Movie Review – Star Trek: Nemesis

Nemesis_poster2.jpg
“A Generation’s Final Journey Begins…” (Taken from Memory Alpha)

“You’re wasting time!” – the Viceroy, to the movie Shinzon.

Premiere: December 13th, 2002

Written and Directed By: John Logan and Stuart Baird

Plot It’s 2379. The Romulan Senate has just been assassinated en masse by being turned into stone en masse. This is part of a chain of events involving Shinzon, a clone of Picard who found himself brought up in mining pits by Remans, an alien race disliked by the Romulans. As you would guess, the Enterprise is sent to investigate, and Picard gets a look at the mirror of himself… sort of.

Maybe.

If you squint hard enough.

Review:

Y’know, after the dull fest that was Star Trek: Insurrection, I was actually getting myself hyped up to review the fourth and final movie in the TNG part of the film franchise, Nemesis. Not because I was particularly excited for a movie often ranked as the weakest of the franchise, but because after Insurrection almost served as a sleep aid, I figured that Nemesis would be at least slightly better. I wasn’t expecting anything good, but I figured that it would be more interesting than its predecessor. In fact, maybe I would be surprised and the movie would actually be halfway decent. Even if neither the director or the writer were involved with Trek before (in fact, the former never saw an episode before), maybe some new blood was needed.

So, I popped the movie into my PS3.

And, indeed, I was surprised. It did hold my attention more than Insurrection did. Because Nemesis ain’t a bad film. No, no.

It’s shameful.

In the interest of not burying the lede any further, it is hands down my least favorite of the TNG films. Pending a rewatch of Into Darkness, it might even be the worst of the entire film franchise. Oh, yeah – this movie is worse than the one where Kirk finds God. Worse than the one where Kirk gets crushed under a poorly constructed bridge. Far worse than The Slow-Motion Picture. Hell, even the reboot films are less irritating than this. This movie killed the franchise the way fans knew it for 40 years – and depending on how charitable you are to the reboots, stuck the knife in one of America’s most recognizable franchises.

To paraphrase a quote from Jeremy Clarkson, how was so much done so badly by so many?

Well, let’s start by going to the yin to this movie’s yang, The Wrath of Khan.

As I’ve mentioned time and time again, Wrath of Khan is not just my favorite movie in the Star Trek franchise, it’s my all-time favorite movie, period. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie so well-rounded and well-constructed, so perfectly scripted (Chekov excepted) while appealing to those unfamiliar with science fiction and diehard fans. It fleshed out the TOS characters in ways they had rarely been fleshed out before. The direction is perfect. The special effects, especially by the standards of the time, are spot-on. So sublime is that movie that it actually rescued the franchise from certain doom. No Khan, no TNG, no DS9, no First Contact, nada.

Cue twenty years on. Star Trek, seemingly ubiquitous eight years prior, was in a state of collapse. Enterprise was struggling to gain traction, Voyager never really found it’s footing, there was no show like DS9 to get critical acclaim, and the prior movie was a critical disappointment. Even worse, other speculative fiction franchises were starting to get into cinemas – Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, for starters.

So, why not try and strike lightning in a bottle twice? Try and do Wrath of Khan for Generation X? Just one problem – they did it already. First Contact is basically Wrath of Khan with something of a role reversal, that being Picard as the revenge-fueled Ahab and the Borg as the vicious, seemingly inhuman antagonist. And it rocked.

Cue this movie trying to recreate the beats of Wrath of Khan. The quest for revenge, the sacrifice of the stoic second in command, you name it. And failing, Miserably.

For one, there’s the antagonist, Shinzon.

Let’s ignore for a second how perfect Khan was in the scenario that he faced. Shinzon is an absolute mess of a character. His backstory was simple… he’s a clone of Picard (the Romulans got his DNA through reasons), conceived to be an eventual spy meant to take down the Federation. Unfortunately, that backfired, and the kid was chucked into a mine operated by the Romulan underclass, the Remans. (But since Romulans are emotional Vulcans, why do we need the Remans? This movie melts my brain.) There, he gained an affection for said Remans. So you would expect him to want revenge against said Romulans, right?

No – he wants to take out Picard and the Federation. And stalls while doing so. For no friggin reason. He has every opportunity to take out the Romulans and the Enterprise, but he just stalls. And stalls. And stalls. All as he’s supposedly on the cusp of death. In the end, he’s less a tactical genius as much as he is a complete idiot who only survived for so long because, uh, pineapple.

The strange part here is that there were some kernels of a great antagonist – the mirror image of Picard. Picard, raised on a 23rd/24th-century French vineyard, stabbed in the heart as a result of his own arrogance during his time at the Academy, grew up to be the great strategist in Starfleet. Shinzon, raised in the dilithium mines, grew up to be a terrorist. This probably would have more impact if Shinzon was anything like Picard… but I saw none of it. Hell, much as Tom Hardy probably gave off the best performance in the movie (everybody else just looks like they’re there for one last dose of cash), he looks nothing like a younger Picard. They just shaved his head and said: “he’s a younger Picard, roll tape!”

I guess you could argue that Shinzon was Picard if the latter wasn’t brought down from his arrogance by the stabbing at Starfleet Academy… except I would argue that said mines were far worse than a barroom brawl. I really don’t see where they could find a coherent rationale for “we are the same people, we have the same potential, etc.” theme they were going for. It feels empty – like they needed to conjure up some tension between the two. Consider that Kirk and Picard had a history with Khan and the Borg, respectively – they fueled the conflicts in the movie. Here, it’s just: “here’s your clone, he’s nuts, make sure he doesn’t kick your ass too much.”

In fact, it actually reminds me of The Final Frontier – the one with Spock’s brother. Except that conflict made more sense and was only blocked from reaching its full potential because of Shatner’s unholy ego. (God, to see more of Sybok vs Spock…)

So, our antagonist is a meathead. Kinda fits that our protagonist is also maligned. Picard, a man of high culture and class, gets satisfaction out of riding a dune buggy all while his passengers are shooting at antagonists. I mean, Picard does have the odd moment of levity, but there’s normally some reflection on it or a reason for his more emotional side. Here, he’s Ace Savvy*, action hero extraordinaire. He goes and has the typical face-to-face with Shinzon, making it four times in a row that he’s done this. Kirk only did a face-to-face fistfight once in six movies – against Kruge. And at least Picard vs. the Borg Queen made some level of sense in First Contact. Here, it’s just there because we did that in the other films, and we turned a profit then, so… (Oh, there’s another line I’ll get to later.)

Also, there’s more Data.

Yeah, they needed to milk that extra dollar out of Data not being human, so the writers took a look at another one of Dr. Soong’s prototypes, B4. (Creative name.) Whereas Lore turned a remorseless madman and Data acted like an innocent child learning more about the world around him, the writers felt it necessary to bring in a character that was effectively a pre Season 1 Data. And it’s not like Data was given focus in the three other TNG films, right?

Read, I think the writers came up with the B-plot over lunch just to fill in some time.

Again, there’s a reason why this movie gets compared to The Wrath of Khan, where every beat and character motivation had a purpose. It could not be any more different here. In Khan, the battle scenes were carefully constructed, with each hit being vital, and the on-screen deaths were so few and far between that they cut like a knife. Here, the Enterprise and the Scimitar fire on each other willy-nilly, tons of crewmen get sucked out into space, and Troi even rams the Enterprise into the ScimitarIt’s just dark scene after dark scene, overdone action, all without any sort of consequence to any action.

Thus, the climactic face-to-face battle has little impact. Picard and Shinzon beat each other up, Data comes aboard and sacrifices himself (because Spock did it, never mind that movie handled themes that made the sacrifice relevant well), and by that point, I just wanted the movie to end. The character dynamics were uninteresting, therefore, the climax had no weight.

I would say that Data’s death is ruined by the obviousness of B4 as a “replacement”, but I knew going into Wrath of Khan the first time I saw it that Spock came back in the next movie. But not the writers at the time. Not the actors. Not the characters. Even with the knowledge of Search for Spockthe loss still carried with it a heavy weight because everything felt real. This one is undermined at the end, making me wonder if it was all worth it.

In fact, compare this to The Undiscovered CountryThat movie was intended as a fond farewell to the TOS crew, bringing with it the crew doing the ultimate murder mystery as they resolve one of the great conflicts the Federation faced. It sent it’s crew off with class, demonstrating their development while also providing a true sense of optimism. Here, the characters are either derailed (Picard) or are thrown to the wayside for an ending that is more coincidental than anything.

And it all combines with some botched directing. Oh, Stuart Baird didn’t have any directing experience before – he got the job by doing editing work on Mission: Impossible. With how these characters are treated, it’s clear that he didn’t even try and watch an episode of TNG to see how these characters developed, or in some cases, how these characters worked. Also, consider the physical directing as well. Everything in this movie, bar the wedding, is set up in the darkest lighting, with the darkest tones, possible. It siphons any sort of impact that these scenes might have yielded. Between that, the camera angles, and the strange filters put over the flashback scenes (just to start), it takes “dark” and sends it into areas that utterly shatter any impact.

Rather than the balance of nature vs nurture, the theme of this movie comes off as an embrace of nihilism. Life is meaningless. Thank you for spending $10 on a ticket. Watch Enterprise UPN Wednesdays. For a franchise that even deconstructed its own themes with class (Deep Space Nine), it feels more antithetical to Trek than any other movie in the franchise. Even The Final Frontier, cynical as it is relative to the franchise, still had the grand overreaching themes of family and at least seemed ambitious.

So, yeah. I think I’ve done a number on this movie so far. Anything else to say? Well, I guess I should dedicate some time to one particular aspect of Nemesis. I’m sorry if I come off as overly sensitive in this aspect, but I really think I should vent on it because it cements the sheer pathetic state of the movie for me. That aspect?

The rape scene.

Yes, you read that right. There’s a rape scene in Nemesis, and surprise surprise, it’s Troi that winds up on the short end of the stick. (First “The Child”, now this?) While Riker and Troi try and consummate their marriage, Shinzon gets his viceroy to transmit himself onto Riker within Troi’s mind. And if you unsure of whether or not it’s meant to be similar to rape, consider the dialogue in the scene – “He can never know you as I can… he can never touch you as I can… feel my lips… I’m with you, Imzadi. I’ll always be with you now…”

OK, let’s just get this over with… no, sexual assault isn’t unusual in Star Trek. “The Enemy Within” had a completely evil half of Captain Kirk try and attack Yeoman Rand. (Yeah, it was handled in a rather… 60s manner, but still.) Lt. Yar came from a planet populated with rape gangs. Hell, many have drawn parallels between Picard’s assimilation and the concept of rape, how it traumatized the man and caused him to break down – to the point where he has nothing but contempt for the Borg.

So I’m not angry that Nemesis chose to touch on sexual assault.

I’m angry at how they treat it.

I will concede that it’s hard to pull off something as dramatic and traumatizing as a sexual assault in any sort of medium. It’s one of those uncomfortable situations that, if handled poorly, can come off as tasteless. Here’s how, in my personal opinion, Nemesis utterly fails in that regard.

First off, was there any reason why the writers had to present the mind-jack in the manner of sexual assault? I mean, they could’ve presented it any other way, but a rather graphic sexual assault? Without any sort of logic other than Shinzon wasn’t quite antagonistic enough? Honestly, it feels like they wanted to be dark and edgy for the sake of being dark and edgy. If they were trying to cement Shinzon as an antagonist, they succeeded far too well – any attempts at establishing pathos for the man collapse because of just how vile this act is. Even Khan, insane as he went, had some sort of (tragic) logic for his actions. This whole scene is arbitrary, and thus, carries no impact other than character assassination.

Oh, but that’s not the worst part of the entire thing. Yeah, the scene is unnerving and poorly executed enough. The aftermath, though, pushes it into downright revolting.

As you would expect, Troi is taken to sickbay and is said to have no physical damage, outside of some elevated hormones. (Yeah, I’d be freaked out if a bald guy entered my mind and forced himself on me.) The following dialogue occurs. Seriously. Read it and tell me this is from a Star Trek movie:

Troi: It was a violation… Shinzon’s Viceroy seems to have the ability to reach into my thoughts. I’ve become a liability. I request to be relieved of my duties.
Picard: Permission denied. If you can endure more of these assaults, I need you at my side now, more than ever.

Read it again. I think it speaks for itself. Picard – who, again, was mind-raped by the Borg and who had a vendetta against them for ages – basically told Troi to endure getting mind-raped again simply to bring down Shinzon and the Viceroy. Ignoring the frank hypocrisy of Mr. “Line Must Be Drawn Here” giving this advice (and that even a more charitable interpretation has this counter First Contact, the best of the TNG films), this command is horrifically callous. Yes, the treatment of sexual assault by authority figures has historically been less than impressive. Yes, Picard’s platitudes about the enlightened 24th Century have been questioned before.

This questionable recommendation, though is not even thought of again. There’s no attempt to play this for any sort of dramatic irony here. It is a moment that does serious damage to Picard as a likable protagonist. Enlightened, my ass – all his platitudes in this movie go out the window. And if your protagonist isn’t likable (even in a more “morbid” way), what else do you have for a movie?

But the worst part? The scene is only brought up one more time… when Troi turns the tables and mind jacks the Viceroy to get the location of the Scimitar.

Yeah, they had a scene that depicted what was effectively a sexual assault and used it as a plot device to defeat the antagonist. I have no words. I am seriously at a loss here. I try not to get offended, but… wow. This is low. In trying to be dark, they wound up doing something so childish that it actually infuriates me.

Star Trek as a franchise has had famous moments such as Spock’s brain being robbed, space hippies, the racist tribal planet, Quark’s sex change, Uhura’s fan dance, Paris and Janeway mating whilst lizards, Archer acting like a jackass because he brought his dog onto a foreign planet, Risa, the clip show machine from “Shades of Grey”, throwing Kirk under a bridge, making the last Enterprise episode a TNG episode, and the wholesale assassination of the Borg.

I can safely say that Troi’s mind-rape by Shinzon is the single worst moment in the entire Star Trek franchise. If I had gone to see this movie in the theaters, that would’ve been the point where I’d have walked out, gone home after failing to get a refund, and looked up what else was on Wednesday nights, because I would so want to give another minute of my time to Berman and Braga after this. This one scene not only breaks the movie, it is a microcosm of it – it’s cynical, dark for the sake of being dark, haphazardly handled, and I can’t make an argument for its existence other than to serve as a warning to future Trek writers, that being “proceed at your own peril”.

Honestly, I have watched all six TOS films and all four TNG films. Even when the TOS films fell flat, they at least seemed to reach for something else – the cinematic TMP, the controversial revival of Spock in III (even though I actually liked that movie), and even the ambitious V. When you get down to it, with the partial exception of First Contact, the TNG films were fairly formulaic – thus, making their vices stand out that much more. (Of which, this movie has many.)

And that I think is what killed the movie in the end. By 2002, the critical consensus had become that Star Trek had run out of gas, and this movie did no favors in that regard. (Even Roger Ebert, who wrote a kinder review of this than I did, said that exact same phrase.) Thus, any faults this franchise had were put under a larger microscope, and this movie happened to get the brunt of it all (for good reason). The franchise needed to bow out, and it was time for the TNG cast to move on.

But like this?

No.

No, no, no, no, no.

Words can not possibly express how much I detest this movie. I hate it more than Tottenham Hotspur and the Washington Redskins combined. I’d get more enjoyment out of watching paint dry while listening to an audiotape of Canadian legislation on corn. I remembered more of it than I did Insurrection, but that was not in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way, more like a “people actually approved this” way. I believe that if Joel and the Bots were sent this movie, Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank would have control of Earth by sundown. (They’d botch it, but still.)

Nemesis truly is a blight on the franchise. Say what you will about Into Darkness, but at least that has the (somewhat flimsy) excuse of an alternate reality to re-interpret characters we love however the writers wanted, and it didn’t have a rape scene for the sake of being “edgy”.

Paramount has declared that all movies and TV shows (with the possible exception of “Threshold”) in the Star Trek franchise are canon. Their franchise, that’s their bag. As far as I’m concerned, though, the TNG era ended with Voyager finding its way back to San Francisco. (Enterprise was set in the 22nd century, ergo, a different era.)

The audience at the time seemed to have the same rationale. This movie only took in $18M at the box office on opening weekend. It didn’t even top it, being beaten by a Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy (of all things). It lost 78% of business the next weekend, dropping to 8th – a staggering result, especially for a Star Trek movie. At the time, it was also the worst second-weekend drop ever, a feat that J-Lo would ironically beat a year later. Overshadowed by Die Another Day and Chamber of Secrets – which I like to imagine was a mercy kill – the movie wound up only taking in $67M against a budget that was at least $60M, not taking in marketing costs. It deserved to fail.

But not Tom Hardy, who banked on this movie’s success to further his career. The resulting damage caused by this movie’s financial failure drove him to drink, almost caused him to take his own life, and brought an end to his marriage. So, not only does Nemesis have a high internal body count, but it almost killed one of its main actors. That’s impressively bad. On a less disturbing note, Marina Sirtis is said to detest this movie (perfectly understandable there), and Laverne – sorry, I meant LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, and Michael Dorn also have little love for Nemesis, or at least have no love for Stuart Baird.

Also impressive is that the UPN was pretty much running on Star Trek and wrestling at this point, Paramount having sunk $800M into the network whilst netting pathetic ratings for most of its shows. Enterprise was wrecked alongside the rest of the franchise and was canceled two and a half years later. With no Trek, the UPN pretty much died a miserable and ignoble death, merged into the WB in 2006. It is my opinion that this movie, even if only by proxy, did more to send the UPN to the footnotes of TV history than anything else.**

So that is Nemesis’s legacy – it destroyed a TV network, almost killed one of the actors, and damaged a multi-billion dollar franchise so completely that it resulted in one of the most controversial reboots of a film franchise ever. Not even The Final Frontier managed to be this destructive. Shatner, you are hereby absolved for your… Shatnerness.

There’s a grand irony, though – in trying to rip off my favorite and the best Trek film, it managed to become the worst Trek film, and I feel confident in calling it my all-time least favorite film. Don’t get me wrong – there are objectively worse movies out there (I’ve heard some bad things about The Emoji Movie, and hey, they made an emoji movie). However, in my personal opinion, I have never seen any film quite as depressing, as disgusting, as incompetent, and as goddamn soulless as this movie was. If I never see it again, it will be too soon.

The Wrath of Khan was a Shakespearian tale of loss, revenge, aging, rage, arrogance, and the tragic effects they could have on us.

Star Trek: Nemesis is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Tidbits:

  • This movie, once again, gives Brent Spiner a chance to show off his singing chops. It was meh in Generations and annoying in Insurrection. Here, it’s just extra-pointless. I will appreciate a good pop standard. Shame it was here. And done many times before. (But, hey, it got cut down in the middle.)
  • So, yeah, Janeway’s an admiral now. Why? I dunno, she got Voyager home after getting it lost and stuff? You could argue that turning a 70-year voyage into a 7-year trip was impressive on its own merits. Some also argue that it’s horrible, horrible writing and a spit on the face to fans that paid money to see this. I like to think that it was part of a deal Starfleet heads made – promote Janeway to a desk job, drop any mention of charging her, and never let her near the bridge of a Starship ever again. I mean, it ain’t like the Federation is United Passions‘s take on FIFA or anything.
  • What a nice promise of a peace deal between Romulus and the Federation you’ve got there. I would hate for your planet to suffer a small wormhole-related incident… But what are the odds of that?
  • Wesley was supposed to show up at the wedding. His part was cut. I think Wil Wheaton saw the final product and took a sigh of relief.
  • Speaking of which, fifty minutes of footage was cut. This involved, among other things, a second mind rape. If that had stayed in, I probably wouldn’t even have finished the movie.
  • Fun fact – there was a serial of Doctor Who that featured an old man kidnapping super-intelligent twins Romulus and Remus. Said serial, “The Twin Dilemma”, has been blasted for its morbid tone, its assassination of the Doctor as a likable character, and a particularly memorable scene of abuse. It’s often cited as the first major body blow the franchise suffered before being canceled in 1989. I’d rather take a look at Colin Baker’s coat of many headaches than Shinzon’s bodysuit ever again.
  • This movie, man…

Wrap-Up (thank Zeus…):

Favorite Scene: Removing the Blu-ray from my PS3. May the twain never meet for a long, long, long time.

Least Favorite Scene: The whole handling of the mind rape. You could feel the franchise’s last shred of dignity just up and die. I can imagine Scott Bakula watching that and realizing he was going to be out of a job sooner than he thought.

Best Character: The executive that finally had the guts to remove Berman and Braga from the franchise.

Memorable Quote: “I hated this movie! Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie! Hated it! Hated every simpering, stupid, vacant, audience-insulting moment of it!” – Roger Ebert’s review of North. Applicable for my thoughts on this movie.

Score. 0. Nil points. Big fat goose egg. If I were more willing to give out 0’s like candy, this would’ve gone into negative numbers here.

There are certainly other bad Trek films. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the only one to be so poorly thought up and so pathetically executed that it was downright offensive. It earns the “Twin Dilemma” award for being such a misfire that it forced a reboot of the franchise.

Look, if you have a different opinion of this movie… I encourage you to comment. Just because I loathe this movie doesn’t mean you have to detest it. Please, any defense, any praise is recommended. I’m genuinely curious. I want to find something in this movie, a diamond in the rough.

One last thing – it’s kinda fitting that my two longest reviews are dedicated to glowing praise of an 11-minute episode of a cartoon and a visceral takedown of a pseudo-philosophical science fiction movie. It’s easy to love something and just as easy to loathe something. That’s the grand lesson of life, I guess…

So, yeah, as you can tell, I’m not a huge fan of Nemesis.

* Yes, I am aware that Ace Savvy is a character in a comic from The Loud House. Not a half bad show, that is. It’s not something that lends itself to in-depth analysis, but I’d recommend it if you have some time to waste.
** Ironic, though – The Motion Picture was actually created as a pilot for a Paramount Network. To think Nemesis may have helped ruin Paramount’s dream is kind of poetic, in a tragic way.

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