REVIEW: Nemesis: New life…and death…for Trek

Warning: This review contains major plot spoilers.

Before we start the review, let’s play a quick game of Name that Trek! And since this is the Film Frontier, we’ll play the “Movie Edition.”

Calls for peace from a longtime enemy of the Federation. A warship that can fire while remaining cloaked. A generation’s final journey. Can you name that Trek? Star Trek VI, you say? Wrong.

Let’s try another one. An obsessed enemy with a new super-weapon capable of wiping out an entire planet’s population. The transfer of all of the memories of a longtime crewmember shortly before his death into another being. A noble sacrifice by that crewmember to save the Enterprise and her crew. Can you name that Trek? Star Trek II, you say? Wrong again.

Can you at least name the one where a popular character’s long-lost and quirky brother suddenly shows up for the first time? Sorry, it’s not Star Trek V.

Last one, and we’ll make it easy… a toast to “absent friends”. Star Trek III? Wrong. Game over. You lose. And you call yourself a Star Trek fan.

The correct answer to all of these is Star Trek Nemesis, a film that shamelessly steals from Trek’s past…but at least puts on an entertaining show while doing it.

Borrowing plot ideas from so many classic Trek films may seem like a risky move, but most fans of the Next Generation era have never even bothered to watch the franchise’s first six movies in their entirety. They do not know where the original cast has already been, so watching the Next Generation cast boldly go there again seems fresh to them. To the film’s credit, the stolen plot elements are actually woven together quite well. There are even some new ideas tossed into the mix as well.

In fact, despite its many borrowed premises and a somewhat weak first half, what is billed by Paramount as the final journey of the Next Generation cast actually turns out to be the best of the Next Generation films.

Why? For one thing, the competition was not all that tough. One mediocre film (Generations), one good film (First Contact) and one dreadfully awful film (Insurrection). Up until now, there were no great Next Generation films…and Nemesis is just good enough to earn that title.

In early scenes, Nemesis is quite reminiscent of Insurrection. Fortunately, this sick feeling soon goes away and there is actually a payoff for being forced to listen to Brent Spiner (Data) sing once again.

Director Stuart Baird and writer John Logan do commendable jobs on their first forays into the Trek universe. The fact that they have not devoted the last fifteen years of their lives to working on Trek also helps to give the movie its sense of freshness, however false.

Baird also delivers a high sense of intensity, especially in the movie’s second half. In fact, Nemesis is probably a little too intense at times. While parts of this movie echo the past, other parts of Nemesis do not feel anything like Trek. There is a depressing tone throughout, which is in stark contrast to the usually uplifting series. However, playing around with familiar concepts in unfamiliar ways is one of the ways Nemesis succeeds.

The special effects by Digital Domain are topnotch and rival those of Industrial Light & Magic. Nemesis ends the longest interval between any two Trek films (four years). In fact, two Star Wars films have been released since the last Star Trek film was on the big screen. The amazing effects in Nemesis, especially in battle sequences where the Enterprise bridge and primary hull are smashed to bits, simply were not possible prior to the innovations of Episode I.

Speaking of ship-to-ship battle sequences, the Next Generation gang finally got those right, too. Battle sequences are not absolutely necessary for a good Trek movie. However, if you are going to do them, do them right. While Paramount promotes nearly every Star Trek movie as the “last” movie, producer Rick Berman has promoted every Next Generation movie as having the best ship combat sequences since Star Trek II. After seeing the first three Next Generation movies, his claims were quite laughable. He said it this time, too. And this time, it actually wasn’t just hype. While they are not quite as good as those in Star Trek II, the ship-to-ship combat scenes are certainly the best since then.

The impacts of the death of Data and the tremendous battle damage to the Enterprise are lessened to a degree by the movie’s conclusion. The Enterprise is already nearly repaired and ready for duty again and a possible path for Data to return is already embarked upon. This is the proverbial “reset” button, and they should have at least waited until the next movie before pressing it.

Both the returning and new cast members do excellent jobs in their roles. They do not seem to be just going through the motions like they were in Insurrection, so the extra time away from Trek has served them well. All of the acting performances are believable for a change, which is extremely rare in the Next Generation era.

Although he is a bit shaky at times, Tom Hardy ultimately does a convincing job as Picard’s clone and nemesis. This is Patrick Stewart’s finest performance as Captain Jean Luc Picard, a role that he once seemed so uncomfortable in during early seasons of the television series. Minus the thankfully brief singing, Spiner’s performances as Data and his brother, B-4, are also noteworthy. Likewise, this represents Marina Sirtis’ best performance as Counselor Troi in the movie series.

Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) and La Forge (Levar Burton) are only there for show, and this time Worf (Michael Dorn) becomes a glorified prop as well. Unfortunately, that is the nature and the limitation of a two-hour movie.

Nemesis, by far, contains the most gore and violence of any Trek movie. This is a disturbing trend that has its roots in the success of First Contact. Nemesis deserves its PG-13 rating in America and, in fact, may even have been better suited for an R rating. While some of the violence was necessary to properly tell this story, most of the gore was not.

Unlike the other Next Generation installments, this movie was clearly made for Trek fans only. In some respects, this is good as less time is wasted explaining things. Non-fans will not get much out of the experience, though, and probably will dislike the movie. Judging from conversations overheard in the theater, some audience members were confused that the Federation was suddenly enemies with Spock’s people (since the whole Romulan/Vulcan connection was never touched upon, and to non-fans a character with pointed ears reminds them only of Spock). The lack of a crossover audience of non-fans could spell potential trouble at the box office.

Will the Adventure continue for the Next Generation? Probably. But if Nemesis does turn out to be the final movie, then it would serve as a fitting and proper conclusion.

If there is a Star Trek XI for the Next Generation, they should follow the course of this movie and not rush things. Better to wait three or four years for a great movie than two years for a horrendous one.

Where to go from here for the film franchise? This movie ends with the Romulans seeming to be prepared to talk about a legitimate peace. It would be wonderful to see that thread continue in the next movie. To this point, the Next Generation films have not been linked together plot-wise. It’s time to do that. There is currently a well-known Vulcan ambassador already working for peace in the Romulan Empire…

Story: 6 (out of 10)
Performances: 9
Visual Style: 7
Effects: 10
Music: 7
Overall: 8