Star Trek: Nemesis (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Star Trek: Nemesis Poster

Is this the end of Star Trek? Has the long-running TV/film franchise finally reached the point where it can no longer seek out new life and new civilizations? After defeating Klingons, Romulans, and Borg, will the ultimate enemy – the multiplex box office – finally bring it down? Only time will answer those questions, but, with the arrival of Star Trek: Nemesis, the tenth Star Trek motion picture, the venerable series is looking outmoded and outdated. Media saturation and age have taken their toll.

As a popcorn science fiction adventure, Star Trek: Nemesis is watchable, and, at times, enjoyable. But it doesn't feel like Star Trek, despite the presence of so many familiar faces. There's no real sense of character for any of the protagonists. Sure, they look like they always have, but, with the exception of isolated moments here and there, this could be a generic group instead of the beloved crew of the Enterprise. The storyline is uninspired and predictable, with little to get fans or non-fans especially excited. 30 minutes of great space battles and action scenes are not sufficient to provide salvation for a movie that's nearly two hours in length.

For the most part, Star Trek has been about issues, not action. Even the least successful Star Trek movies have kept this in mind. In Nemesis, the balance has shifted. This is decisively an action-oriented movie – a misguided attempt to challenge James Bond and Star Wars on their own turf. Issues and the human element – the two things that set Star Trek apart from other science fiction efforts – are left stranded in the background this time around. So we get multi-ship battles, a few hand-to-hand fights, lots of phaser fire, and even (believe it or not) a car chase! In fact, most of the action sequences are competently done (if too short on tension), but the one-hour build-up is dull. Star Trek movies always take a while to get going; this one is the worst offender.

After the disappointing final numbers for Star Trek: Insurrection (installment #9), Paramount decided to give the series a short rest. The result is a four year gap between movies (instead of the usual two years). In addition, "outside" writers and a director were brought into the fold, although the producer's job remained with Gene Roddenberry's successor, Rick Berman. The screenplay was penned by Gladiator writer and admitted Star Trek fan, John Logan. (There are numerous nods to past Star Trek characters and situations – in-jokes that fans will get, but whose inclusion won't bother non-aficionados.) At the helm is Stuart Baird, who is best known for directing the 1996 film, Executive Decision.

The screenplay for Star Trek: Nemesis is borderline lame. The movie begins with an uprising in the Romulan Senate. A human by the name of Shinzon (Tom Hardy) usurps the reins of power and pretends he wants to make peace with the Federation. The starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is dispatched to the planet Romulus on a diplomatic mission. On board is his usual crew – the just married first officer, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and his bride, Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis); Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden); Security Officer Worf (Michael Dorn); Chief Engineer LaForge (LeVar Burton); and the resident android, Commander Data (Brent Spiner). Actually, there are two androids. Before going to Romulus, the Enterprise investigates an energy reading and discovers Data's long-lost "older brother," called B4. (He was created "before" Data.)

Upon reaching Romulus, Picard discovers that all is not as it seems to be. Shinzon's identity surprises the Enterprise crew, and the telepathic abilities of his viceroy (Ron Perlman) allow the Romulan Praetor to invade Troi's mind. It soon becomes clear that peace is the last thing on his mind. He intends to use his seemingly invincible warship, the Scimitar, to dispatch the Enterprise, then move to bigger targets. Eventually, a massive space battle gets underway, and, as always, the Enterprise's shields are collapsing and the warp drive is out. Where's Scotty when you need him?

The returning regulars are a solid lot, even if they are largely sleepwalking through their parts. 15 years of familiarity (the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987) have allowed Stewart, Frakes, Spiner, and the rest to slip into and out of character with relative ease. Their alter-egos are like old, comfortable clothes that can be donned at any time. They may be frayed with age, but they still fit. The newcomers are less promising. Tom Hardy's Shinzon is a Khan wannabe, but Hardy lacks the machismo and charisma of Ricardo Montalban. The result is a hum-drum villain. Dina Meyer is wooden as the Romulan Commander, Donatra. The only one who shows any energy is Ron Perlman, as the Reman viceroy. Whoopi Goldberg, Wil Wheaton, Kate Mulgrew, and Bryan Singer (the director of X-Men) have cameos.

The special effects are first-rate. Everything from the outside detail of the Romulan capitol to the ships in combat looks flawless. One might argue that nothing less could be expected from a big-budget science fiction movie. But Star Trek has not always been known for top flight visuals. This is one area – perhaps the only one – in which Star Trek: Nemesis has an advantage over its predecessors.

There was a time when I would have been sad to see the Star Trek movie series end. With Star Trek: Nemesis, however, it has become apparent that the franchise's best years are long past. The trailers and TV spots tout this movie as "a generation's final journey," and that may be an accurate statement. Idea-based storylines, which have always been Star Trek's forte, no longer seem to be relevant. And mutating the series into the kind of action-oriented endeavor evidenced here is a disservice to Star Trek and its fans. Star Trek: Nemesis will not send the Enterprise crew out on a high note, but at least they'll be spared the ignominy of becoming redundant, which could happen if Paramount decides to make a Star Trek XI.

Star Trek: Nemesis (United States, 2002)

Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Release Date: 2002-12-13
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1