Star Trekking X: Nemesis

Posted: August 5, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

star_trek_nemesis_ver2Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

It’s kind of amusing how the first three “Next Generation” films have oddly mirrored the original Star Trek films. You have a first film which is a daring and divisive entry, a more action-packed and well-liked sequel where the captain faces a villain from their past, and the third film being a more restrained adventure akin to what might be seen on the TV show. This is probably coincidence, and each does require a fair bit of generalization, but it’s still an interesting pattern, one which suggests the fourth entry should be a more light-hearted and more off-beat romp. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Star Trek: Nemesis is a dark and very violent film, at least by Star Trek standards. Given how Insurrection underperformed, it makes sense that the filmmakers would try to return to some of the elements which made the best “Next Generation” film, First Contact, so good. Were they successful? Given that Nemesis killed the franchise for seven years, what do you think?

On the planet Romulus, a military coup has occured which has put the second class citizens known as Remans and their leader Shinzon (Tom Hardy) in charge. They claim they want peace, though it is quickly revealed the Romulans have only allowed them to lead because Shinzon is planning war with the Federation. Picard and the Enterprise are sent to negotiate with Shinzon, where it is revealed Shinzon is actually a clone of Picard. The two talk, and Picard wants to believe that Shinzon’s peaceful goals are accurate, but he suspects something more sinister is going on. Of course, he’s right, and conflict between the two soon breaks out.

Nemesis has a decent enough set-up, and while the idea of the evil version of the hero is far from new, it’s often quite fun. However the execution here is almost completely botched. Perhaps the greatest problem is that the story does not seem very well thought out. Things basically just happen when they’re needed to, and are then forgotten about until it becomes convenient for them to return. There is a Romulan character who makes a few short appearances in the first act, than inexplicably becomes an important player in the climax. There’s also the android B-4, who is found by the Enterprise. Sometimes he’s really important, other times the crew seems to forget he’s even there. This kind of awkward storytelling pervades through much of Nemesis and makes it a very frustrating experience. The whole time it feels like you’re waiting for the movie to actually start. When the film gets to the climax, it’s not because it’s been built up to, but because it’s almost time for the movie to be over.

This is also the movie where Star Trek becomes action first and science-fiction second. Most of the Trek films have action, and “The Next Generation” films have especially pushed this, but it’s here where that truly becomes the focus. The worst example of this is a ridiculous car chase which makes no practical sense, is full of plotholes, and is ultimately totally pointless to the rest of the film. Most of the other action scenes do actually serve a purpose to the story, but I can’t say they’re executed very well. There’s a scene for example where Picard dual wields guns (one a two handed weapon) while shooting multiple allegedly well-trained soldiers. Picard may be a great captain, but he’s not some 80s action movie hero. It’s extremely out of character for him and doesn’t feel appropriate to the series. It doesn’t help that than 65 year old Patrick Stewart looks ridiculous trying to be a sci-fi Rambo. The big climax is also too long, with the two ships endlessly firing at each other, more shootouts, and a fight between Riker and a Reman which, though set up earlier, mostly feels like the writers trying to find something for Riker to do. I’d probably give the action something of a pass if the individual scenes were at least well-crafted, but they aren’t. The scenes are uninspired, poorly shot, and mostly just boring.

To the film’s credit, there are some positives here. I appreciate that, despite being a dumbed down action film, there is still some effort to create larger themes. The clear one here is the “nature vs. nurture” argument. Shinzon may be a clone of the elegant and peaceful Picard, but growing up in such a harsh and violent world has made him psychotic and evil. Obviously the question is if Picard had the background of Shinzon, would he have followed the same path? Would Shinzon have followed Picard’s under different circumstances? However even these questions are somewhat ruined by the fact that the film doesn’t think the audience is smart enough to make these connections themselves. Shinzon endlessly rants about how he’s a mirror to Picard, and how Picard would be the same if he had grown up as Shinzon did. Movies often have the, “We’re not so different, you and I” scene between the hero and villain. This one has it on steroids, and more than once. I like a lot of discussion about the themes of the films when they’re very complicated, but the questions here are basic ones we’ve encountered before. We don’t need the movie to lecture us.

Of course, one can’t talk about Nemesis without bringing up the obvious parallels it draws to Wrath of Khan. First off, it’s always a risky move to liberally borrow from one of the most loved films in the series since it’ll only make any shortcomings stand out even more, but Nemesis pushes things past parallels and becomes a straight up rip-off. Both films feature a villain with an intense connection to the hero, both villains spend years in a harsh environment which strengthens their resolve and their desire for vengeance, and one both are finally free their desire for bloodshed is so strong it overcomes rational thought. If you’re thinking these similarities are general ones that could be applied to several films, you’d be right, but it gets worse. Both films end on a space battle fought through a nebula which limits vision, both villains have their ships and crew decimated and resort to a doomsday weapon which will kill the hero as well as themselves, and both times the crisis is resolved by the second most important character (who finds emotion difficult to process and operates through logic and reasoning) sacrificing themselves. Hell, both films even have the aforementioned character storing their memories in another so they can potentially come back in a sequel.

It is in the heroic sacrifice that I believe the Khan comparisons to be the most unflattering. While Spock’s death was of monumental importance which left a tangible void in all following scenes, Data’s death carries little impact. Stewart and Brent Spiner do their best to sell it, but director Stuart Baird is unable to bring any sense of loss to the moment or the ones after. Perhaps it’s because it’s rather obvious B-4 can be used as a means for reviving Data, but I think the problem runs deeper than that. For one, the fact that story is so sloppily thrown together makes Data’s death feel like one more element thrown in than a decision made for artisitc purposes. The death is also pointless in a character sense. When Spock died, it was a changing moment for Kirk, who had never faced true loss before. Now he had, and as a result learned something. He grew as a character. When Data dies, no one learns anything. No one grows. Is death is just a thing that happens.

Star Trek: Nemesis is not a total waste. Despite the dialogue, I did enjoy Shinzon and Picard’s early scenes together, especially since Shinzon shows some potential for depth, potential that isn’t realized, but potential none the less. The cast is also trying; Patrick Stewart saves some crummy lines and it’s fun to see Tom Hardy as Shinzon. The production values are also a step up from Insurrection. But the film is too fundamentally flawed in too many areas. If anything, I feel bad for “Next Generation” fans. Their films never really took off and I’d only even call one of them good. On top of that, while the original cast got to finish with the excellent The Undiscovered Country, the next generation is stuck with this film. It’s clear Trek was running out of steam, and a change of sorts was desperately needed.

D

This closes out the Star Trek films I had never seen before, but my “Star Trekking” series is not quite finished. Before I go, I’ll be looking at the J.J. Abrams films, though this time, through the eyes of a fan.

Comments
  1. ianthecool says:

    Man, reading your review only pointed out to me how much i do not remember about this movie.

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