#9 in my Ranking of all Star Trek films.
As time has gone on, I’ve enjoyed this film more and more. I’ll never love it (it’s far too flawed for that level of appreciation), but there are depths to this films thematic material that really only grow with repeat viewings.
As implied, the movie’s far from perfect. Data’s story is very much a B-story that is more appropriate for an episode of The Next Generation instead of a subplot in a feature film. It doesn’t feed into the main story either directly in plot mechanical terms (except to extend one plot central scene a bit), nor does it even intertwine thematically with the central ideas at play (and there is a very interesting theme running through the film, which I’ll get to). Despite my disliking of the question form “Why doesn’t he just…” when talking about a narrative, it’s really hard to not justly ask that of the antagonist. The Klingons are mostly just extra and an excuse to destroy the Enterprise D. And most of the returning original cast is wasted.
Still, when we do the work that the filmmakers should have done, brushing away the excess stuff, what you have is the story of three men: James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, and Dr. Soran, who all respond to eternal, consequence free life in very different ways.
Kirk’s might be the most interesting. From the moment he’s pulled into the Nexus, the magical space ribbon that transports people to a form of paradise, to the moment Picard approaches him for help in his adventure, no time has passed. He simply disappeared from the Enterprise B, appeared at his house chopping wood, and then Picard walked up. Presented with this reality where time means nothing and so does any danger, Kirk finds himself automatically feeling empty. There’s a small gorge where he drives his horse to jump over. It has terrified him every time he did it in real life, but in the Nexus he felt nothing. He’s a man of action, but the action needs to mean something. There’s needs to be danger, consequence, and the potential for injury in order for it to mean something. Once presented with the façade of the Nexus, the Nexus loses all power over him and he easily walks (or rides) away.
Picard’s is interesting as well, but mostly because of how it shows him to be a complete wet blanket. Presented with the life he knows he wants, a wife and several perfectly behaved children housed in a mansion as old as the books he keeps in his quarters on the Enterprise D, all Picard can really think about is the mission he left behind. He already knows, walking in, that the Nexus is a fantasy and that his priorities lie with duty. The moment he’s presented with his own personal paradise, he wants to walk away to try and punch a man about to blow up a star because it’s the right thing to do.
Dr. Soran’s reaction needs to be extracted a bit from context, but all the required materials are there to make the right connections. His part might have benefited from a slightly expanded bit, perhaps a look into what he sees inside the Nexus. Still, we know that he lost his family, a wife and daughter, to the Borg and that before the Borg he wouldn’t hurt a fly. But, two things happen. First, the Borg kill his wife and daughter, and then he’s presented with a tangible paradise in the Nexus, which James T. Kirk helps rip him from on his passenger-like voyage on the Enterprise B that opens the film. It’s easy to suppose that what Dr. Soran sees in the Nexus is his wife and daughter, alive and happy again.
All three are presented with the, effectively, same fate, and they all three react very differently. Kirk rejects it because it’s not dangerous enough (there’s no thrill in the jump he knows he’ll make). Picard rejects it because he has a job to do somewhere else. And Dr. Soran is willing to not just kill, but massacre entire worlds to get to it.
So, Dr. Soran and Thanos kind of remind me of each other. In both instances, there are other solutions. Dr. Soran could buy, borrow, or steal a shuttle and fly it into the Nexus (supposedly), but instead he decides to blow up stars, killing hundreds of millions in the process. Thanos could create double the resources, but instead he would rather kill half the population of the universe. In both instances, the alternative methods of addressing their problems are valid, but they also miss the points of the characters. Both Thanos and Dr. Soran have been driven to complete psychopathy by their needs, desires, and ideals. The point isn’t that there’s another potential solution. The point is that they are so blinded by their end goal that they can’t see another solution, and that the solution they’ve come up with is acceptable to them. Dr. Soran maybe could find a shuttle to fly into the Nexus, but he says he’s spent eighty years trying to find another way into the Nexus and blowing up stars is the only one. If Picard offered him a shuttle from the Enterprise, Soran wouldn’t take it because he’s been so blinded by his desires that he can’t see another solution.
The same thing goes for Picard’s choice of return point. Instead of going back eighty years to beam Soran back onto the ship caught in the Nexus, or back a week to put Soran in the brig when he was under Picard’s command, Picard choses to go to the moments just before Soran shoots his missile into the star. His duty blinds him to other possibilities than to the one right before him. He won’t risk messing with timelines too much, instead he wants to make a minimal impact. It’s his duty as a Starfleet captain to find that kind of solution.
This balancing act between the three characters is fascinating and I find it really involving. It’s also only about, maybe, 50% of the movie. If that 50% had been expanded to fill a full movie, I think I’d love Generations. Instead we have Data’s subplot to virtually nowhere and the Duras sisters, holdovers from The Next Generation that probably should have been a few more spots down on the list of antagonists from the show to bring back. It’s not that the other 50% is bad. It’s largely functional and sort of okay. Really, Generations is about 50% great movie and 50% okay movie. So, I’ve grown to average out the whole thing to a solid three stars.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4
Originally published here.