As we have all been preparing for the new movie this Spring, I got to thinking about the structure of the movies versus the episodes. Something I realized is that nearly all of the movies feature a singular villain. Khan was the first, and in a way, each movie has tried to capture that same sense of malevolence combined with a personal vendetta against the captain. Kruge killed Kirk's son. Sybok was from Spock's past. Chang made it personal with Kirk. Soran and Ru'afo were more generic I think, but the Borg Queen and Shinzon both had a personal score to settle with Picard.
That seems to be par for the course with most blockbusters these days, as seen in The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger's memorable performance as the Joker. But what got me thinking is the fact that most of the best Star Trek episodes eschew this format.
Think of the very best episodes of TOS, TNG, DS9, and the others. Who were the villains? In "City On The Edge Of Forever," the villain was time. The villains of "The Trouble With Tribbles" were less mustache-twirling guys than comic relief. The villain of "Balance Of Terror" was not evil at all. "The Best Of Both Worlds"? A faceless collective. (Notice how they created a singular scenery-chewing villain for the movie sequel.) "The Inner Light" had no villain, neither did "The Visitor".
Even in the movie series, The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home were without villains, and the former is critically appreciated while the latter is one of the most popular with non-fans.
All that said, my question is why do we need a mustache-twirling scenery-chewing singular villain for every movie anymore? JJ Abrams' series has followed the last few TNG movies in that respect. Nero was a madman driven by revenge. Harrison appears to have his own bone to pick with the Federation, and will blow up lots of stuff in order to accomplish his goals. I think it would be refreshing to have a new Trek movie someday be about encountering the unknown, or solving a complex puzzle, or something along those lines, instead of having the same formula once again.
(NB: I still enjoy the movies [well maybe not Nemesis so much] and am greatly looking forward to Into Darkness, despite whatever I said here.)