Should I Watch..? 'Star Trek: Nemesis'
What's the big deal?
Star Trek: Nemesis is an action sci-fi drama film released in 2002 and is the tenth film based on the TV series Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. It is the fourth and final film to feature the cast of The Next Generation series and sees Picard lead his crew head to Romulus to discuss a possible peace treaty and they quickly find themselves in the midst of a political coup led by a surprising and unexpected culprit. The film stars Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Tom Hardy, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis while the film was directed by series newcomer Stuart Baird. The film received a mixed reception from critics and remains regarded as one of the weaker Trek film seen so far. The film would only earn $67.3 million worldwide, making it a box office bomb and the last Trek movie released until 2009's reboot by J.J. Abrams, Star Trek.
What's it about?
After the crew of the USS Enterprise-E celebrate the marriage of Commander Will Riker and counsellor Deanna Troi, Captain Picard is contacted by Admiral Janeway who orders Picard to journey to Romulus in order to help negotiate a peace treaty. The new leader of the Romulan Senate, Praetor Shinzon, is keen to end the long-running feud between the Romulans and the Federation. On route to Romulus, they discover mysterious energy readings from an unexplored planet that match those exhibited by Lt. Comm. Data. Discovering a disassembled prototype called B-4, the crew narrowly escape from hostile natives before rescuing the child-like droid and resuming their quest.
Upon arriving at Romulus and understandably tense, they meet with Shinzon who admits to being a clone of Picard designed to infiltrate the Federation as part of a cancelled Romulan plot. Allying himself with the Romulan slave race the Remans, Shinzon is intrigued by Picard and appeals to the captain's familial nature to try and facilitate talks. But Picard is rightfully suspicious of Shinzon and quickly discovers that his younger mirror image has a terrible secret and a powerful weapon in the form of his ship, the Scimitar...
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Commander William Riker
Lieutenant Commander Data
Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge
Doctor Beverly Crusher
Lieutenant Commander Worf
Release Date (UK)
3rd January 2003
Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
I can't help but admire the irony of a film subtitled Nemesis causing the long-running film series to grind to a shuddering halt, albeit temporarily. There's no getting away from the fact that the film lacks almost anything to make it special but there are a couple of unpolished gems amid the dilithium. Stewart is as solid and dependable as he's ever been, giving us a Picard seemingly aware that his time is running out as the lives of his crew move on and leave him behind. Opposite the good captain is a very young Hardy who nevertheless acquits himself well as the villainous Shinzon and the chemistry between them made me wish that there was more interaction between them.
Baird is more of an editor than director and prefers to work on more action-oriented projects like Executive Decision, his directorial debut. As a result, the film has some visually interesting action sequences such as an intense shootout in the corridors of the Enterprise itself and a slightly hokey car chase that reminds viewers of another Tom Hardy film, Mad Max: Fury Road. I was also pleased to see Sirtis finally have something to do as she has been chronically underserved by the three previous Next Gen movies. Her character may allow the script to get a little dark at times, especially by Trek standards, but she brings a raw and genuine emotion to the picture that is hard to ignore.
- Baird was brought in by producer Rick Berman in order to give the franchise a shot in the arm, despite Baird never having watched the TV shows. Baird later expressed frustration at having to work with existing characters, storylines, designs and recycled sets while cast members Frakes, Burton and Sirtis openly criticised the director (Sirtis even referring to Baird in interviews as "an idiot". Even Stewart described the film as a "pretty weak" finale for the Next Gen crew.
- Hardy also suffered repercussions from the film's failure as he took the role of Shinzon very seriously, intending for the film to be his breakout film appearance. After the backlash from fans, Hardy took the criticism to heart which led to his breakdown and his drug and alcohol dependency as well as him considering suicide at the time. It was only after his actual breakout performance in Bronson in 2008 that he put this film's experience behind him.
- The film brought back both Wil Wheaton and Whoopi Goldberg as Wesley Crusher and Guinan respectively. However, Wheaton's appearance (his only appearance in the film series) was cut so drastically that he only appeared in a non-speaking role during the wedding. Goldberg went uncredited for her appearance as did director Bryan Singer for his brief cameo as crewman Kelly.
What's not to like?
Sadly, the film displays little enthusiasm or joy in proceedings. Fans of the show or earlier movies will recoil in horror at the appearance of the ARGO, a post-apocalypse-style dune buggy that feels utterly out of sync with everything else ever seen in a Trek film. While some new ideas fall flatter than a meteorite, the film relies on too many contrivances and repetitive scenes we've seen too many times before. For example, the film once again allows Spiner to have the majority of the subplot given to both Data and his simpleton brother while other characters like La Forge and Worf have almost nothing to do at all. And while the film makes no bones about being the last one to feature the Next Gen team, it still tries to introduce a whole new species (the Remans) into continuity and basically, the only purpose they serve is to be Shinzon's ugly minions.
It's hard not to place the blame on director Baird who hasn't directed another movie since Nemesis. There feels something like contempt for the material bubbling underneath the surface while his ignorance of the preceding films and series underscores his unsuitability for the director's job. The film also suffers from a lack of characterisation which I presume disappeared after some 50 minutes of cuts was made to the film. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be too concerned about such things but the chemistry and storyline between Picard and Shinzon would have been interesting to explore a bit deeper. If Baird just wanted to produce an action-heavy outing for the Next Gen crew then he just about manages it. But personally, I never believed Trek was about action but about deeper themes and introspection and there just isn't any. It just lacks that Trek magic that made films like First Contact or The Undiscovered Country great films in their own right.
Should I watch it?
Star Trek: Nemesis is an undercooked and underwhelming picture that forced the series to re-examine itself and its future. Despite some interesting potential and great performances from Stewart and Hardy, the film doesn't display much of the energy, humour and enthusiasm seen in earlier Trek films. It feels tired, out of ideas and a poor way to say goodbye to some much loved characters. It's not the worst Trek picture out there (see below) but it could and should have been so much better.
Great For: dividing fans of the series, risking the franchise's future, dune buggy drivers, J.J. Abrams
Not So Great For: fans of The Next Generation show or films, Baird's directorial career, Tom Hardy's physical and mental health
What else should I watch?
I always wanted a film to make the best of the Next Gen crew but all four of them have their faults. Generations is ultimately hijacked by a departing Shatner, Insurrection has a weak narrative and is generally dull while Nemesis fails to make the most of its wasted potential. First Contact is easily the best of the four films as it brings the Borg to the big screen to terrifying effect although a fairly weak time-travel plot helps to scupper the film somewhat. Before the Next Gen crew, though, was the original crew led by Kirk, Spock and the others. Of the six films they made, only a few still stand up over time. The Wrath Of Khan is a tense and thrilling stand-off between Kirk and his mortal foe that feels like a clash between wounded pirates at sea while their final outing The Undiscovered Country finally brought together a great story, decent effects, inventive action scenes and offbeat humour as well as serving as an allegory for the end of the Cold War.
Since 2009, the series has undergone something of a transformation. As J.J. Abrams revived the film series, we have also had a TV revival in the forms of streaming-service only series Star Trek: Discovery and the much heralded Star Trek: Picard. In terms of the films, they appear to have mimicked the slow decline of the original film series - Star Trek brought the franchise bang up to date in terms of cast and special effects but reset the timeline to the crew's first mission together. Sadly, Star Trek Into Darkness couldn't sustain the momentum by essentially retelling a story already seen in the original timeline while Star Trek Beyond was a lukewarm effort that saw the Enterprise stranded on a jungle world with little hope of escape. Since then, the films have been on hiatus for a while so we'll need to wait and see what happens next.
Oh, I almost forgot - the worst Trek film by far is the appalling Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. A farcical story combined with a disinterested cast and a director's ego running rampant throughout (guess who's?), the film remains the nadir for the series with a total of six Razzie nominations, winning three of them including Worst Picture. Avoid the film like Borg nanoprobes.
© 2020 Benjamin Cox