The last and the least: ‘Star Trek: Nemesis’ closed out the ‘Next Generation’ films on an unsatisfying note

May 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 22, 2015

The 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis has an awful reputation. This, I think, is somewhat overblown — somewhat.

Nemesis is the film that broke the Star Trek franchise’s Rule of Even-Numbered Outings, which posits that every other movie is excellent. As it happens, I was never a big believer in that rule, not having particularly liked the eighth Trek movie, Star Trek: First Contact.

Nemesis is widely considered to be the worst Star Trek movie. Perhaps so, but isn’t that sentiment excessively flattering to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?

Trek’s tenth cinematic outing is also widely believed to be the movie that killed the Star Trek franchise. While it’s true that the next Trek film wasn’t released for seven years, creating the property’s longest-ever absence from movie theaters since its 1979 debut, there are plenty of signs that Nemesis was always meant to put a wrap on The Next Generation movie series. One of them is a plot point in Nemesis itself.

After Nemesis opens with a violent coup in the Romulan Imperial Senate, we cut to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) deliver a toast at the wedding of his first officer, William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). As part of the speech, Picard tells the gathering what they surely already know: That the Rikers are about to transfer to another vessel, the Titan, which William will command.

And there were other signs that the next generation’s last number was about to be up. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) hadn’t technically been an Enterprise crew member since Star Trek Generations; the writers found a clever way around this inconvenient fact in First Contact, interrupted Worf’s explanation for being present in Insurrection and basically ignore the whole issue in this outing.

Also, Brent Spiner, who portrays the android Lieutenant Commander Data, was leery of extending his time in the role indefinitely. This was due in part to fears about typecasting, but also because he felt that he was visibly aging — a process not typically associated with artificial lifeforms. A quarter-century passed between the television debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Nemesis, and as a moody Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) grouched in Star Trek II, “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young.”

So no, Nemesis didn’t kill Star Trek, even temporarily. Those who persist in thinking it did overlook the failings of Enterprise, the last and least of the five live-action Star Trek TV series, which probably played a larger role in quashing Paramount’s desire to continue Trekking.

Ah, but still — the movie itself just isn’t that good. Nemesis’s beginning is fairly promising, as the Enterprise is summoned to the Romulan homeworld to meet with the empire’s mysterious new praetor. Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who turns out to be a clone of one of the Enterprise’s complement, offers to negotiate a peace treaty with the Federation. Picard is tempted by this proposition, but he finds it difficult to trust Shinzon, especially when he learns that the Romulan leader’s massive new warship, the Scimitar, is designed to generate deadly thalaron radiation.

There are a few subplots, but these stimulate varying levels of interest. After the wedding, but before encountering Shinzon, Picard, Data and Worf get into a fairly ludicrous car chase as they retrieve parts of an android that turns out to be B-4, a prototype made by Data’s creator. Some rather tedious time is spent on B-4’s interest, or lack thereof, in becoming a better person. (This subplot is partially redeemed in a few later scenes.)

Also, Shinzon spends a number of on-screen minutes discussing the Romulans oppression of their vampiric-looking cousins, the Remans, whom Shinzon considers himself to be. There’s some poignancy lurking in there, but it never entirely comes out, and most of the scenes with Shinzon and his hulking Viceroy are annoying. The Viceroy (Ron Perlman) also turns out to be a telepath, which the film plays for a smart twist late in the game that places Troi front and center in the battle.

(Poor Perlman labors under more makeup than Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette when they improbably played Klingons in Star Trek III. Adding to the indignity, Perlman’s character never even gets a name.)

The scenes of Romulan-Reman politics are slightly more interesting, because they show the tensions that threaten Shinzon’s grip on power. Commander Donatra (Dina Meyer) starts off with an embarrassing attempt to seduce the praetor, but the character shows more spirit later in the film.

Shinzon has been cloned in a way that accelerates his aging, and as the film progresses, he looks more and more vampiric. Unfortunately, the character seems only to grow more petulant, rather than more ominous.

The climactic battle takes place in a region of space called the Bassen Rift, which looks like the filmmakers took everything interesting about the nebula at the end of Star Trek II and the “Briar Patch” from Insurrection and reduced it to a silly green backdrop. Again, there are a few effective moments here, but as the engagement played out, I repeatedly shook my head and asked, “What were they thinking?” The hand-to-hand fight between Riker and the Viceroy is simply terrible — the characters go onto a catwalk, which then buckles; eventually, one of the men falls away in slow motion. It could hardly be more clichéd if they tried.

A lot of the blame here goes to the director and screenwriter. Veteran film editor Stuart Baird, who’s still alive, directed only three films: Executive Decision, which I enjoyed; the widely disliked U.S. Marshals, which I haven’t seen; and Nemesis. His work here isn’t awful, exactly, but there are some dubious moments — that early car chase, a lot of the shots of the dimly lit Reman spaces, that Riker/Viceroy fight — that really could have been avoided or improved.

Screenwriter John Logan has done some solid work — I liked Skyfall, which he co-wrote, and his solo script for Hugo garnered an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay — but this hardly qualifies as his best effort.

I liked Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I wanted to like the four TNG movies. But they all fall short to one extent or another, and Nemesis is no exception. As I re-watched it for the first time since seeing it on a snowy New York night in 2002, there were parts that I enjoyed, but too many moments just made me cringe. For TNG fans, of course, this is a must-see; for everyone else — well, go watch Moon instead.

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