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Debate Club: The 5 best Star Trek villains
Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
As with any franchise, sometimes the difference between a great Star Trek film and a poor one can be as simple as whether it has an awesome villain. Star Trek hasn't always had truly memorable bad guys, but they've still had plenty who strike fear in the hearts of our heroes.
Here are the Top 5 Star Trek villains, including two who originated from the television series.
Eric Bana tends to be a rather reserved, brooding actor. He dropped that for the gonzo intensity of Nero, the Romulan baddie who targets Kirk in J.J. Abrams' rebooted Star Trek. (He also really hates Spock.)
Where most Trek villains are guided by their megalomania, Nero seems to be a product of pure rage, resulting in one of Bana's least complex but most visceral performances. And he gets to utter one of the coolest lines in all of Trek history (see above).
After the debacle of The Final Frontier, the franchise needed to right the ship, which happened with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. And that also meant a good bad guy.
Enter respected actor Christopher Plummer, who portrayed a scene-chewing Klingon general. "I never knew that Klingon was actually a language and had been registered in Washington as a language," the Oscar-winner later said. "They're terribly serious about pronunciations and stuff. There was an expert on Klingon on the set!"
His Chang is awfully pleased with his own villainy, which makes him a fine adversary for Kirk, a guy who takes a backseat to no one in terms of interstellar showboating.
With all due respect to Chang, though, here's the best Klingon bad guy in a Star Trek movie. Christopher Lloyd, the year before he would play Doc Brown for the first time, portrays Kruge, the Klingon leader who gets in the way of everyone's mourning of Spock and tries to find the secret of Project Genesis. This leads to a classic Kirk vs. Klingon battle, and while you know how that turns out, Lloyd makes certain that Kruge gets a fighting chance.
02. The Borg
In terms of all-time Trek villains, the Borg are probably the series' most formidable: a cyborg race that goes around the galaxy assimilating other species so that they can become more powerful. The Borg first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they made their big-screen debut with 1996's Star Trek: First Contact, probably the best of the Picard movies.
A mixture of zombie and the Terminator, the Borg are seemingly invincible, unstoppable, unfeeling monsters, but First Contact added a new wrinkle by introducing us to the Borg Queen, played chillingly by Alice Krige. Other Trek baddies are hammy — the Borg are stone-cold scary.
Obviously, we're not talking about (spoiler?) Benedict Cumberbatch's short bit in the second J.J. Abrams movie. We mean Ricardo Montalban's oddly pectoral-ed Khan, a reprise of his role on an episode of the series from 1967 — except so much more powerful in what remains the best Star Trek film.
Montalban was 62, somehow, when he played Khan on film, but he is the equal of the crew of the Enterprise in every way, the one villain who seemed truly formidable and dangerous. You don't need to remind us of his power: We're still crying from the end of that movie.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.