Review: Star Trek: Nemesis

After having celebrated the nuptials of First Officer Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counsellor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), the crew of the Starship Enterprise are requested to meet with Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who has grown up on Romulus’ supposedly lesser sister planet of Remus. Once Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart) meets with Shinzon and his telepathic Reman viceroy (Ron Perlman), he discovers not only does he share a lot in common with Shinzon, but his intentions aren’t nearly as peace-minded as initially led to believe. He’s a man with a life-long grudge and a great, powerful weapon and his disposal, wiping out the Romulan Senate and usurping it for the long-shunned planet Remus. Meanwhile, android Data (Brent Spiner) is seeing double when the crew pick up a broken-down prototype of Data, whom he dubs B4 (also played by Spiner). Former Aussie soap star Alan Dale turns up as Hiren, Romulan Praetor not so thrilled with Shinzon.

This Stuart Baird (“Executive Decision”, “U.S. Marshals”, and a lot of work as an editor) film from 2002 is basically the film that killed the “Next Generation” film series…either that or they were planning on it being the last anyway. I think it’s the latter, and the reason for the delay in the next film was because there wasn’t a suitable crew to use as the protagonists for new “Trek” cinematic voyages (“Enterprise” wasn’t entirely warmly embraced, and despite a Capt. Janeway cameo here, I think it may have been a bit too late for either “Voyager” or “DS9”). Still, everyone gives this tenth “Star Trek” film an absolute shit-kicking nonetheless. I’m even more a defender of the film as I was back in 2002, this one’s actually really underrated, if flawed. Scripted by John Logan (“The Aviator”, “Hugo”, “Rango”, “SPECTRE”) and based on a story by producer Rick Berman and co-star Brent Spiner, I think it’s actually the second-best “Next Generation” film behind “First Contact”. Personally, I’ve generally liked all of the “Next Generation” films and prefer the crew to Kirk and co. Sure, “Generations” hasn’t aged well and “Insurrection” was very mild, but overall I think these films have been relatively consistent in quality and entertainment (By my count, the original crew have at least three duds to their credit, “The Motion Picture”, “The One With the Whales”, and “The One Shatner Directed”).

We start off with a thunderous, really majestic and exciting score by the late, great Jerry Goldsmith (“Planet of the Apes”, “The Omen”, “Star Trek: First Contact”) that utilises drums early on very effectively. It was his last film project and he certainly does a fine job. In fact, it’s a classy production all-round for something that was apparently not a happy shoot. The special FX are mostly excellent throughout. Yes they’ve dated a bit, but CGI dates a lot quicker than practical FX have and this still looks fine. In fact, the entire film’s look is one of its chief assets. During one dune-buggy chase we get a washed-out, dirty look courtesy of cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball (“Top Gun”, “Wild Things”) for a bit of difference to the norm. Colour scheme wise, there’s a striking emphasis on blacks, emerald green, and the occasional use of dark purple. Really attractive production design.

As for the Enterprise crew, I really do have much more of a fondness for this lot than their predecessors, though Gates McFadden’s Dr. Crusher has always and will forever bore me to tears. Hell, even though I find Jonathan Frakes a fairly weak actor (and seemingly a bit fond of himself), I have zero issues with the character of Will Riker except that he gets to be with the hottest Enterprise crew member of all-time, Marina Sirtis’ empath Deanna Troi. Sirtis looks absolutely ravishing in this, and she gets to be a part of a particularly disturbing subplot where someone sinister is invading her personal mental space, so to speak. My favourite of the crew members are Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard (the best and most interesting captain by far), LeVar Burton’s Geordi LaForge (who admittedly gets short shrift here, aside from a scene or two with Data), Brent Spiner’s Data, and Michael Dorn’s Lt. Cmmdr. Worf. Whilst a cameo-playing Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan gets a great line early on about marriages, it’s Worf hilariously getting drunk on Romulan ale that really cracks me up in this. From what I’ve heard, Michael Dorn can be as self-serious as his Klingon counterpart, so any time he’s made somewhat silly always amuses the hell out of me. His reaction at the wedding to Data singing (funny enough on its own) is priceless. Some will dislike the comedy this crew occasionally indulged in, but it’s well-done comedy here and “The Original Series” Enterprise crew were mostly stuffed shirts anyway. Brent Spiner’s Data gets a storyline here that a lot of people hated, and I have to say I strongly disagree. Yes, the Data and B4 relationship is corny and predictable, but it’s really sweet and the accusations about it being a cheat (for spoiler-y reasons I won’t divulge even in 2018) are cynical and, by now, a moot point anyway. It gives Spiner something to chew on and he brings his A-game for it, and it actually is in-keeping with his character arc throughout the series run on TV and in film (Funny, given Stuart Baird himself was fairly ignorant of the franchise, to many people’s disliking, particularly co-star Marina Sirtis).

As for the film’s chief villain, those who dismissed this film on arrival may not recall the actor in question here: One Tom Hardy. A pre-“Bronson” Hardy for the most part looks and sounds shockingly young and decidedly non-Tom Hardy. Apparently he was nervous to the point of sickness on set here and was crushed by the film’s critical and commercial failure. That’s a shame, because he’s one of the very best things about the film. The general idea of his character Shinzon is a fascinating one; a science experiment that was abandoned and forced to grow up in the harshest of circumstances that ultimately inform his embittered and enraged outlook on life. Meanwhile, his supposed twin ends up the much more privileged Jean-Luc Picard. Great idea and you can even feel some sympathy for Shinzon (When he says to Picard ‘My life is meaningless so long as you’re alive’, you can technically see his point, villainous as Shinzon undoubtedly is). Unfortunately, despite apparent effort from the makeup department, Hardy ends up looking more like Judas Priest front man Rob Halford or Pinhead from “Hellraiser” without the pins, not Patrick Stewart in any way, shape or form. I’ve heard that they didn’t want him to be an exact physical match for Picard (and indeed Hardy’s character has a line or two that also bring it up), but I think that’s mostly bullshit cover for an idea that wasn’t perfectly executed on screen because they didn’t cast the right physical match in the first place. Even the ears aren’t the same. Basically, they’re both bald and English-accented, that’s all. The cloning issue is still an interesting one for “Star Trek” to cover (as well as Nature vs. Nurture), and under no circumstances can Hardy himself be faulted. In fact, a good performance might be more important, at the end of the day. Certainly, the lack of physical resemblance doesn’t prove taxing on the film’s overall merits, really. Hardy’s performance may not be terribly indicative of any of his later work, but for a guy in only his 3rd film role after debuting in “Black Hawk Down”, he shows no on-screen evidence of the anxiety he was apparently feeling at the time. The character has inner turmoil, so Hardy feeling out-of-his-depth on set might’ve actually helped in giving a convincing performance here as this is a character who is struggling with issues of self and identity. Whatever issues I may have with the lack of resemblance between Stewart and Hardy, the Picard/Shinzon relationship is really interesting, as is Data/B4 (And that latter relationship also offers up interesting questions of self and identity. Should Data program B4 to be more like him, or is he the way he was always meant to be?). There’s also another interesting connection, between Hardy’s Shinzon and Deanna Troi, that helps bring out Shinzon’s much darker, more malevolent side as he appears to be violating her mind. It’s creepy stuff and probably Hardy’s best moments on film, as Shinzon (a well-rounded villain) is aided by his telepathic viceroy, played by Ron Perlman. Speaking of Perlman, it has to be said that this is far from his finest hour. An actor well-versed in acting from behind layers of makeup, but this role doesn’t afford him much opportunity to do anything except glower from behind a lot of makeup. It’s a shame, because the man is definitely capable, he glowers far more menacingly in real-life than he does here. I know his character divides Trekkers (or Trekkies, depending upon your stance) but it’s still a shame to see Wil Wheaton relegated to a mere walk-on at Riker and Troi’s wedding. Surely even Wesley Crusher deserves better than that. On the plus side, Dina Meyer gives her best and probably only good performance to date as a Romulan officer with a loyalty to Shinzon that gets tested the more sinister he proves to be.

Honestly, the only thing really wrong with this film is pacing, which is ironic given the director is mostly known as an editor (and sadly hasn’t directed a film since). Otherwise it’s incredibly underrated and I still harbour anger towards those who initially dismissed it and disappointment towards its lack of box-office success. Even if this were intended to be the last one, if it were a financial success they might’ve kept going. For me, it’s actually one of my favourite “Trek” films alongside “The Search For Spock” (my favourite), “First Contact”, and the popular if slightly overrated “Wrath of Khan”, which this film is incorrectly referred to by many as a rip-off of. Give it a look if you dismissed it originally, or if you never bothered to see it in the first place. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised. It’s certainly thematically interesting and the characters are enjoyable. Even I misjudged this one slightly on initial release, and I think it’s time for a serious re-evaluation.

Rating: B-


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