Remember in the first season of the show when the Enterprise crew travelled back in time to 1966? And now exactly twenty years later they have to travel back to 1986? It’s almost as if their fictional timeline is parallel with our own. Isn’t that weird? Oh, I can’t blame them too much. Having any futuristic cast of characters travel back to whatever “Present Day” is is always at least a little intriguing. And the fish-out-of-water scenario (no pun intended) makes for some of the funniest moments in Star Trek history.
Immediately following the events of Star Trek III, Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) commands the Klingon ship they stole (no Enterprise in this movie) and flies back to Earth with the intention of turning himself in for disobeying Starfleet orders. However, a very strange alien probe has travelled to Earth and is disrupting all electronic equipment, as well as the ecosystem, causing massive global devastation. Admiral Kirk and crew determine that the probe is attempting to signal an extinct species of whale. So they travel back to 20th Century Earth in order to find and transport the whales to their time so they can communicate with the probe and prevent it from destroying the Earth.
Of all the Star Trek movies, this is the only one that could be considered a comedy. Mainly because it’s hilarious! Seeing the Enterprise crew try to adapt to 20th Century customs never stops being funny. Things like swearing “appropriately”, figuring out how to make and spend money, hiding Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy’s) ears, Scotty (James Doohan) using a 1980’s computer, Bones (DeForest Kelley) healing terminally ill patients with little to no effort, and of course Chekov (Walter Koenig) standing out like a sore thumb in a Cold War society, provide plenty of laughs throughout the movie. Each member of the crew gets plenty to do this time. No longer are characters like Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Sulu (George Takei) relegated to bit parts. Everyone has an important job to do, and like always, they do it like a well-oiled machine.
However, one can’t help but notice the extremely convenient timing of such a bizarre alien probe. Just when Kirk and his crew are about to face some serious, career-ending charges, suddenly there’s an opportunity to save the Earth and redeem themselves. You’d think returning with a recently resurrected Spock would have been enough for Starfleet to at least hear them out. But this giant probe, that’s trying to communicate with whales of all things, seemed like a deus ex machina. Not that there still weren’t criminal charges to face at the end, but it’s reminiscent of the third movie’s “reset button” tactics.
But, deus ex machina or not, we get one of the most memorable and thoroughly-entertaining Star Trek adventures of all-time. This is so far the most light-hearted entry in the film franchise. It has a strong sense of humor highly reminiscent of the old TV series, as well as being a nice break from the dark tones of the previous two entries. There is a sense of finality in the closing moments too, although there are still more movies to come for these characters. But it’s nice to know that after 20 years, the longest-running Enterprise crew can still bring the magic.
4 out of 5