He’s had a wide range of roles over the years, and won numerous accolades, especially for his television work in shows like The Practice. But he’s permanently linked with that most iconic of roles, Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise.
Kirk’s the quintessential Man of Action, therefore hunts down his desires with relentless intensity, single-minded focus, and a galactic-sized libido. This Space Lothario is known for several important signature moves, many of which you can experience in the first few the Star Trek movies. To help you grasp the ways in which Shatner projects his Kirk-sized ego to fill the sucking void of infinite space, we’ve developed a rating system that quantifies the inherent “Kirkiness” of each of the films in which he appears.
Each of the first five Star Trek films is rated in four categories, and can merit a score that ranges from one (Kirkiness minimus) to five (Kirkiness maximus), with some right in the middle (Kirkiness medius). Buckle up — we’re entering Spoiler Country.
|Romance (1 to 5 ): He’s locked lips with short-skirted Starfleet females with beehive hairdos. He’s taught sexy robots the meaning of “love,” right before they overloaded from a powerful surge of his raw, dilithium-powered machismo. He’s shacked up with slinky green babes at the groovy, far-out outposts of a beatnik galaxy — and never once has he gotten the Space Cooties.|
|Kirk-fu (1 to 5 ): The courageous Captain never backs down from a fight, and relishes a good brawl. He’s got notable signature moves: The Double Fist Punch! The Ear Slap! The KirKarate Chop! The more fisticuffs a film features, the higher this score.|
|Over-Emoting (1 to 5 ): Shatner’s infamously choppy delivery made him the butt of jokes — but that’s only because Some. People. Don’t. Understand. Great. Acting! Line readings that would sound awkward issuing from any other actor’s pie-hole are transformed into Purest Thespian Gold when uttered by the Shatner.|
|Chicanery (1 to 5 ): If a fiendish foe wasn’t near enough for Kirk to punch them right in their ridged alien cranium or waste them with a quick phaser blast, he could manifest more strategic gambits than a pro gamer on a Starcraft Twitch channel.|
This film has only one thin element of sexual chemistry, the former romance between Navigator Ilia and Captain Deckard. Ilia not only gets turned into an emotionless android by alien probe V’Ger, but early in the film she mentions her “oath of celibacy.” (Seriously? How’s anybody supposed to get their Space Freak on?!) Although Kirk sees Ilia nude in his sonic shower, his once-powerful hormones remain sadly dormant. Quoth the Ilia-droid: “The words ‘recreation’ and ‘enjoy’ have no meaning to my programming.” Sad Kirk is sad.
Kirk-fu: Weak-sauce action and too much damn gabbing sabotages any claim this film has to Kirkitude. The circular philosophical discussion Kirk has with the big-ass probe leaves you begging for him to end the endless chit-chat with a left hook to V’Ger’s jaw…if it had one.
Over-Emoting: This movie is so dry that it’s plagued by wooden under-acting, in part due to the fact that the dialog is about as snappy and flavorful as week-old Klingon gagh (a dish consisting of live worms).
Chicanery: As usual, when Kirk meets an artificial consciousness, no matter how godlike its vast alien sentience, his unpredictable human emotions and wily Kirkian shenanigans get the best of the Big Bad Machine. In this case, he accomplishes this deception by convincing the machine that he’s God — not a stretch for Kirk’s ego.
Grade: Kirkiness minimus
The story features Carol Marcus, Kirk’s ex and mother of his son, David; but she’s an old flame long gone out. The greatest emotional connection in the film is clearly between Kirk and his unconsummated life-partner, Spock — a love that lasts forever, and is the basis of stacks of explicit fanfic.
Kirk-fu: Kirk is physically outmatched by Khan and his band of genetically engineered supermen; but as he never meets Khan face-to-face, we’re denied any punchy-punchy goodness.
Over-Emoting: To grasp the heights of scenery-chewing to which this film ascends, you need remember only one word: “KHAAAAAAN!” Both Shatner and Ricardo Montalban as Kirk’s mullet-wearing nemesis seem to be competing for the World Cup of Teeth-Gnashing. Winner? The audience.
Chicanery: This film features some of the best starship battle scenes in any of the movies, as Kirk outmaneuvers Khan with his superior tactics and long experience. The Enterprise and Khan’s stolen ship, the Reliant, play hide-and-seek in a nebula, and at one point Kirk forces the enemy ship to drop its shields right before he unloads a fat phaser barrage amidships (or was it larboard?). It’s an epic and satisfying ass-kicking.
Grade: Kirkiness maximus
This film has time for neither hanky nor panky. Blame the Klingons, who spit on your sniveling human notions of love.
Kirk-fu: Kirk gets to beat on a Klingon commander, Kruge, and throw him into a lava flow, as everybody knows that flash-roasted Klingon is the most succulent. But this scene lacks a certain verve, and is neither well-choreographed nor very thrilling compared to classic battles in the original Star Trek TV series. Plus, no Alexander Courage fight music!
Over-Emoting: Any movie that features Klingons inevitably provides an excuse for Shakespearian-trained actors to foam at the jowls. Following the murder of his progeny, David Marcus, the grieving Kirk gets to wail, “You Klingon bastard — you killed my son!”
Chicanery: As usual, Kirk weasels his way out of danger. His big trick in this film is when he learns how to say “Beam me up!” in Klingon, which he uses to infiltrate his enemies’ ship, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. (Though it’s possible his pronunciation actually had him saying, “Don’t touch my mugato!”)
Grade: Kirkiness medius
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Kirk has a brief flirtation with a marine biologist, Dr. Gillian Taylor, but it never advances further than a peck on the cheek.
Kirk-fu: Spock has the best moment of physical conflict in this film, when while visiting 1980s earth, he gives a snotty punk rocker a Vulcan neck-pinch. Director Leonard Nimoy specifically wanted a script that featured “no dying, no fighting, no shooting, no photon torpedoes, no phaser blasts, no stereotypical bad guy,” so the film suffers from acute smack-lack.
Over-Emoting: The film is a paragon of reasonable behavior and lighthearted adventure, so the scenery is left without teeth-marks.
Chicanery: : The plot involves hijacking humpback whales with a Klingon warship — so some fairly sneaky maneuvers are required to pull it off.
Grade: Kirkiness minimus
This film is strictly a sausage-fest, and there’s not much love to be found within this group of characters; not even between Spock and his half-brother, Sybok. But Kirk, Spock, and McCoy get their usual digs in at each other, grumbling like old duffers at a golf game — in space.
Kirk-fu: Kirk fights Sybok, but is easily defeated by the Vulcan’s superior strength.
Over-Emoting: An alien entity pretends to be God, a decision that could only have been helped by the casting of Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman. The real question is how Shatner avoided casting himself in the deity’s role.
Chicanery: Some hostage drama thing happens, and horses are involved — given director Shatner’s personal equine enthusiasm (he’s a horse owner and breeder). It’s a mess, and this is the least-loved film of the entire series.
Grade: Kirkiness minimus
Can a Star Trek film without Kirk have Kirkiness? Captain Jean-Luc Picard is but only one of many captains who inherited the Enterprise command, and he’s also had his share of love and battle. For example, in Star Trek IX: Insurrection, Picard shacks up with a cute alien. He’s clearly learned from the master.
On another note, CBS recently announced the creation of a brand-new Star Trek TV series, to be launched in January 2017, which means there’s never been a better time to refresh your knowledge of the Trek universe. Take your eyeballs where they’ve never gone before…or where they’ve already gone but want to go again, and re-Trek your head.