Star Trek: Nemesis Review
Read alternative reviews by Raphael Pour-Hashemi (Cinema), Colin Polonowski (Region 1 DVD) and Eamonn McCusker (Region 2 DVD)
Beware! There are moderate spoilers below...
Forget the cliche about the even Star Trek movies being better than the odd ones. I have my own theory on how to recognise a bad Star Trek film - if it introduces the crew in a silly scene designed to make us chuckle affectionately, it's a turkey. The evidence? The Final Frontier took its elderly stars rock-climbing, Generations dressed its cast up as 19th century sailors and now the tenth entry in the series, Star Trek: Nemesis, opens at Riker and Troi's wedding, where Data sings Irving Berlin and Worf proves he can't take his Romulan ale. Yes, I'm afraid Nemesis is a bad Star Trek film and will be a big disappointment to fans who have spent four years hoping for an improvement on the mediocre Insurrection.
It's not quite the abomination you may have heard it is and not the worst in the series. Neither as incompetent as The Final Frontier or as boring as Generations, Nemesis is technically adequate and reasonably diverting. The effects are decent, though old hat compared to other sagas around at the moment and British director Stuart Baird keeps things moving without whipping up too much excitement. Once Ken Russell's editor, he made the tense Executive Decision and seems better suited to thrillers than action spectacles. However, no director could hope to do much with this script. Despite coming from the pen of John Logan, an Oscar nominee who worked on Gladiator and Any Given Sunday, Nemesis violates just about every rule of good screenwriting there is.
For starters, the plot is needlessly murky and complicated. A military coup has placed the Romulan Empire, longtime enemy of the Federation, in the hands of a mysterious figure called Shinzon, who invites Captain Picard and his crew to meet him. On the way, they detect the presence of an android on an uninhabited world and discover a dismembered prototype of Commander Data, which they take on board and re-activate. Entering Romulan space, they beam onto Shinzon's warship and Picard is shocked to find that not only is he a human but a clone of himself. Shinzon claims he wants to negotiate peace with the Federation but the truth is he's an embittered psychopath who is secretly plotting to start a war and has special plans for Picard.
Many of the motivations here are unfathomable. We're told the Romulans look down on Shinzon and his people yet the Romulan military trust him so completely that they help him murder their own senate. Later, when the same military officers learn that he plans to destroy the Earth, they have second thoughts. So murdering their own leaders they're okay with but killing their arch-enemies presents a moral dilemma? And why does Shinzon want to destroy the Earth anyway? Aren't his issues with the Romulans, not the Federation? Also, why are the Enterprise crew not more suspicious of Data's twin, especially as his previous twin on the Next Generation TV series was evil?
Plot devices are blatantly introduced so they can pay off later, always a sign of poor writing. Data is given a transporter gadget so useful, Desmond Llewellyn might as well have supplied it. Shinzon has a superweapon so there can be a countdown to its detonation. Shinzon's henchman is able to link telepathically to Counsellor Troi so she can later use the link against him in a scene so overplayed, it might make you laugh out loud.
Worst of all, everything seems second-hand. For the first time in the Star Trek series, the influence of the Star Wars saga has made itself apparent. The action content has been increased, to the detriment of the film. There are frequent space battles, shoot-outs with phasers, fist fights, knife fights and even a dune buggy chase and little of it is exciting or inventive. Nemesis even borrows Star Wars' duller traits - the political chicanery in the Romulan senate looks very familiar. Here's a question for sci-fi filmmakers - seeing as nobody nowadays could care less what their own government gets up to, why do you think anyone will be interested in the politics of space creatures?
Not content with borrowing from a rival franchise, it also steals from its own predecessors. As mentioned, Data's already had a twin on the Next Generation series and, come to think of it, Picard's had an evil mirror before too. The final starship battle is a re-run of the climax of The Wrath Of Khan, right down to the colourful gassy clouds and the scenes of crewmembers dashing about in preparation. It's not even the first time they've ripped that off - remember Insurrection? As for the ending, which I won't spoil, let's just say it would be a lot more effective if we hadn't seen that before as well.
And of course the Enterprise gets wrecked. Yet again. Given that a single modern jetfighter costs millions of dollars, you would think the price of rebuilding a starship the size of a small town after every mission would have bankrupted the Federation by now. I'm glad I'm not a 24th century taxpayer.
Once again the Next Generation cast is underused. Captain Picard is front and centre for the whole story and the rest of the crew fight for scraps. Data, Riker and Troi get a few scenes to themselves while Geordi, Worf and Dr Crusher might as well not be in the film. It's understandable that the producers want to make good use of Patrick Stewart, who is a big star and has a great screen presence but it's a shame that the Next Generation movies have lacked the group chemistry that Kirk, Spock, Bones & co used to bring.
Of the newcomers, Tom Hardy plays Shinzon too much like a Bond villain, his sarcastic sneer suggesting he's been cloned from Jeremy Irons' DNA instead of Patrick Stewart's. Making a better impression as a sexy Romulan (!) is Dina Meyer, who has been the best thing in many a bad sci-fi movie. She was the saving grace of Starship Troopers and I reckon if she was fussier about the films she appeared in, she could be a big star.
Sadly, the disastrous performance of Star Trek: Nemesis at the American box office may spell the end of the movie franchise, which has lasted 23 years and 10 films. Some say the series has run out of ideas and Paramount should put it out of its misery, but not me. There have been bad Trek films before. I say, give Nicholas Meyer a call and see what he can do with the Next Generation. No one can do Star Trek on the big screen better than him.