“To absent friends. To family”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s toast for his deceased friend Data
There is a superstition among Star Trek fans and others that the odd-numbered Star Trek films are bad and do poorly at the box office, while the opposite applies to the even-numbered films. Star Trek: Nemesis disproved that belief, at least when it came to box office returns. As for its quality, well it’s not a bad film at all. It has its flaws but as the last film to feature the characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) it’s actually underrated.
The beginning takes place on the planet Romulus, the heart of the Romulan Empire. The Romulans are an evil offshoot of the peaceful, pointy-eared Vulcans and are bitter enemies with the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. In the Romulan Senate, a coup d’état occurs where the praetor and the Romulan government are killed by a device that emits an energy field that turns everyone in the Senate into ashes.
Next, the film jumps to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who is on Earth giving a best man toast. He and his fellow Enterprise-E crewmembers are at the wedding reception of the Enterprise-E’s first officer Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). We learn that Riker has been promoted to captain and is about to take command of his own ship. Deanna will be joining him there while the android officer Data (Brent Spiner) will become the new first officer of the Enterprise-E.
The ship departs for Betazed, Troi’s home planet, so the newlyweds can have a traditional Betazoid wedding. As the senior bridge crew joke about the prospect of appearing naked in the Betazoid wedding as per custom, the Klingon tactical officer Worf (Michael Dorn) gets an alert that the ship picked up a positronic signature from a nearby system. That is the same kind transmitted by androids like Data, which is a rarity. With his and Data’s interest aroused, Picard orders the Enterprise-E to divert to the planet of the signature’s origin.
Picard, Data and Worf arrive on the desert planet. These scenes on the world looked otherworldly thanks to the harsh, washed out lighting from the planet’s sun. They find scattered pieces of an android who is a replica of Data and take him back to the ship.
He is assembled and activated. This android is B-4 and is a prototype android created by Data’s “father”. B-4 has no memory of how he wound up on the planet and in fact seems a bit slow. Data decides to download his own memory into B-4 in the hope that his added memories and information will help B-4 grow and become more productive.
As this is going on Picard receives a message from Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew reprising her role from Star Trek: Voyager) and is ordered to go to Romulus because the new praetor has requested a Federation envoy. Both are surprised that the praetor is a Reman.
The Remans are slave caste members of the Romulan Empire. It’s never explained if they are in fact of the same race as Romulans because they look so drastically different. They seem more like the vampiric Nosferatu with their bat-like ears, fangs and pale skin. The coup d’état at the beginning of Star Trek: Nemesis was orchestrated by Shinzon (Tom Hardy) in order to liberate the Remans and seize control of the empire.
The Enterprise-E arrives on Romulus and after a long wait, this huge, hideously designed war craft de-cloaks in front of them. It’s the Scimitar, a ship secretly built by the Remans but looking more like a demented Lego toy. Picard and his senior staff are invited to beam aboard to meet Shinzon.
Once on the Scimitar, Picard and his Away Team are shocked when they discover that the new praetor is actually a young, bald human with a striking resemblance to Picard. Shinzon is gracious if a bit off–he is obsessed with Deanna, having never seen a human before, even though she is half Betazoid. He tells Picard that he wants to open peace negotiations with the Federation and offers a sample of his blood to Picard and the others.
Back on the Enterprise-E, the ship’s doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) examines the blood sample and confirms Picard’s suspicions: Shinzon is Picard’s clone.
The next day over dinner, Praetor Shinzon explains to Picard what happened. Years ago, the Romulans took a sample of the captain’s DNA and cloned him in order to have the clone replace Picard and infiltrate Starfleet. This plan was eventually abandoned, as was Shinzon who was exiled to the Remans’ homeworld to work in the dilithium mines. A Reman (Ron Perlman), who is now Shinzon’s viceroy, took pity on young Shinzon and took him under his care.
Shinzon again proposes peace with Picard. The captain politely turns him down saying that trust must be earned but leaves the door open for more dialogue.
At the same time, B-4 receives a mysterious signal and begins working on a nearby computer to access information. The crew learn of this subterfuge and takes action.
Meanwhile, Shinzon, with the viceroy’s help, forms a telepathic bond with Deanna and tries to mentally rape her through her husband when they’re in bed. Shinzon is interrupted when he gets word that B-4 is ready. The android is beamed aboard the Scimitar and downloads confidential Starfleet information. After this is done, Shinzon forcibly beams over Picard in order to have a medical procedure done.
Before this can happen, B-4 turns out to be Data, who gave Shinzon the wrong information, and frees Picard. Then the two escape from the Scimitar.
On the Enterprise-E, Crusher informs the captain that Shinzon is dying from a genetic disorder and needs a complete DNA transfusion from Picard in order to live. What’s more, the Scimitar is actually one giant WMD that can unleash a deadly biogenic pulse of thalaron radiation, which was used in the coup d’état. The Enterprise-E crew realize that Shinzon plans on using his ship to emit a cascade on Earth killing all life on the planet. Picard knows that Shinzon wants to recapture Picard to save his life and is actually counting on that to buy Earth time. Picard becomes determined to stop Shinzon at all costs and takes the Enterprise-E to confront his deadly doppelganger.
Despite its reputation as the film that killed the film franchise, Star Trek: Nemesis is actually enjoyable. It’s not in the same league as classics like Star Trek II and that is because it tries too hard at times to be that phenomenal film. This is the first Star Trek film to ripoff another Star Trek film. How so? Have the hero face off against a madman with a super WMD complete with a great space battle in a colorful star field. Let’s not forget the noble sacrifice made by the hero’s best bud and the potential for a backdoor resurrection of that bud. Sound familiar?
It pales in comparison to Star Trek II, but it’s a good effort. The space battle scenes are the best ones seen since the second Star Trek film even if they’re not as exciting. As for Data’s death/destruction it pales in comparison to Spock’s death in that iconic film. But to the film’s credit, time is spent on the grieving felt by his friends after he is gone, they were some of the best moments.
Actually, what worked for Star Trek: Nemesis weren’t the big action scenes but the quiet character moments with our heroes. The actors, especially Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, know their characters so well they effortlessly portray them. Secondary characters like Riker and Troi get meaningful and important scenes that contribute to the story. They’re not just props. Even though some of the other secondary characters like Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) don’t have a lot of screen time, the actors perform the roles very well.
However, there is a feeling underneath the acting and the film’s general mood of sadness. It’s as if they knew that while they were filming Star Trek: Nemesis that it probably was going to be their last film–and it was, at least as of this writing. Probably because of that the performances feel more heartfelt and genuine, especially in regards to certain elements of the storyline.
Those elements and themes include saying goodbye and moving on. It doesn’t quite reach the pathos felt by the last minutes of Star Trek VI, but on the other hand, there is a sliver of hope for the future and the potential it brings. That would apply to Data’s eventual resurrection when his memories begin emerging in B-4 at the end. It also applies to Riker leaving the ship with his new wife to command his own starship. Unlike Kirk who rides off into the sun for one final go around, Picard’s final moments in the film are one of quiet optimism as his ship is repaired and his friend isn’t quite gone. This was so well shown in Stewart’s face when his character walks along the Enterprise-E’s halls for the last time. It’s a lasting impression that will stay with some viewers. Sure, we aren’t privy to Picard’s further adventures, but we know he and the others will be alright.
As for what didn’t work for Star Trek: Nemesis, well you can get nitpicky or go for the larger problems. They are that this film tries to be an action-packed roller coaster ride, but many action scenes involving shoot outs and fights lack pizzazz and are stilted. They don’t feel exciting nor suspenseful and it’s so odd considering that director Stuart Baird got the job based on his past films that he either directed or edited that were exciting. Here his efforts feel like flat soda.
But the space battle scenes were colorful and at times entertaining. Truthfully, the battles between the Enterprise-E and the Scimitar are quite long, taking up the last third of the film, inarguably the longest space battle shown in any Star Trek film. The big moment in the battle was when the Enterprise-E rams itself into the Scimitar. It was a bit slow, seeing the lumbering starship approaching the Reman ship like a cruise ship, but the impact was thrilling and the effects were terrific.
There are also a multitude of plot holes and unanswered questions in this film. Let’s start with the Remans? Who are they, why does the Federation have so little information about them? Are they an offshoot of Romulans or a separate species? Several mentions are made that the Romulan co-conspirators who helped Shinzon with the takeover wanted Shinzon’s Reman forces to combine with the Romulan military. But wait, aren’t the Remans part of the empire?
Then there are questions about our main characters. Certain aspects of their history are never mentioned or are contradictory. In one scene, Picard looks at a picture of himself in the academy. It’s a picture of Tom Hardy bald, but in flashbacks seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard had hair. Worf for some reason is shown being back on the Enterprise without any mention made of his tenure on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The biggest questions are reserved about Data. Does he still have the emotion chip he acquired in earlier films? Why isn’t any mention made of his other evil brother Lore, who appeared in TNG?
Of course, this is a film with limited time unlike a TV show that can devote entire episodes to each character. Not every question or factoid can be covered but it is annoying for some fans.
As for Shinzon, he is an interesting villain. Tom Hardy does a good job with him, but his motivation isn’t clear and it’s a primary flaw. Why does he have such a mad on for the Federation? If there is anyone he should be pissed at it’s the Romulans. They created and abandoned him to die. It would’ve made more sense if he went on a rampage after seizing power and started wiping out Romulans. Some of his dialogue was corny and we can thank screenwriter John Logan who otherwise does an okay job with the script. Here are some samples: “Can you see in the dark, captain?” and “What am I while you exist? A shadow, an echo?” Try as he might, Shinzon is no Khan. The weird future Goth outfit Shinzon wears doesn’t do anything to make him look intimidating. While it worked for the creepy Remans it doesn’t work on Shinzon. Also the theme about duality represented by Picard/Shinzon and Data/B-4 feels forced and heavy handed at times.
Ultimately, Star Trek: Nemesis was a victim of timing and fatigue. If the film was released during a different time it might’ve been better received. It premiered in a crowded field of more anticipated films and got lost in the shuffle, but what was working against it was the tired feeling that Star Trek had at that time. The franchise had been ongoing non-stop with many films and TV shows for more than fifteen years. It was also run by Rick Berman who was clearly operating on creative fumes at the time. Star Trek was burning out fast. Unfortunately, the film, at times, reflects that tired feeling. A couple of years after this film, the last Star Trek series Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled and there wouldn’t be any new Star Trek until J.J. Abrams’ reboot in 2009.
Still Star Trek: Nemesis can be enjoyed by those with an open mind. Don’t expect greatness, but it’s worth watching at least once.