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Star Trek Roundup! “Star Trek: Nemesis”

May 18, 2013

In preparation for my review of Star Trek: Into Darkness, which will be posting soon, I’m re-posting a couple of previous Star Trek reviews. Live and long and prosper, amigos.


Okay, kicking off Reader Request Week here at The Flickering Screen we have Star Trek: Nemesis for loyal reader Quiconque. Qui left a comment on my review of In the Spider’s Web stating: “if you’re willing to sacrifice a few more brain cells, I would greatly appreciate an analyisis of Star Trek: Nemesis, if only to have someone else explain the plot to me. I watched it last night on cable, and I saw a clone and a Deanna Troi rape scene plucked fresh from fanfic, but other than that I don’t know what happened.”

Well, a lot else happened, Qui, but none of it makes much sense. The whole Deanna/psychic-rape thing is just one example of the undercooked stew that is the (thus far) final entry in the Star Trek franchise. Nemesis was supposed to be a return to form after the underperformance of Star Trek: Insurrection released in 1998. The four-year hiatus between films should give you a sense of the trepidation Paramount was feeling toward its three-plus-decade old cash cow. They hired an (*cough*) accomplished action-movie director (Stuart Baird of U.S. Marshals) and commissioned a screenplay by an (*cough*) Oscar-nominated screenwriter (John Logan of Gladiator and The Last Samurai fame). They were asked to deliver a rousing, rollicking, action-packed finale to the Next Generation movies.

Here’s what the Fermalab-caliber geniuses of Paramount failed to take into consideration: 1) Stuart Baird is pretty much a hack who has only directed two mediocre movies—most of his filmography consists of editing credits. 2) No one heaped piles o’ praise on Gladiator for its script. Add to this the fact that it was released against Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (whoever made that decision: hey, smart move…hope you got a big Christmas bonus for that) and you can see why the movie failed worse than the USS Excelsior’s transwarp drive (oh come on, if you’re reading this review then you get the reference, and don’t pretend that you don’t).
So, Bane gets long scalp-massages from a vampire. It's that kind of a movie.

So, Bane gets long scalp-massages from a vampire. It’s that kind of a movie.

Nemesis begins at a point of transition for the USS Enterprise family. Riker and Troi are getting married and he’s taking command of a new starship. This is a nice touch and a tacit acknowledgement of the amount of time that has passed in the Next Generation universe. Then the plot kicks in and everything pretty much falls apart. A Romulan commander named Shinzon has staged a coup and overthrown the ruling council. He has a doomsday weapon and a big-ass starship (really a kitbashed version of the big-ass Dominion battleship from Deep Space Nine—way to knock yourself out, John Eaves) and he plans on destroying Earth, so Romulus can, you know, invade the Federation. Shinzon turns out to be a clone of Picard (kind of a snaggletoothed clone) who had been created in an abortive attempt to infiltrate the Federation. Shinzon’s dying, so he needs Picard’s blood or DNA or something to survive. He also grew up in Siberia-like work camp on Romulus’s twin world of Remus, which never gets sunlight and is populated by batpeople, and he’s real pissed off about that. So, Shinzon also wants to liberate the Reman people along with: 1) destroy earth, 2) topple the Federation, and 3) kidnap Picard and steal his blood (or DNA, or both).

Yeah, it's like looking into a freakin' mirror.

Yeah, it’s like looking into a freakin’ mirror.

Okay, we good so far? So, Shinzon invites the Enterprise to Romulus under the pretext of a diplomatic mission so he can steal Picard’s blood or whatever. He plans on doing this by utilizing an earlier model of Data, called B4, which the Enterprise discovers en route. And Shinzon develops a crush on Deanna Troi. And his number two—a big batperson played by Ron Perlman (the go-to guy for acting under heaps of laytex)—apparently can do this psychic thing where he grabs Shinzon’s head, and allows him to invade your mind. No, it’s not explained. And yes, Shinzon promptly mind-rapes Troi.

I can kinda understand the fascination.

I can kinda understand the fascination.

Well, it all boils down to Shinzon’s big-ass ship against the Enterprise-E. Say this for Baird, he made the Big E seem more dangerous that it has in earlier films. It has more phaser banks and torpedo tubes, which only makes sense since this movie takes place after the Dominion War (yeah, you know what I’m talking about). The Enterprise gets trashed, Data sacrifices himself to save the ship, and everyone lives happily ever after. The movie closes with Riker and Troi transferring to their ship, the Enterprise getting repaired, and hints that Data’s predecessor kind of taking his place. Way to undercut the emotional finale Logan and/or Baird.

Okay, so the movie’s a mess. There are rumors on the interwebs that Baird’s original cut of the movie was three hours long and had to be chopped down mercilessly. This might explain the scattershot nature of the story. At two hours, it seems like Logan just threw everything at the wall. At three, perhaps it makes sense. Or not. Logan claims he wanted to make a movie like Wrath of Khan—long considered the best of the Trek films—and you can see that in the starship fights and Data’s self-sacrifice. Unfortunately twenty years of people dying and coming back to life in the five series has robbed that idea of much of its impact.
Wow, he even has Data's mid-life jowls.

Wow, he even has Data’s mid-life jowls.

Logan works other themes, too, particularly that of duality: Romulus and Remus, Picard and Shinzon, Data and B4. Having a consistent theme, however, does not a good film make. The story as a whole is incredibly, insultingly ramshackle. Logan tries to work a “nature vs. nurture” debate in there between Picard and Shinzon, but it’s pretty much DOA. Furthermore, by making Shinzon terminally ill, he siphons much of the tension out of the situation. It’s hard not to think that if the crew of the Enterprise just jerked him around long enough he’d croak off and problem solved.
Aside from that, there are plotholes big enough to fly a Negh’Var-class battlecruiser through. Where did Shinzon get B4, and why did he hinge his whole plan on the Enterprise finding it in the vastness of the galaxy? Why did the foxy Romulan commander who rides in to the rescue have a change of heart after we see her slaughter the entire ruling council in the first five minutes of the movie? How could the Enterprise run out of torpedoes so quickly? Why does Shinzon’s arena-sized bridge have like, three guys and virtually no equipment in it? What the hell is all that extra space for, a meditation garden? And since when has there been a seemingly bottomless pit in the infrastructure of the Enterprise?
On top of all this, Baird’s direction is flat and lifeless. The action sequences have no sense of urgency, and the big climactic moment when Picard rams the Enterprise into Shinzon’s big-ass ship is almost totally devoid of any grandiosity. Dude! He crashed the fucking Enterprise into the bad guy! What the hell’s the matter with you? For more of what a douchebag Stuart Baird is, just check out this article from The Onion AV Club.
WHY IS THIS NOT AWESOME?!?

WHY IS THIS NOT AWESOME?!?

After Nemesis, the Trek franchise began its slow decline. Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled a couple years later, making it the only Trek series since the original not to last seven seasons. Most disappointingly, the series’ 40th Anniversary came and went with barely any fanfare. Perhaps J.J. Abrams’s relaunch will rejuvenate the franchise the way Casino Royale did the Bond franchise. But then I think about Mission Impossible III
What this movie needed was more Shatner.

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