Star Trek: Nemesis
(SPOILERS) Out of the ST:NG movies, Star Trek: Nemesis seems to provoke the most outrage among fans, the reasons mostly appearing to boil down to continuity and character work. In the case of the former, while I can appreciate the beef, I’m not enough of an aficionado to get too worked up. In the case of the latter, well, the less of the strained inter-relationships between this bunch that make it to the screen, the better (director Stuart Baird reportedly cut more than fifty minutes from the picture, most of it relating to underscoring the crew, leading to a quip by Stewart that while an Actor’s Cut would include the excised footage, a Director’s one would probably be even shorter). Even being largely unswayed by such concerns, though, Nemesis isn’t very good. It wants to hit the same kind of dramatic high notes as The Wrath of Khan (naturally, it’s always bloody Khan) but repeatedly drifts into an out-of-tune dirge.
If it’s difficult to decide which is the weaker movie, Insurrection or Nemesis, Nemesis is undoubtedly the bigger miss in terms of what it’s aiming for. Insurrection seems relatively content with its TV episode plotting, sets and direction. Nemesis is going for big and bold, and grand-themed and impacting, but for much of the proceedings it’s inert, struggling to make the viewer care or invest in its rather unwieldy stakes.
Stuart Baird (a long-time, and very good, editor who was coming off Executive Decision and US Marshalls as a helmer in his own right – both decent, the former especially so) ensures it looks like a movie, and I’m all for mixing the energies up after the rather lazy fall-back of series actors getting a shot, but he doesn’t seem engaged by the material. Worse is the material itself. Rick Berman takes a story credit, but otherwise we have Brent Spiner doing a Nimoy with his idea and then presenting it to one of Hollywood’s most overrated screenwriters, pal John Logan, a man who has been nominated for multiple Oscars without ever seemingly having shown a trace of style or personality in his work. Or substance.
Logan came to attention with his threadbare screenplay for Ridley Scott’s crowd-pleaser Gladiator, a movie whose merits were largely down to its star-making lead performance and a director finally finding his footing commercially after two decades struggling with material (arguably, Scott became less successful artistically, but he undoubtedly found broader audiences). Since then, he’s been attached to numerous prestige projects (The Time Machine, The Aviator, Hugo), his own less-than-stellar Victoriana mashup series (Penny Dreadful) and shown that if there’s one thing worse than Wade and Purvis writing every bloody Bond, it’s a “respected” screenwriter trying to inject depth into them (Skyfall, Spectre). He also did his best to expunge the new territory Prometheus explored by persuading Scott to make the sequel an outright Alien movie.
Logan’s allegedly a life-long Trek fan, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as he attempts to stamp his own signature on the show, for better or (largely) worse. And worse in the worse stakes is the ham-fisted plotting. Naturally, there’s a substantial role for ST:NG’s Spock equivalent, right down to an indifferent self-sacrifice complete with its own lifeline. Don’t worry about B-4’s right to individuality; Data’s much more important, so has the incontestable right to subsume his personality.
Still, Spiner seizes the opportunity to give B-4 distinctiveness, in so doing making him the most memorable part of the movie through off-key delivery and rationalisations. Nevertheless, as unwashed as I am in ST:NG lore, I was trying to work out why no one was making any references to his previously encountered double, er, Lore (the answer: he was mentioned, in the deleted scenes).
More jarring is the carefree manner in which Logan sets up his interweaving threads. It just so happened that new Romulan leader Shinzon (Tom Hardy) just happened upon B4, just as he was nursing his scheme to take revenge on Earth, so was conveniently able to lure the Enterprise crew to pick B4 up and set his plan in motion (are we expected to believe that Shinzon knew Riker and Troi’s nuptials would take them via that particular planet?)
The internal logic is as incoherently fraught as Shinzon himself. The Romulans cloned Picard in order to infiltrate the Federation but then nixed the idea after a change in government, sent him to Remus as a slave worker, only for him to arise, Spartacus-like (and rather patronisingly), leading his adopted people to dominion over Romulus and then (in the planning stages) on to destroy Earth (I’m sure he had a thoroughly reasonable explanation for the last bit, but it failed to go go in). It’s all terribly convoluted and unlikely. Hardy is fine. Not great the way we’ve come to expect, but fine. It’s the everything else that entirely fails him. He also ends up looking strangely like Dr Evil, which doesn’t help.
B4: Why do you have shiny head?
Perhaps the most blundering aspect, though, is the ungainly paralleling of dual Datas and dual Picards, leading as it does to a clumsy exposition of the differences between their doubles, courtesy of Jean-Luc. “I aspire sir, to be better than I am” expounds Data (every bloody five minutes, in every bloody movie, it seems). “B-4 does not. Neither does Shinzon”). Well, that’s all right. Kill them both, then.
None of this might matter too much if the movie carried you along. I’m not the biggest fan of the wholesale plundering – to diminishing effect – of Khan in Into Darkness, but it’s an undeniably well-made movie, one that engrosses and entertains even as its more egregious choices become increasingly irksome. In fairness, the opening acts of Nemesis do pass muster reasonably well. They set up situations I want to know more about (the massacre of the Romulan senate, including the ever-unfortunate Alan Dale, the discovery of B-4 body parts), even if the pay-offs are less than satisfying. Yes, we have Picard evidencing that he’s the dullest man on Earth (or, more likely still, in the galaxy) giving Riker’s best man speech, but balancing that there’s finally the chance to see Worf inform us he has a terrible headache, as opposed to spending the previous fifteen years merely giving that impression.
The rest of the crew make little impression, so no change there (LeVar Burton opined that Logan was at least looking after the characters, as if the man who was Geordi would be any judge, having portrayed the least interesting character in the whole of Trek). Aside from Deanna Troi being psychically violated by Shinzon, that is. It’s a uncomfortably in-your-face scene that occurs as she and her new hubby are getting hot and heavy (again, very convenient timing, or inconvenient if you’re Riker). To add insult to injury, sensitive, empathic Picard brushes if off with a “Well, never mind, my dear, if you can just put up with it a bit longer, it’ll be to our advantage”. Troi’s “Remember me” is intended as a cathartic ramming moment, but Sirtis doesn’t have the chops for it any more than Claudia Christian with her “rousing” “Get the hell out my universe” in Babylon 5. Talking of rape and violation, Bryan Singer also cameos as a bridge crew member.
Shinzon: My life is meaningless while you’re still alive.
Not only is Shinzon no rival to Khan in the villainy stakes – he lacks history and motivation for a start – the attempts to construct a worthily comparable space battle to Star Trek II’s during the back third of the movie fall entirely flat. Meyer came up with something innovative and tense – still unequalled in its summoning of U-boat thrills – but Baird musters empty and at-best serviceable manoeuvres.
His inclination towards traditional action beats has already yielded the bizarrely out-of-place dune buggy sequence – albeit this was reputedly at Stewart’s behest – complete with leap into the waiting shuttle mid-air (I guess it at least makes young Kirk’s auto-theft in the ‘09 reboot seem less out of nowhere).
During this final act there are more such moments, including Data doing a space leap, an incoherent fight between Riker and a Reman, and Picard’s showdown with himself (“He wants to look me in the eye” is fairly on the nose, although we’ve already had to endure gems of exposition such as “We supported you Shinzon when you assassinated the senate”). It’s ironic that, for an editor, Baird’s realisation of these scenes is so unattuned to pace and drama. About the only point of note regarding the fight – during which Picard yet again goes uncharacteristically kill-happy with his gun, Jean Luc McClane, pretty much – is Shinzon pulling himself along the spear that impaled him, Excalibur-style.
Data: Move, puny human animal!
Picard: A little less florid, Data.
This is apparently the first time the Remans have been seen in Trek, a sudden magicking into continuity in a manner that rivals the Cryons in Doctor Who’s Attack of the Cybermen. It wasn’t worth the effort of retconning, really. Their appearance is entirely derivative, somewhere between Skeletor and Doomlord (from The Eagle comic’s ‘80s reincarnation). Ron Perlman is entirely unmemorable and indistinct as Shinzon’s right-hand Reman.
Dina Meyer also makes little impression as an amenable Romulan. On the plus side of all this, there’s no holodeck in sight, so we can be grateful for small mercies. And the Enterprise design is a big improvement on the standard ST:NG vessel. Apparently, there were initial plans to bring Seven of Nine into the movie (because Jeri Ryan has very large breasts, obviously), but instead they settled for Vice-Admiral Janeway on a monitor screen being customarily matronly.
Many and varied theories have been put forward for the abject failure of Nemesis, among them its being up against The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Also: franchise fatigue, not that the ST:NG movies were ever particularly clued into taking on new audiences the way the TOS cast managed. So what if Stuart Baird didn’t care about the series? That isn’t a reason in itself for Nemesis turning out to be a turkey (look at Nicolas Meyer). Mostly, though, it’s no more or less than being a case of not being much cop. If it had been otherwise, word would have got out and enough people would have shown up.
As it is, Star Trek: Nemesis made only just over half as much as The Final Frontier (inflation-adjusted) and is by some distance the stinker of the series, box-office wise. The Final Frontier’s crew were given a stay of execution, though, and a commendable exit in The Undiscovered Country. Alas, no such luck awaited the Nemesis regulars. It was suggested Spiner and Logan had another idea, and the fifth movie would see the DS9 and Voyager crews on board, but by then Paramount, probably rightly, doubted its financial viability. The result would be much like the sudden departure of Brosnan as Bond after the same year’s Die Another Day; a rethink and eventual reboot (DAD, another case of a franchise with director unsympathetic to the series, had been a huge hit, but no one, Eon included, could avoid that it stank the room out). Nemesis isn’t outright terrible, for the most part, but it just sort of lies there, daring you to care. About the best you can say for it is that at least it isn’t Generations.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.