Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
James T Kirk is seemingly killed while rescuing refugees from a strange energy ribbon in space – however, 78 years later Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the current USS Enterprise ends up in the same ribbon and comes face-to-face with his predecessor…
Regulars: The film begins with a prologue set in 2293 – Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour at the launch of the new Enterprise. When a crisis develops, Kirk urges the captain to be decisive then has to take charge. He appears to be killed when the energy ribbon blasts a hole in the side of the ship – in actual fact, he’s transported into a surreal fantasy world where time doesn’t exist and he imagines he’s living in a log cabin and is obsessed with cooking. When he returns to the real world, Kirk is genuinely killed during the film’s climax. In that prologue, Chekov introduces Kirk to Sulu’s daughter, who’s a member of the new crew, then press gangs some journalists into being nurses during the crisis. Scotty, meanwhile, attempts to transport people off a stricken ship, but can only get 44 out of 150 before the vessel is destroyed. We’re then introduced to the new team of regulars, fresh from seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard is enjoying some naval roleplaying when we cut to the 24th century, but soon gets the awful news that his brother and nephew have been killed. When he’s later inside the Nexus fantasy world, he imagines a life with a loving family, but turns his back on it so he can save his crewmates. Riker takes charge during a Klingon attack and uses calm man-management skills to win the day. Geordie gets lots of screen time – he tries to help Data with his emotional struggle, then is kidnapped by Soran, who plants a bug in his visor so they Klingons can spy on the Enterprise. Data doesn’t understand why seeing someone falling into water is funny: when Crusher tries to explain, Data responds by pushing her in. (Despite what Geordie says, this *is* funny.) Once he has his emotion chip, Data revels in his new ability to hate things, laughs uproariously at a joke Geordie cracked years before, and uses silly voices. Worf is promoted during that naval roleplay scene. Crusher does the background check on Soren; she also does a bit of doctoring. Troi clocks that something is wrong with Picard and sympathetically gets him to talk about it; when a crewmember is later blown out of his chair at the helm, she takes his place. Guinan – a Next Generation semi-regular played by Whoopi Goldberg – has a small but vital role in the story, and we learn some of her backstory.
Guests: The main bad guy is scientist-cum-maniac Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell. The movie’s early scenes feature Alan Ruck (“It could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong…”) as the Enterprise B’s captain – he’s nervous, green and really can’t get his ship together. Future Star Trek: Voyager regular Tim Russ plays a crewmember, as does Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens, John Connor’s foster mum in Terminator 2).
* Kirk inspecting the new Enterprise, swatting aside journalists’ questions, meeting Sulu’s daughter, and looking longingly at the captain’s chair.
* Kirk having to keep a lid on his frustration as Captain Harriman dithers during the crisis.
* The ribbon is a cool special effect.
* Guinan’s on the refuge ship!
* The new crew’s first scene – a holodeck recreation of a 19th-century warship. It’s partly a bit of roleplay fun between the regulars, partly a ritual as Worf is promoted to lieutenant commander.
* Picard eulogises how great life at sea must have been. “No engines, no computers, just the wind and the sea and the stars to guide you…” Riker adds: “Bad food, brutal discipline, no women…”
* Picard’s grief, played really well by Patrick Stewart.
* Data’s unpredictable behaviour once he gets an emotion chip.
* The sudden change of ambient lighting – from sunset yellow to harsh white – as the star the ship is orbiting is destroyed.
* Guinan describing the Nexus: “It’s like being inside joy.”
* The stellar-cartography scene. It’s a very smart way to illustrate Picard’s detective work, and also gives him a chance to discuss Data’s issues.
* When their bug in Geordie’s visor is activated, Klingons Lursa and B’Etor see a big close-up of Crusher on their screen. “Human females are so repulsive!”
* Data singing to himself as he taps away at some controls. “Life forms… You tiny little life forms… “
* The Enterprise’s saucer section detaching from the rest of the ship.
* ”Oh, shit!” says an emotionally charged Data as the ship falls towards the planet. The subsequent shots of it appearing out of the cloud, skimming across a forest and crashing are fantastic.
* The energy ribbon passing through a planet.
* Picard’s fantasy inside the Nexus – a vaguely Victorian family Christmas.
* Guinan being in the Nexus too.
* Picard meets Kirk!
* “You say history considers me dead,” says Kirk. “Who am I to argue with history?”
* Kirk imploring Picard to never retire, accept promotion or get himself transferred off the bridge of the Enterprise.
* Kirk showing up in Soran’s way. “Just who the hell are you?” asks Soran. Picard, standing off to the side: “He’s James T Kirk. Don’t you read history?”
* “Oh, my…”
TV tie-in: In Star Trek: The Next Generation’s sixth season, James Doohan guest starred for one episode as Scotty. Relics is an entertaining story, built on the cute premise that someone can survive in a ‘transporter buffer’ for decades. When Generations was made a couple of years later we see Scotty witness Kirk’s ‘death’ – yet in Relics, which is set later, he assumes Kirk has come to rescue him. The episode contains a lovely recreation of the original TV show’s bridge set.
Review: Another terrific Star Trek movie. It’s got to write out Captain Kirk, introduce a whole new crew and tell a self-contained action story, yet never feels mechanical or contrived. It’s really well directed – pacey, smart and often fun – and looks superbly cinematic with some fantastic lighting. The dreamlike, surreal Nexus is also a neat way of bringing Kirk and Picard together, much more interesting and character-based than simple time-travel. On the minor downside, it’s tiresome how much technobabble there is in the dialogue, while some of the new regulars (Worf, Crusher, Troi) get rather lost in the mix. On the whole, though, this is a superb start to a new movement in the Star Trek symphony.
Nine Ktarian eggs out of 10.