Star Trek: Nemesis

It was a… It was a violation!
★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2002
Director: 
Stuart Baird
Starring: 
Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Tom Hardy
The Setup: 
There’s supposedly trouble when a clone of Picard tries to take over the universe or something.
Discussion: 

Sometimes you’re so desperate for a Star Trek film you find yourself hitting bottom: making a special trip to the used CD store down the street where you saw a copy of Nemesis, the last and by far the worst Next Generation movie, in the even-more-reduced bargain bin, and enduring the smug, superior stares of the CD store staff because THEY like indie rock while YOU are an obviously idiotic Star Trek geek who wants to OWN such an obvious piece of cinematic excrescence.

Yes, the Next Generation had grown wearisome by this time and all the various Star Trek shows were waning in popularity, making this planned and marketed as their last film. It is of course frustrating to hear the official line that the public had just grown weary of the Star Trek brand and had moved on, without mention of the fact that the movies were SHIT and that maybe if the movies weren’t SHIT the public might still be interested.

We open with some Romulan senate or something, introduced by a long “zoom” into a CGI city that is supposed to be some sort of Ancient Greek fantasia. It’s obvious that our CGI budget has been increased—in fact, apparently they threw much more money at this film than any of the others—the end result of which only makes one lament that they have no idea how to use all that money. So the Praetor says this guy Shinzon is a bad fellow and we should not follow him, as some woman has suggested, whereupon she says that she really has to hit the gym before her manicure and hot-foots it out of there, forgetting her high-tech purse in the process. It then opens and poofs out this glowing green powder—keep throwing the money at the CGI!—which causes everyone in the senate to turn to dust, and apparently accomplishes a coup in which this Shinzon fellow is installed as big man of the Romulan empire.

We then cut to Picard making a speech about how he’s been captain so long and faced so many crises, etc., but he’s never had such a serious duty as—marrying Riker and Troi! They’re in this tent on an obvious set meant to look outdoorsy, with a monstrously fake painted backdrop, and I don’t know where they’re supposed to be, because even the holodeck can do better than that. Then we have the jazz combos of the future, and then Data comes out and makes a long introduction to… well, we’ll get to that.

Somehow, beginning with the first Star Trek film, this whiff of bombastic nostalgia began to seep in, with its soaring “the human spirit” music, and things began to be more and more about big, important speeches and interplanetary politics, usually being debated in large senates, not to mention inter-crew “character comedy.” It seems that by the time Rick Berman took over, that whole aspect was of equal importance to the tradition of scientific and philosophical ideas, and it just kept getting worse and worse. So you’re sitting there, gripping the arms of your chair as you try to endure the clangingly awful “lighthearted banter,” the character-based comedy of these characters that aren’t really that compelling, written by writers who can’t really come up with anything clever, and you’re just about ready to leap out the window and end it all when DATA COMES OUT AND SINGS. And at that moment you know that everything those schoolyard bullies said all your life was RIGHT, you truly are a pathetic waste of life for watching something like this. Yeah, so I can see why the fans simply “drifted away” from the series. I’m sure the fact that you’re causing your audience to face deep, life-reassessing mortification had nothing to do with it.

Cut to a long shot of the Enterprise-E, which I still hate because it is now explicitly presented as a warship. We notice, if we haven’t before, that the bridge has beige carpeting and brown velvety walls. What, are we in Dayton, Ohio’s most exclusive nightclubs? Is this the Sapphire Conference Lounge at the Baltimore Holiday Inn? Every time I think “The Enterprise Bridge Has Beige Carpeting” by brain starts to liquefy a little bit.

So then there’s, why what else, but a strange reading on a nearby planet! It seems like an android. Picard wants to take the shuttle down so he can hot-rod in Starfleet’s latest ATV! I’m serious. So he, Data and Worf go down and find scattered bits of another Data around, the clichés of movies past dictating that they must find the head last. Then—arbitrary action scene! They get attacked by these people who are also in interplanetary off-road vehicles and have a prolonged laser battle while racing back to the shuttle! Then they remote-control the shuttle over a giant ravine [although a nice hill would have done quite as well and been much safer] and jump the ATV into it! Holy action scene! Let’s put some of that in the trailer!

They throw the other Data together and he says he’s a prototype of their data named “B4.” Get it? Bee-fore? Ho-HO, isn’t that a gut-buster!? This series is just so clever. Data tells B4 that he’s his brother, awww. Soon enough they’re bonding and Data is teaching B4, which means you are treated to not one but TWO nauseating Spiner performances full of phony naivate and gooey sentiment. Geordi notices that B4 has a completely redundant memory system—kind of like a flash drive in his back—and they THINK NOTHING OF IT! I’m sorry, has our crew suddenly been lobotomized? They find nothing suspicious about all this, finding the robot on this distant planet, with a suspect extra hard drive? I just cannot understand why the fans deserted this series!

Meanwhile Janeway from Voyager calls Picard—I love cross-promotion, too!—and warns him about Shinzon, who is the new Praetor, and is Reman, which is the sister planet of Romulus that no one noticed before. The Enterprise goes to Remus where we see Shinzon’s big ship which is supposed to have an advanced cloaking device but it’s what I would call a pretty crappy one, considering you can constantly SEE it cloaking and decloaking. Also, I’m sorry, but the ships just look cheesy. There’s no getting around it. They’re like two steps above the ole Magic Eye videos. They beam down to this dark room—because Shinzon is light-sensitive or something—and we have some coy dialogue leading up to what is supposed to be this installment’s big hook: Shinzon is a CLONE of Picard!

Okay, we need a brand-new paragraph in which to discuss all the myriad ways in which this twist strikes with all the impact of a whoopee cushion. The first and biggest problem is that they look NOTHING alike. Shinzon is supposed to be a younger version of Picard, and the movie goes overboard to convince us that Shinzon is what Picard USED to look like, by having Picard flat-out SAY so, and at one point having Picard look at a picture of Tom Hardy and try to pass it off as his younger self. But it doesn’t work. The only effort they put into making them look alike is in having Shinzon be bald, which is seizure-inducingly MORONIC. We know that Picard had hair when he was Shinzon’s age, and you know how we know? BECAUSE HE HAS HAIR NOW!!! There he is, standing right across from the bald Shinzon, WITH HAIR! In an entirely separate category of stupidity is the way the movie tries to convince us that because Shinzon is a clone, he has the exact same way of thinking as Picard, and that somehow they share a psychic connection. “I feel exactly what you feel,” he tells Picard. If you’ve ever read an article, you know that being a clone, even one with psychic abilities, would not give you any special mental connection over your clone, with whom you share only genetic, not psychological, qualities. The larger problem with this is that the reason the original Star Trek was such good science fiction is because it explored the realm of SCIENCE. It was not psychic-mumbo-jumbo fiction. The third problem is that Tom Hardy has all the charisma, but half the presence, of a used paper towel, and the fourth and most major problem is that neither the screenwriter or director are able to breathe any life into any of this, or make it fun enough that you would forget its deficiencies and just get into it, so the whole thing just sits there like a big boring rock. That you have to sit staring at for two hours.

So by now you’re thinking: WOAH. Because surely the film’s larger theme has hit you with the force of an avalanche of wet toilet paper. Data has a clone. Picard has a clone. Star Trek has a clone—and you’re watching it. This leads to several “deep” thematic discussions about it is one’s physical makeup that makes you who you are, or is it the sum of your experiences? Is it nature? Is it nurture? Are we in sixth grade? Because I cannot fathom why anyone would devote much time to such a dull philosophical question—or the glancing way a Next Generation movie might deal with it.

I have written in my notes “there’s a lot of melodrama and talk,” which thankfully I have forgotten the specifics of. Then Shinzon flips a switch and, surprise, B4 comes to life and starts accessing all the ship’s plans and stealing all their MP3s. Then the Enterprise crew realizes that Shinzon has this mega bio-weapon! It’s like a regular bio-weapon, just super-duper huge! And we realize that Shinzon’s second-in-command, who may actually be pulling the strings, and adopted him when he was just a poor clone forced to work in the mines [I’m not making this up], is played by Ron Perlman under two miles of makeup, and that Ron Perlman is capable of communicating a human resonance from under those layers of makeup, and is in fact almost always a welcome presence.

But then: love, love… love plus one. Riker and Troi are enjoying their placid married home life, him looking up stock quotes on eTrade while she slips into something more comfortable, then tells him she just shaved her legs and if he wants to avoid serious razorburn he’d better hop on now. He does, and you’re sitting at home, mouth agape, as you watch a Next Generation sex scene, the queasy feeling of drying cement hardening in your stomach. Riker is on top when—suddenly it’s Shinzon! Not exactly trading up. Troi knows that Shinzon is invading her mind, and that is like RUDE, and she feels all repulsed. Then you might be convulsed in evil, evil, downright WRONG snickers as you see Troi in a post-rape condition, hair all askew and looking like she rolled down a rocky hill, appearing before Picard to explain “It was a… it was a VIOLATION!”

Then we find out that Shinzon has some serious acid reflux that all the intergalactic TUMS in the universe can’t help. Then Picard is chillin’ on the beige fantasia bridge with a glass of Chardonnay when—sudden transport! He’s gone! And you at home are like “Wait a miniute—was that actually a cool moment?” It was indeed. It’s that pesky Shinzon again, who has Picard bound and wants to whine a little more about how sad life is when you’re a clone. He says he feels like totally superfluous with Picard around, he’s just a second-class douchebag, and the only thing that’ll make him feel better is making war and killing Picard and winning American Idol and maybe launching a spin-off fragrance and fashion line for JCPenney. There’s another attempt at psychological intrigue in some muddled bullshit about how what he’s doing is what Picard WOULD do if he were an orphan clone raised in the mines, but it all splats like a… well, I’ve already used up all my “mushy splats” metaphors in writing this review. The point is, Shinzon is going to fuck up the galaxy just for some personal business that neither Picard, us, or the writers really understand. But it’s bad—know that.

I’ll bet if we put our minds to it, we could shoehorn in some more arbitrary action sequences that would be just dandy for filling out the trailer and making it look like this film is off da hoooook! Why, what if Data showed up, rescued Picard, and then we had a hallway laser shootout? And then Picard drove a ship through the hallways until it escaped into space? That would look awesome in the trailer, no? Actually, I would have been totally behind it if, the second Picard stepped back onto the Enterprise, Shinzon beam-kidnapped him again. But alas.

As Picard’s shuttle bursts through the cloak on Shinzon’s ship [the SCIMITAR! Ooooh!] there’s a nice little effect as you can see ripples of visibility across the ship. Shinzon’s ship is supposed to have some super-duper cloak that is more advanced than ordinary cloaks, but it’s hard to tell how—seems that if you’re cloaked, you’re cloaked—and the problem is, if the ship is invisible, we in the movie audience can’t tell where it is, so it has ripples of visibility quite often, which kind of counteracts how super-duper the cloak is supposed to be, right? If you can see the thing? One other astonishingly moronic little detail is that as the shuttle escapes, Shinzon sends out a tractor beam, and we actually see the beam CHASE the shuttle, but not quite reach it in time. As I said, it’s supposed to be SCIENCE fiction.

I am required by law to inform you that we are only an hour into this film, and as you know, all Star Trek films are required to be two hours. But this is where I turned it off and vowed to come back later and finish. Sometime.

Okay, back now. So back on the ship they’re chillin’ and Data deactivates the befuddled B4, who is still calling “brother.” Then they all meet in the Rotunda Conference room of the Days Inn—I’d love to see a tray of mini-muffins on the table behind them—where Crusher delivers some news—YES, Crusher has something to do!—she says that Shinzon is dying of some something and the only thing that will save him is an infusion of Picard DNA… leading me to believe that at one point in story development this film climaxed with Picard offering to save Shinzon and by offering the transfusion, and everyone being pals. Anyway, Shinzon is going to use a big version of that thing from the beginning, the one that dissolved all the people, and loose that all over Earth. Bummer. Then Picard says they must prevent that at all costs, implying that their lives are secondary, and they all give heavy looks as though he just said something he hasn’t said in every single episode.

SPOILERS > > >
So as the Enterprise runs off to meet with Starfleet [who always just HAPPEN to be unavailable], Data continues our nature-vs-nurture theme by saying that his experiences make him unique, therefore he is not just his mechanical makeup. This is sooooo thoughtful. Anyway, they’re warping through this nebula that cuts off their ability to communicate with the fleet, and that’s just what Shinzon is counting on! He hits them—there’s a nice effect as the Enterprise drops out of warp—and comes back around to attack. Then space battle for a while, then these other Romulans show up, and they’re gonna help, and more space battle, and… you’d be amazed how unexciting a space battle can be. It’s just the typical thing: shots of lasers hitting the ship intercut with shots of people inside being thrown around. This battle is trying to ape the climax of Star Trek VI, in which we have an invisible ship having free range with the Enterprise, but it just doesn’t work here since the Scimitar is SO visible so often. They had a PROBLEM finding it in ST:VI. Another big problem here is that it’s impossible to tell how BIG Shinzon’s ship is supposed to be… it’s supposed to be super-huge, but I’s designed like a small fighter, and as a result one just can’t get a fix on how big it’s supposed to be. And finally, and endemic to what’s wrong with the whole series, there’s a moment here where the Enterprise is under HEAVY fire and returning fire fast and furiously, then there is a break in the battle—and the TONE on the bridge is totally CALM, Picard and the crew are CALM, and it seems like any other mundane day—two seconds after heavy battle! I guess that crew really are professionals.

After a little tete-a-tete with Shinzon in which Picard plays supportive Dad trying to get Shinzon to live up to his potential—he just has to believe in himself!—we’re back to the battle. Shinzon destroys the Romulan ships, then, with no build-up whatsoever, just turns around and shoots out the viewscreen, blowing a big hole right in the bridge. It comes off as the next “cool moment” from the bulleted list the the committee prepared to shoehorn into the movie to make it “awesome.” Then Troi has an idea, and she uses her psychic power to locate Shinzon’s pal and thus locate the ship—we have a special shot of her making her “psychic” face with special “psychic” lighting—below. I’m sorry, I just find Troi to be inherently funny. Anyway, you’re watching this and suddenly it hits you—wait a minute—WAIT ONE MINUTE—Did Troi just actually do something USEFUL? Did she actually just serve some purpose?

So now Shinzon’s second and an invasion team beam over to the Enterprise with the single-minded intention of giving Riker something to do. The whole big Enterprise collision coming up is intercut with Riker’s POINTLESS hand-to-hand battle, meaning you’ll be trying to fast-forward through the battle, which quite effectively stops the movie dead in its tracks whenever they cut to it, and the collision, which you want to see. But let’s back up. Apparently Picard decides to ram the ships together because Shinzon can always see what he’s about to do and this would be unexpected. He also does it because this movie is supposed to be the Next Generation’s big final blowout, and they’ve already blown up the ship a few times, so we can’t do that anymore… Again, the head-on collision is handled with barely any build-up and we really just get down to that bullet item in our plot list. Time for the collision! Now, one little detail that they leave out is which is what separates The Next Generation from the Kirk adventures is that Picard never gives the order to evacuate the front of the ship, so presumably, when he smashes it into the Scimitar, he kills approximately 100-200 of his own crew members! Some kind of captain! The crash itself looks cool—it’s all about tiny debris that floats up into space—but it is drained of its impact by constantly cutting to Riker’s STUPID and POINTLESS fight!

By now Shinzon is starting to look, well, REALLY ugly, and he decides to blow off the super-bomb right then because he just hates, Hates, HATES Picard! He’s obviously about to die in 3 seconds, so if this was really Star Trek the captain would have found some way to just wait it out. So they start the thing, which is like a BIG version of the same thing we saw at the beginning, and it starts shooting out the green whatevers. Picard beams over to the ship—and the transporter conveniently shorts out RIGHT after that! He has no way to get back!—and after shooting a few Remans, continues that heart-to-heart with Shinzon. His supposition, which seems entirely specious, is that Shinzon’s big problem is that he doesn’t choose to better himself [by taking continuing education classes at starfleet community college?] and thus is, well, kind of an intergalactic slacker loser. He’s just not a contributing member of the galaxy, and that makes him feel left out and hopeless. So Picard once more steps into the Dad role and tells Shinzon that if he just deactivates the galaxy-destroying weapon he’ll teach him how to ride a bike without training wheels, play a few rounds of catch and take him out for ice cream after, but Shinzon says it’s too late. They fight, then when Picard finally gets up to destroy the super-weapon, oops, no phaser! Dropsy! Meanwhile, Data has an idea… he jumps through space from one ship to the other [cool, could have been much cooler], finds Picard [who has just impaled Shinzon, who seems to come in for a little kiss before finally dropping off] and here comes what I thought was the one GOOD moment of the movie: Data comes up to Picard, looks as though he’s about to say something, but just wordlessly sticks a transporter thingy an Picard, who is gone before he gets a chance to respond. This is the last moment they’ll be together, as Data is sacrificing himself to blow up the radiation-thing and, hold on, did this movie just handle a situation with delicacy and grace? Or am I dreaming?

Picard shows up back on the bridge [but… I… thought the transporter wasn’t working?] and back on Shinzon’s ship, Data waits til the last possible second to blow up the radiation thing. Nevermind that exploding a radiation device would presumably spread the radiation further? I suspect we’re not supposed to think about it. Then they’re all sad because Data’s dead, and then we have a little ceremony [with a tasteful red wine] which Picard makes a toast to “absent friends,” which is the toast Kirk gave after Spock had died, and hearing it repeated here made me want to STAB MYSELF IN THE EYE. Then Riker is going off to command his own starship [Bye! Don’t forget to not write!]. Crusher and Geordie are vaporized in a transporter accident, wrapping their stories up. Just kidding. The last thing is Picard has B4 in his room and they play Uno and talk, and it’s obvious Picard is going to start over with this new Data. It would be SO HOT to have the next installment be this Vertigo-style thing with Picard trying to make the new Data into the old Data. Anyway, just when you think you’re home free, Data starts SINGING [Do! Not! Sing! Ever!] and, to compound matters, Picard joins in! And THIS is how you’re going to send off your series? By making your audience want to kill themselves? Is that what you want?
< < < SPOILERS END

Okay, now we can devote the next several minutes to ripping it apart. The first and most apparent thing is that Rick Berman must be jettisoned into space where he can do no further damage to life on Earth. He’s the guy in charge of Next Generation and all the subsequent Trek series’, and they all seem to bear the mark of his fervent commitment to mediocrity. I am only now getting into the original series, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to have all these Trek series on at the same time… and to have them all suck. And knowing that any new Trek that came out would be under the Berman thumb, squeezing anything like life out of it. There are numerous stories online of how Berman would deliberately quash any creative camera moves or angles, and how he would drive musical composers to madness insisting that the music be bland and not stand out in any way. In this particular case, there are also numerous reports on how director Stuart Baird had not—and did not—watch any TNG prior to directing the film, and remained defiantly ignorant as to characters, their histories and abilities.

The main thing wrong here is that this movie is clearly Trek by committee. One can see the way they were trying to hit the pre-established points more clearly than one ever gets involved in the movie. It was going to be the last TNG film, so they wanted to go out with a bang—hence the dune-buggy scene, the numerous phaser battles, and space battles. They wanted to have a super-villain, and came up with the clone idea. They have to have some larger idea, so we have the whole doubling of planets, Data and Picard. And we had to have a major crew member die! It’s all here folks, all of the notes, none of the music.

The thematic thing is some of the worst. It’s just so OBVIOUS. You have the “twin” planets, Romulus and Remus [and Remus has been like HIDING all this time, or what?]. You have the Data clone, and we end up having Picard’s clone, both of which bring up several issues regarding whether one is who one is because of one’s physical makeup or one’s life experiences. Fascinating idea for a freshman philosophy class, but is this an idea that REALLY needs exploring? By anyone? As the movie was continuing I was realizing that this idea really permeates it all… down into things like Shinzon looks different from Picard because he was beaten as a child working in the mines, all the way to the end where Picard thinks Shinzon’s problem is that he doesn’t aspire to be more than the sum of his experiences. Which is all fine, if only any of it WORKED! But they seem more worried about including plot points, jamming in “awesome” action sequences and special effects and making sure each character gets at least one thing to do that all we’re left with is a series of points that resolutely refuse to coalesce into a story. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this film is actually far worse than Star Trek V, because at least there you had the effortless chemistry of the original crew. I was just about to say you also had no groaningly awful humor and no singing, but—!!

Many have stated that this film is drawing heavily from Wrath of Khan, what with its space battles, attempt at a match of wits between villain and captain, and sacrifice of a major character, but I would argue that it’s trying to use ANYTHING that worked in past films, and Wrath of Khan just happened to have the greatest amount of moments that worked best. But yes, this film seems to be compiling successful elements from Trek past and cramming them all together, resulting in the “list of bullet points” feeling I have mentioned many times. Ugh. It’s just too bad. I’m weary and don’t feel like beating on this movie any more. It’s just too bad the Next Generation couldn’t have been given better movies… it’s not really their fault, and it’s not that the audience lost interest—it’s just that the scripts suck and the whole thing is designed for the pursuit of mediocrity. I blame the management.

Should you watch it: 

I wouldn’t, it’s pretty terrible and there are much better space adventures anywhere you look.

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