Movie heroes are defined by their adversaries. Batman has Joker, James Bond has Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty. But no equivalent counter force tests the mettle of heroes such as Dirty Harry, Ethan Hawk, or John McClane, to name a few. For them villainy is serial in nature and its champions, however odious or wicked, never rise like the Terminator to threaten the hero time and again.
For a movie franchise like the “Star Trek” series, identifying the most memorable villains is tougher. Not only must they be tenacious and terrifying, the scope of their treachery must extend across time and space. Their wrongdoing cannot be a localized manifestation of death and destruction but also must identify the universal qualities of heroism that enable it to overcome evil.
That definition eliminates inanimate destroyers such as V’Ger from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and petty opportunists like the Klingon Kruge in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” It also removes from consideration such worthy demolishers as Nero from the J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” movie and the Klingon General Chang from “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Though their treachery sweeps across space and leaps through time, the complexity of their evil never plumbs beneath revenge and retribution.
That leaves four villains from the Star Trek movie series whose combination of tenacity and corruption tests the psychological well-springs of human heroism. In ascending order of depravity, they are:
4. Khan Noonian Singh—megalomaniacal foil of Captain Kirk destroys planets and succeeding generations (see “Star Trek Into Darkness”) to feed his lust for revenge.
3. Borg Queen—alien siren of “Star Trek: First Contact” and related television series uses knowledge gained about Captain Picard through his incorporation into the Borg collective to seduce him into defeating the United Federation of Planets.
2. Praetor Shinzon—Romulan clone of Captain Picard uses the Captain’s instincts and skills to take over Romulus and attack the Federation. His command to “Set course for Earth. Kill everything” says it all.
1. Alien cylindrical probe—its planet-threatening response to the call of extinct hump-backed whales prompts the Enterprise crew to go back in time to restore the whales and save the Earth.
The last one may seem to violate the injunction against mindless destroyers, but the probe epitomizes the notion that humanity’s greatest enemies are its own hubris and shortsightedness. As cartoonist and cynic Walt Kelly once observed, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
Khan Noonian Singh
Villain #4 in the list plagued Captain Kirk in both “Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan” and in “Star Trek Into Darkness” and is motivated by his bruised sense of injustice and innate superiority.
The queen of the Borg civilization entices Captain Picard to conquer the Earth and the United Federation of Planets with a balance sexual temptation and a will to power.
Praetor Shinzon with Captain Picard
The Romulan clone of Captain Picard uses the Captain’s skills and character traits to take over the Romulan empire and attack Earth and the United Federation of Planets.
Alien probe of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” threatens to destroy the Earth in answering the mating call of the extinct hump-backed whale.