“A generation’s final journey begins.” That’s what the tagline to Star Trek: Nemesis promises. If Nemesis, the tenth Star Trek movie, proves to be the last one, then I bid the series a fond farewell. And just in time, too.
Again with the Romulans
PG-13 for action violence, a scene of sexual content
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the most exciting of the Star Trek movies to date.
Did You Notice?
On this mission, the crew of the Enterprise is dispatched to the Romulan system, where a surprise announcement has just been made: the new Praetor is a Reman, not a Romulan. The Federation suspects there may have been a coup.
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) beams down to meet the new head of the Romulans, one Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who appears to be neither Reman nor Romulan, but human. Shinzon is indeed a human; and a very special one, too. Twenty years ago, the Romulans made a clone of Picard. They hoped to grow him, brainwash him, and artificially age him until he could replace the real Picard, giving the Romulans a perfect spy on the Federation’s flagship.
But something went wrong with their plans, so the clone Shinzon was abandoned to the dilithium mines on Remus. There, his resentment and ambition grew until he finally overthrew his slavers, killed the Romulan high council, and installed himself as Praetor.
Rather than exploring every nook and cranny of this plot, screenwriter John Logan (helped by Rick Berman and Brent Spiner on the story) instead focuses on several side stories, including Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi’s (Marina Sirtis) wedding, and the discovery of yet another twin of Data (Spiner) — a prototype named “B4.”
The Picard/Shinzon plot has a lot of potential that goes unrealized. Shinzon is an oppressed figure, the victim of a lifetime of slavery. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps and singlehandedly led a revolt against his oppressors.
One might hope Picard would sympathize with this abused “mini-me,” even at the cost of diplomatic ties with the Romulans. But instead of giving this former slave a little dignity, the movie portrays him as a deranged villain out to destroy the universe. Instead of a compelling fight in which nobody has the moral high ground, Nemesis gives us just another megalomaniacal supervillain.
Ironically, “nemesis” has come to mean “archenemy,” which is how Shinzon is portrayed in this movie. But the original “Nemesis” is the Greek goddess of divine retribution, which would have made a good symbol for the other story — for a man who violently freed himself from slavery.
Liberties, Fraternity, Mediocrity
The primary trait of Nemesis is mediocrity. Hack writing and lazy execution are the two biggest problems.
The science in the science fiction of Star Trek used to be internally consistent, if not plausible. Nemesis takes liberties with the laws of physics when it really doesn’t have to. For example, Shinzon uses poison on the Romulans. But instead of, say, good ol’ chlorine gas, the movie gives us a type of poison that “attacks organic matter at the subatomic level.” But any scientist will tell you that there is no such thing as “organic” and “inorganic” at the subatomic level. Organic material is, by definition, is several atoms big.
Star Trek used to challenge audiences with moral and ethical issues. Nemesis deals with neither, choosing instead to look only at personal issues. The moral of our story is simply that one must work hard to make oneself a better man. Whether you compare Picard to Shinzon or Data to B4, the lesson is simply to try to better yourself. That message doesn’t lend itself to much discussion after the movie.
Even the personal appeal of the cast is lost in Nemesis. The jokey camaraderie that filled the gaps, week after week on the show, were appreciated because they provided respite from an entire season of storytelling. In a two-hour movie, the casual friendships and water-cooler moments look like wasted screen time.
2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?
Some people place stock in a theory that even-numbered Star Trek movies are better than odd-numbered ones. Nemesis certainly is more energetic than the last installment, Star Trek: Insurrection. In particular, one space dogfight includes a scene almost as cool as the crash landing in Star Trek: Generations. There’s also an inspired moment when a shuttle is flown through the corridors of its mothership.
On the other hand, scenes of random phaser blasts and collapsing stuntmen bring down the level of excitement. Also, a shocker at the end that appears to be a bold, nearly unprecedented twist in the Star Trek saga, is compromised. After the initial shock, one soon realizes that the risk to the franchise has been hedged, and it’s not nearly as daring as we might have liked to believe.
Take a Bow
Perhaps Nemesis is the best we could hope for from a tired franchise. Maybe Nemesis is the final encore, the one that gets the fans to stop screaming for more; the slow number that cues the audience to let the performers bow out and go home.
If that’s the signal, and Nemesis is truly a “final journey,” then thank you Star Trek for 35 wonderful years. Sincerely.
Now go home and enjoy your retirement, and let someone else take the stage.