Star Trek: Nemesis
Director : Stuart Baird
Screenplay : John Logan (story by John Logan & Rick Berman & Brent Spiner)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Patrick Stewart (Cpt. Jean-Luc Picard), Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi La Forge), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), Tom Hardy (Praetor Shinzon), Ron Perlman (Reman Viceroy), Dina Meyer (Donatra)
Star Trek: Nemesis marks the 10th time the Starship Enterprise has "boldly gone where no man has gone before" on the big screen. It's been four years since the last installment, the poorly received Star Trek: Insurrection (1998), and, if anything, Nemesis is a sure sign that the producers behind the franchise are searching for a way to reinvent it. Darkier, edgier, more violent, and loaded with all manner of subtext (not to mention sex), Nemesis is definitely something different, even if it doesn't quite live up to the filmmakers' obviously grandiose ideas and ultimately embraces the idealistic humanism that has always been at Star Trek's core.
Much like the best film in the series, Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Khan, Nemesis is built largely around the villain, in this case a former slave named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) who is also a youthful clone of the Enterprise's hero, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The film might have been more appropriately titled Star Trek: Duality, as not only do we have the Picard/Shinzon split, one good, one evil, but the crew also discovers a slightly less-advanced twin of the android Data (Brent Spiner). Although it is eventually revealed that this twin has a nefarious purpose, the film generates some of its most moving moments between the two androids, as Data, who constantly aspires to be as human as possible, tries to explain the world to his android twin, whose lack of understanding is poignantly wrought.
The vast majority of the story takes place during an elaborate and extended space battle between the Enterprise and Shinzon's highly advanced ship that features a nearly undetectable cloaking device and has much stronger shields and weapons. Star Trek is always best when its heroes are at a disadvantage, and here Picard and company are definitely the underdogs, fighting off Shinzon's attacks while also trying to thwart his plans to disrupt an ongoing peace process between the Federation and the Romulans by destroying the Earth. This is all on the grand scale, but screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator) also maintains a focus on the personal, as Shinzon has a personal vendetta against Picard and also needs the captain for his blood, which is the only thing that can save him from the rapid degeneration of his own body.
Director Stuart Baird (U.S. Marshalls) stages the intergalactic battle sequences with as much flair as the genre will allow, although it's sometimes hard to ignore the tiredness of reports about deflector shields being at 50%. The ships are so large and slow-moving that it is sometimes difficult to build up a great deal of excitement watching them blast away at each other with only minimal damage. These situations are such a part of the series that we might feel lost without them, but one wonders if a Star Trek movie might ever feature smaller and quicker ships. As it stands right now, it's like watching a dogfight between aircraft carriers.
This is not to say that Nemesis does not have its strong points. Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball gives the film some powerful visuals, something that is often missing in Star Trek movies. Granted, this generally means that everything is just darker and much more shadowy, but given the film's darker tone and its related thematic material, this visual approach is entirely appropriate and works well. Shinzon's ship is particularly well-rendered, and he is costumed in an outrageous black, shiny leather get-up with exaggerated shoulders that emphasize his oversized ego. While he doesn't come close to the operatic evil of Ricardo Montalban's Khan, Tom Hardy does a fine job of evoking Shinzon's deep-seated anger, playing him like an angry child with weapons of mass destruction at his fingertips.
Having Shinzon be a genetic replicate of Picard was a good idea, but it was even better to make him a younger version. Thus, it is not so much Picard battling himself as it is the elder, wiser Picard battling his younger, more arrogant self. At several points in the film it is brought up that Picard could have just as easily turned into Shinzon had he lived his life, which is an interesting means of complicating the captain's otherwise unquestioned heroism and dignity. Did Picard turn out to be a great man simply because he was born great, or was it because he just happened to be in the right circumstances? And, inversely, was Shinzon just born evil, or was he molded to be evil? On an even more challenging level, the film asks us whether the very characteristics that define goodness, when slightly twisted, are the same characteristics that define evil. Star Trek: Nemesis may be this generation's final journey, but we can only hope that, if the series continues on to an 11th installment on the big screen, it continues to probe such questions.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick