Star Trek: Nemesis has an odd place in the Trek universe. On the one hand, it’s the final on-screen adventure of Picard, Riker and company, who personify Star Trek as a whole for at least two generations of fans (including myself). On the other, it’s the film that supposedly inverts the Trek curse–which holds that the odd-numbered films are terrible while the even-numbered ones are good; this film is the tenth Trek film made–and is considered to be so awful that it killed the franchise…at least until J.J. Abrams revived it.
But watching it for the first time last night with some friends–actually, a group I’m in a Trek tabletop RPG campaign with; more on that later–I enjoyed it because it caps some long-running stories from the TNG era while exploring new things and finding new grounds to explore in the franchise-long exploration of what it means to be human.
The plot begins on Romulus where two military commanders are trying to persuade the Senate to align with Shinzon (Tom Hardy) of Remus, a mining planet containing a slave race called the Remans and which, like Mercury, has one side in extreme heat and light while the other is extremely cold and dark. Such an alliance, they argue, would make the Romulans the most powerful force in their quadrant of the galaxy. The Senate Praetor (leader) shoots down their proposal and they exit, as does Senator Tal’aura (Shannon Cochran) who leaves behind a device that releases a radioactive gas which destroys the entire Romulan Senate from the inside out.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) gives his best man toast at the wedding of Cmdr. Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Cmdr./Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), congratulating them on both their wedding and their accepting positions on the U.S.S. Titan, where Riker will be captain. He mockingly laments their being happy while he has to train the android Data (Brent Spiner) as his new first officer.
Later, as the Enterprise–E makes its way towards Troi’s homeworld of Betazed for the traditional Betazoid wedding ceremony–which involves nudity–they detect a positronic signature coming from the planet Kolarin III. This is a surprising discovery because positronic signatures only come from Soong-type androids, of which Data is one and of which there aren’t many. Picard decides to set course for the planet and, while down there, he, Data and Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn) come across an android in six parts who looks very similar to Data and calls himself B-4(also Spiner).
While dealing with all that, Picard communicates via subspace with now-Admiral Janeway (from Star Trek: Voyager and played by Kate Mulgrew) who tells him that Shinzon, who is now Praetor, has requested a Federation envoy. Deeply confused, the Enterprise heads there and discovers–through an away team of Picard, Data, Riker, and Troi–that Shinzon looks just like Picard in his early 20s. Shinzon also proposes that the Neutral Zone be torn down and peace established. Is that really his end goal? And why does he look so much like Picard…
Nemesis wraps up one big thread of The Next Generation–the romance of Riker and Troi–and introduces three big ideas: 1. A non-Romulan taking over the Romulan Empire, 2. Another “brother” of Data besides the evil Lore from the show, and 3. The Remans, a slave race to the Romulans who are anxious for independence of their own. It delivers on these threads fantastically while being very concise, thanks to a screenplay by John Logan (who, a few years later, wrote Hugo) that builds on all of this goodwill and story from the show but manages to make it feel like the characters have evolved some since we last saw them.
The director is Stuart Baird and he does a rather decent job here, making the space battles the best looking pre-Abrams battles I’ve seen. He also knows when to control and when to give control of a scene to his actors.
Speaking of actors, we are chock full of good performances. Stewart, despite looking rather haggard, makes the new weight on Picard’s shoulders that Shinzon brings very palpable and heavy. Spiner–who also came up with the film’s story–continues his excellent renderings of Data and makes B-4 big-hearted doof. The rest of the regular cast all do equally well. As Shinzon, Hardy could have easily gone the melodramatic route, but he plays it rather subdued and serious, giving us a serious impression of what being both power-mad and crazy will do to you. This is also the skinniest I’ve ever seen him.
So did this kill Star Trek? I dunno, but I can definitely see huge chunks of it being a disappointment to a lot of people. But really, it might have ended the live-action franchise, but it gave way to a whole lotta something else. See, obviously, Paramount wasn’t gonna let the TNG-era end with this movie if there was still money it could earn. So since 2004, we’ve gotten a lot of novels that explore what happens to the Enterprise-E after this movie; heck, the only Trek books I’ve ever read, David Mack’s two trilogies of Star Trek: Destiny (a crossover between TNG and the universes of the relaunched book lines of Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and Cold Equations are both from this era and I like all those books a lot.
So, if nothing else, check this movie out and decide for yourself whether it is bad or not. Although you newbies might want to watch some TNG on Netflix first. Recommended.