Craggus’ Trek Trek – Star Trek: Nemesis (2003) Review
In the four year gap between “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: Nemesis”, much had changed. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager” had finished and Rick Berman’s ultimate plan had reached fruition: the blandest, most uninteresting “Star Trek” ever was currently setting the airwaves a-snooze with “Enterprise”. Apart from Berman and the cast, there was nobody involved with the movies now that had any experience with the show it was based on. Sometimes, the injection of fresh perspectives can bring enormous rewards, reenergising a tired format and franchise. Sometimes.
With a story by Rick Berman, Brent Spiner and Spiner’s good friend John Logan (alarm bells ringing yet?) and directed by Stuart Baird (“Executive Decision”, “U.S. Marshals”), Berman himself boldly proclaimed that “Nemesis” would be an exciting new departure for Star Trek movies, where anything could happen, and no character was safe. Instead, what he delivered was a lazily insipid re-tread of “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” with the most unsubtle pressing of the reset button outside of (most of) “Star Trek: Voyager”.
When a military coup on Romulus places a new Reman leader at the head of the Empire, the Enterprise interrupts its investigation of the discovery of another Data-like android to respond to a request from the new Romulan government for peace talks. However, when the crew arrives at Romulus, they find a very familiar face waiting for them and whatever the new leader of the Romulan Empire is planning for, it’s not peace.
Unusually for the secretive Romulan Empire, we actually get to see the coup take place, with the opening scene set in the Senate Chamber itself. This is the first “Star Trek” film to be made post-“The Phantom Menace” and Logan shows he’s learned his lesson and knows what gets the sci-fi kids going these days: trade negotiations and procedural politics. Fortunately, the scene is cut short by the deployment of a Thalaron radiation weapon which petrifies all organic matter and puts a heavily made up Alan Dale (as Praetor Hiren) out of his misery.
There’s a continual attempt at a thematic metaphor of mirrors, reflections and echoes but they can’t disguise the fact this film is a shameless and weak echo of “The Wrath Of Khan”, but with none of that film’s heart, intelligence or gravitas. Both films feature a villain who has spent a lot of time in exile, both villains manage to escape their isolation and get themselves a ship and the means to go anywhere. Both instead obsess about revenge, obtain a powerful doomsday weapon and set out to mess with the Captain of the USS Enterprise before heading for a final showdown in a nebula which disrupts communications and weapons targeting systems.
Unfortunately, what Rick Berman has learned from the patchy success of “The Next Generation” movies (pretty much just “First Contact“) is that audiences want “Star Trek” to be dark and violent, and boy does he go to town here. The Theleron radiation deaths are gruesome as the senators are turned to ash and stone and the film just gets darker from there. It’s gratuitously violent within the bounds of its certificate, terribly structured, makes no sense from a plot perspective and demonstrates so little knowledge or understanding about the characters and universe of “Star Trek” that it’s actually insulting.
John Logan is a fine screenwriter, with many impressive credits (“Gladiator”, “The Aviator”, “Rango”, “Hugo”, “Skyfall”) to his name, so it’s difficult to pinpoint what went wrong here. Perhaps his friendship with Brent Spiner compromised his ability to objectively look at the story here (it certainly explains the excessive Brent Spiner screen time) and prevented him from doing anything but centring the story on Picard and Data. Yet again. Stuart Baird, on the other hand is an experienced and talented film editor but as a director, he’s a straight-to-DVD hack. It’s no surprise that this was only his third film as director and also, to date, his last.
From the moment the crew appear in the film, it’s clear we’re in the hands of a director who doesn’t know, understand or care about the characters. For no real reason, apart from trying to give an air of finality to “The Next Generation”, we’re treated to Riker and Troi’s wedding where Picard gives a best man’s speech which is pretty much all about him (although he remembers to mention the bride and groom right at the end). Guinan and Wesley Crusher make fleeting cameos and Worf gets to be the butt of a couple of jokes about hangovers (this scene marks the most Worf gets to do in this film). Seriously, he has nothing else of note to do for the rest of the movie). Data sings. Again.
As we’re now ten minutes since we’ve had an action sequence, the script concocts the ridiculous idea that the Enterprise picks up a positronic signature from a distant planet which turns out to be another Soong-type android, like Data because if you’re the screen writer and your friend is the star, you need to find a way to get your friend on screen even more. A bunch of technobabble is thrown in for good measure to hand wave a reason for Picard, Data and Worf (just sit in the back, please) to take a dune buggy and track down the inexplicably scattered android parts. As they are progressing in their scavenger hunt (which, remember, is actually a cunning part of Shinzon’s plan and for the plan to work, he needs Picard alive and the android to be assembled) they are attacked by Remans (what part of keeping Picard alive and getting the android assembled does that help with again?), because what “Star Trek” films really need, what they’ve been missing all these years, is a car chase. It certainly couldn’t just be a gratuitous action sequence because the opening’s been a bit dull could it?
There’s a leaden cameo by Kate Muglrew as Admiral Janeaway (it’s amusing to note that with nearly ten films pushing the idea that truly great starship captains belong on the bridge of a starship rather than promoted to behind a desk, Janeaway has apparently leapt at the chance for a life of operational and administrative duties) but generally, continuity is thrown out of the window in such breath-taking fashion it makes “Generations” look coherent and well researched. There’s no real explanation of the origins of B4 – given everything that’s come before in the TV series regarding Data’s origins (and his evil brother Lore), his existence seems unlikely to say the least – let alone any explanation of where or how Shinzon came to possess him.
There’s a blatant disregard for the established history of Captain Picard himself, including the shoe-horning of photos of Tom Hardy as a young Picard into that terrible photo album (which makes an unwelcome reappearance). The film ignores the multiply-established fact that Picard went bald gradually through his life and had hair when he was a cadet and a young officer. None of this is helped, of course, by the feeble make-up which fails to disguise the fact Hardy has shaved his head for the role.
The script is downright diabolical and most of the cast seem glumly and grimly aware of it. It’s all they can do to spit out the awful dialogue (‘She’s a predator’, etc.). There’s a bizarre moment in the film where Picard cautions Data to make his language a little less florid as they escape from the Reman Warbird which seems unfair given the rest of the script is crammed with overwritten nonsense.
Tom Hardy plays Shinzon as a camp Doctor Evil character, robbing him of any genuine menace and then proceeds to tick off the bumper list of movie villain clichés, including the mind-bogglingly stupid scene where Shinzon provides a blood sample by slicing open his palm with a knife. Seriously? In the age of hypo-sprays, you lacerate your hand? Perhaps it’s hinting at a self-harm problem. I’m convinced the reason Tom Hardy has worked so hard and earned so many plaudits since “Nemesis” is because he’s constantly driven to be brilliant by how dreadful he is here.
The interactions between Picard and Shinzon would also have been a perfect time to revisit the theme of family and Picard’s regret of never having children as per “Generations” and give both films a much needed boost but “Nemesis” wears its ignorance as a badge of honour. Not content with ignoring Picard’s appearance when he was younger, the ripe script has him deliver an impassioned soliloquy to Shinzon where he tells him, amongst other things, that their blood is the same, their hearts are the same. Er..no. It was a fairly major plot point more than once that Picard has an artificial heart due to being a bit of a cocky hothead in his youth. It also turns out that Picard suffered from a couple of aggressive hereditary illnesses when he was younger. Add this to his Irumodic syndrome from “All Good Things…” and you start to wonder why the Romulans didn’t choose to clone someone with slightly less problematic genes. Fortunately, Shinzon’s worsening maladies can be cured with a ‘complete blood transfusion’ from Picard. It’s implied this will kill Picard because it will require all of his blood. Are the replicators offline again? Surely a regulation pint donation or even a finger prick sample would be enough to then replicate as much Vintage Picard claret as you’d like but again, this film isn’t concerned with logic. Nor is Shinzon particularly concerned with his cure as he passes up numerous opportunities to perform the necessary procedures.
About half way through the film, Shinzon’s motivations completely flip and instead of being out to get Picard, he decides he wants to eradicate all life on Earth for…some reason. There’s no real motivation for it, but the writers clearly felt the film lacked any real stakes so they throw in some manufactured jeopardy to inject a little tension into the flaccid showdown.
Every time the film tries to be dark or edgy it comes off as crass or distasteful. The psychic rape scene is just tasteless and unnecessary and leads to one of the most repugnantly ‘off’ character moments ever when Picard asks Troi to endure more assaults in case they provide a tactical advantage. Can you seriously imagine the Picard (or any character) of the TV series thinking that was okay?
Director Stuart Baird sincerely believed the scene where Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the Viceroy (Ron Perlman who must surely have been even gladder than Alan Dale to be near-unrecognisable under his prostheses) chase each other through the Jeffries tubes as the “Alien” moment of the movie, which only serves to emphasise the degree of delusion and ignorance he brought to this misbegotten failure of a movie.
“Star Trek: Nemesis” is the movie which absolutely, irrevocably put to rest the idea that even-numbered films were better. Ironically, franchise corroding dunderhead Rick Berman had one last good idea – he asked Nicholas Meyer if he would direct the film. Meyer was interested but told Berman that he would want to do a complete rewrite of the script if he did but Berman had already promised John (friend of Brent Spiner) Logan full control over the script and so Meyer turned him down. We, along with the cast, can only weep for what might have been. Imagine a Nicholas Meyer scripted “Next Generation” movie with Tom Hardy, Ron Pearlman, Alan Dale and Dina Meyer (she pops up as a Romulan commander) and a surprise cameo from “X-Men” director Bryan Singer in it? Sounds awesome, right? Well, instead what we got was a Brent Spiner ego trip where he got to go, in the words of “Tropic Thunder”‘s Kirk Lazarus, ‘full retard’ as B-4 while Picard is given a bunch of overwrought lines to deliver while comprehensively getting his ass kicked in a space battle. Crashing into the ship was the full extent of his master plan? If it had been followed by every available member of the Enterprise crew grabbing a weapon and storming the Reman vessel, in a mass boarding party with pitched battles all the way to the bridge for a final showdown, it might – just might – have saved the movie. As it is, there’s an entirely unemotive swap ‘n’ sacrifice alogia ex machina with Picard and Data. The rest of the cast may as well not be in the movie at all (and probably wish they weren’t). It’s bitterly cruel that this was the great Jerry Goldsmith’s final score for a feature film, especially as the work he does is much, much better than the movie deserves.
This film doesn’t have a single redeeming feature. I could go on and on listing its flaws, problems and mistakes but I’ve already gone on far too long. It’s almost meta-clever that the central villain is a failing clone because everything in this movie is a botched attempt to copy something cool from one of the movies that preceded it. Even the production team’s vainglorious boast that this film really leaves everything shaken up at the end turns out to be a massive ‘fuck you’ to the audience as everything – literally everything – is put carefully in place to allow a further “Next Generation” movie with all the same characters by the time the credits roll. I hate this film so much.