In all forms of art and literature, a great villain can make or break the story. The proper antagonists allows the heroes to triumph by providing them the proper adversity to overcome. In fact, some would argue that the villain creates the hero. There would be no Indiana Jones without the Nazis, no Batman without the Joker, and no Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader (which, technically, is literally true as he is Luke’s father). Some villains are simple, yet effective. Others are more complex and intricate. Some villains earn our sympathy, while some are just pure evil. Regardless of their character, they can often make the story so much more entertaining.
Star Trek is no different. In the 13 movies that have featured the crew of the Enterprise, there has always been a villain that brings us the conflict. Ranging from cybernetic collectives to mad scientists, devious clones to vengeful past foes, cunning generals to even a probe looking for its whales, a formidable adversary can always be counted on to bring out the best in our beloved characters. In this two-part Top Ten list, I will explore who I think are the ten best villains from the Star Trek movies. I considered the main antagonist in each film, ranging from the Motion Picture to Beyond. I will look at what dastardly deeds were committed, their impact on the main characters, how well their own character was developed, and the simple fact as to how cool they really were. While the villain can make all the difference in the movie, sometimes a bad movie hurts what on paper would be a pretty great villain, and that will also be a factor in this list. How does your favourite movie baddie match up against this list? Oh, and just in case you have not seen all of the movies, some SPOILERS ALERT is in order.
10. Sybok (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) – At the bottom of this list is Spock’s half-brother. The son of Sarek and a Vulcan Priestess, Sybok abandoned the emotional suppression of his Vulcan heritage and began a quest to discover God. Literally. He went looking for the Almighty himself. He started on a dingy, dusty planet that the Klingon, Romulan, and Federation governments would send their least desirable diplomats to as a token symbol of peace. Not a difficult place to conquer. What was strange about Sybok is that he had some sort of hypnotic power that could earn the trust of those around him that only a stereotypical religious cult leader could muster. The trouble with his role as a villain is that he isn’t really bad. Sure, he takes over the Enterprise (which is why he ranks on this list, unlike three bad guys who don’t), but he does so to find God. Not destroy the universe, or conquer it, but to enlighten it. He brainwashes people by showing them their pain and then having them give to him their pain, but all he does is make them devoted to him in a weird, cult-like sort of way. One of the many reasons that Star Trek V was almost universally panned by fans has to do with such a weak villain. I think that the actor, Laurence Luckenbill, did the best he could with the material given, but the character was a flop, and landed him at the bottom of the list.
9. Khan (Star Trek: Into Darkness) – Benedict Cumberbatch is a talented and gifted actor. His inclusion as the villain in Into Darkness was heralded as a major coup. For months rumors circulated that he would take on the iconic role of Kahn Singh, Eugenics War tyrant that brought such a heavy toll to Kirk and crew in both the TV series and the movies. He was introduced to us as John Harrison in an attempt to make his true identity a surprise. In many ways, he was everything that the Ricardo Montalban version was not. He decimates a Klingon strike force single-handedly with deadly ease. He kicks butt and takes names. While it was impressive, I must admit that this is part of the reason he shows up so low on this list. It was almost "over the top, action star quality", whereas the Prime universe version, while being violent and deadly, was more subtle, and thereby more dangerous. Also, since Into Darkness was in some ways a retelling of Wrath of Khan, the parts that seemingly played homage to such a masterpiece of cinema fell a bit flat. For fans of the original series, the comparison to the original Khan was mostly a pale one that relied too much on previously established material on the character. For fans unfamiliar with that movie, the significance was lost on them. Hats off to Cumberbatch for a strong performance, but the Kelvin Khan just doesn’t measure up to the original.
8. Shinzon (Star Trek: Nemesis) – Another excellent actor playing a villain that did not quite live up to the hype. Tom Hardy takes the role of the discarded clone of Jean-Luc Picard that has killed his way to the top of the Romulan Empire and has now set his sights on destroying the Federation. He is brutal in his methods, wiping out the entire Romulan senate in grisly fashion. His henchmen, the impressive looking Remans, add an almost vampire-like eeriness to things. His ship, the Scimitar, is menacing. His obsession with his Federation counterpart and DNA donor is more curious than troublesome, and this is where he starts to lose footing on this list. While he is tough, complicated, and dangerous, for a significant part of the movie we wonder what he is all about. And not in a “good, mysterious” way, but more like a “why on Earth is he so hung up on Troi” way. Still, he is responsible for the demise of Data, and that counts for something. He almost destroys the Enterprise E, and that is also noteworthy. He just does not come across as complex as some hoped and thought he would.
7. Nero (Star Trek, 2009) – As we go farther up this list, we start looking at what really makes a good adversary. In the first of the Kelvin timeline films, we are introduced to Nero, a troubled Romulan who intends to seek revenge for the destruction of his planet by striking at his enemies in the past. His ship is huge and deadly, but almost too complicated. His motives for what he is doing are intriguing, but here is where I think that, unlike Kelvin-Khan, he was too underplayed. Nero is devious, a killer, and commits some of the most heinous actions in any Trek film by destroying the entire planet of Vulcan. He has a well thought out reason for doing this, but it is hardly touched on. When you watch the deleted scenes from the DVD, we learn much more about the character that makes him a much more effective villain, but since it was all cut from the theatrical release, he becomes a two-dimensional character. All he wants to do is destroy because he is mad. Definitely a more effective villain than the ones previously mentioned, but he could have been so much more. The destruction of Romulus was mentioned almost in passing, and his back story could have done so much more for the character. Sadly, the producers missed the boat with Nero, and he only lands in the seventh position.
6. Soran (Star Trek: Generations) – Veteran actor Malcom McDowell let the cat out of the bag early by revealing that his character, the El Aurian scientist Soran, kills the legendary James T. Kirk in the movie that passes the torch from the original crew to the next generation. In the original version, Soran shoots Kirk in the back. Once fans started to complain about the reveal, reshoots were made that went from having Kirk not die to ultimately dying from a long fall. Again, this is an instance where more back story to Soran’s character might make him a more compelling villain. His motives are more self-centered on regaining something precious that he lost, not caring as to how he regains it. To have improved on his character, it would have been interesting to see the parallel between him and Guinan more fully fleshed out. So why so high on the list? While the Duras sisters destroyed the Enterprise D, it was because they had Soran’s help. He did kill James T. Kirk, which is no small feat, and therefor he ranks a bit higher than the likes of Nero, Shinzon, and Kelvin-Khan on this list.
Haven't seen your favorite yet? Well, stay tuned. My next post will be Part 2!