful as their lower-budget TV counterparts is that they occasionally barter some of that creativity (and ingenuity) for the greater spectacle of the silver screen–using broader action & humor to appeal to wider audiences while minimizing some of the more thoughtful nuances that worked so well on TV. While I appreciated Data’s death in NEM (even if it is a ripoff of Spock’s demise in TWOK) I think it’s fitting that the character said his true goodbye on the smaller screen (in Star Trek: Picard), because television is where Star Trek will always be most comfortable.
Star Trek (2009).
In the late 24th century, Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) attempts to stop the Romulan star from going supernova–he fails, and is thrown backward in time (along with a vengeful Romulan named Nero, played by Eric Bana) to the mid-23rd century. Spock’s actions unwittingly create an entirely new timeline for his younger self and former shipmates aboard an all-new USS Enterprise (Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Karl Urban. Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin). Directed by JJ Abrams (“Star Wars Episode IX: The Force Awakens”), ST09 is not a particularly profound, or science-heavy Star Trek entry, but then again, neither was “The Search For Spock,” or any number of classic Star Trek episodes (“A Piece of the Action,” “Trouble with Tribbles,” “I, Mudd,” etc). Some Star Treks are all about the characters, and that’s okay, too. I’ve seen ST09 win over a few non-Trekkie friends of mine in a big way, and there are good reasons for that. ST09 is all about getting to know this familiar space family (all charmingly brought to life by an able cast), and to that end, it succeeds brilliantly. It is also a hell of a lot of fun.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013).
After altering the natural course of evolution of (and creating a new religion for) a primitive planet just for shits and giggles, newly-minted Captain Kirk is busted down to commander–before he’s reinstated as captain 15 minutes later in order to go after Khan (a miscast Benedict Cumberbatch). In this timeline, the 20th century superman Khan is now working as an unfrozen Starfleet intelligence operative who has created a giant warship, and secretly stuffed 72 of his people into torpedo casings–all in a super-convoluted, coincidence-reliant plot to launch them into Klingon space for ‘safety’. The cut-and-paste script references many moments from other Treks, including TWOK (Spock’s death scene is now given to Kirk–but he returns before you can even miss him) and even from its predecessor, ST09, with impulsive frat-boy Kirk essentially repeating his own arc from that movie. I don’t necessarily expect cinematic Star Treks to be as thought-provoking as the more ideas-driven TV episodes, but “cold fusion” volcano-stoppers (that’s not how cold fusion works), frozen superhuman-stuffed torpedoes and Khan’s newfound “magic blood” are embarrassingly bad contrivances. Inversely, STID is a gorgeous-looking film (with cinematographer Dan Mindel returning from ST09); the colorful Nibiri sequence, the Getty Center-lensed Starfleet HQ scenes and Livermore Labs doubling as the Enterprise’s reactor core are all stunningly photographed.
Star Trek Beyond (2016).
Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise escort an alien woman back to her home on the unexplored planet of Altamed, where the ship is unexpectedly attacked by a swarm of killer spacecraft. As the Enterprise is ripped apart by the swarm, the crew is forced to evacuate. Stranded on the planet, the captured crew soon learn that a long lost explorer (Idris Elba) is seeking an alien artifact from the Enterprise–an artifact that will enable him to exact personal revenge on the Starfleet he blames for his abandonment (sound familiar…?). Directed by Justin Lin (“Fast & Furious”), STB is an enjoyable, admittedly flawed 50th anniversary gift to Star Trek that makes a few of the same mistakes as the previous two Bad Robot Trek movies (another vengeance-seeking villain armed with a super-weapon). Nevertheless, this last Star Trek movie (to date) has more of classic Star Trek’s heart. A somber subplot sees the younger Spock (Zachary Quinto) mourning the off-screen death of older “Spock Prime” (a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy). Tragically, actor Anton Yelchin (“Chekov”) passed away in a freak auto accident at his home mere weeks before the movie’s release; he is given a hurriedly added dedication during the end credits, along with Nimoy. Despite these real-life losses, STB manages to retain a good deal of Star Trek’s winning optimism. The gleaming Starbase Yorktown (filled with thousands of aliens living harmoniously in a cosmic “snow globe”) is a literal beacon of that optimism. STB is perhaps not the best of Treks, but it’s far from the worst.
“Surely, the best of times.”
This concludes my overview of the Star Trek movies. I would also love to hear about your favorite Star Trek movies in the comments thread below (I only ask that you please keep remarks civil–trolls won’t be fed here).
Once more, I’d like to wish a Happy 55th Anniversary to Star Trek! Thanks so much for reading!
Where To Watch.
The various Star Trek movies can be streamed as part of Hulu and ParamountPlus streaming services (one streaming service may not have all movies). They can also be streamed for rental (prices vary) via AmazonPrime and YouTube. BluRay/DVD versions of the movies can also be purchased via Amazon.com and many other retailers, including BestBuy, Target, and Barnes & Noble. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current COVID pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are over 634,000 as of this writing (over 4.5 million deaths worldwide), so please wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones. With a bit of Star Trek optimism and medical science, we can persevere through this pandemic.
Live long and prosper!