SEQUELISED: Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Tom Hardy beams in as Picard’s crew go out not with a bang but a whimper. 

Who made it?: Stuart Baird (Director), John Logan (Writer), Rick Berman (Producer), Paramount Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Tom Hardy.

Tagline: “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins.”

IMDb rating: 6.3/10.

The crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation should have gone out better than this, but the tenth motion picture, Nemesis, isn’t quite as bad as some fans might attest. That’s in spite of a plot that poorly apes The Wrath of Khan (1982) and a director not quite right for this universe. Long-time editor Stuart Baird is a solid enough hand for the action sequences and space shots, which are above and beyond the previous Next Gen films in scale, befitting the first noughties entry. But it’s also curiously unsatisfying, never injecting the heart of Generations or First Contact. Though superior to Insurrection, Baird’s chapter came around when interest in Star Trek was waning. Enterprise was flat-lining on television and the near-constant exposure to the franchise was wearing thin. Nemesis is not a bad film… it’s just a case of a cast and crew going through the motions when they should be giving it all they’ve got.

The thrust of the story (credited to John Logan) is that a clone of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has successfully steered the Romulans into launching an attack on Earth. Shinzon (Tom Hardy, yes, that Tom Hardy) also launches a revenge scheme on his biological brother, which has unforeseen consequences for Picard’s long-suffering crew. Never mind the overly-convoluted plot, though, as Baird and his screenwriter are more concerned with explosions and cool gadgetry. This, my friends, is Star Trek‘s passing into an all-out action extravaganza. To their credit, they almost get there…

I’ll admit it, Nemesis begins well. The assassinations that open the picture suggest a much darker film, and a bleak tone pervades the entire proceedings. Seriously, this is perhaps the most darkly-lit Trek film ever. It might have been the “cooler” approach, and grit gives the plot some much-needed punch, but it’s so tonally disconnected to the preceding entries and Gene Roddenberry’s vision as a whole. Die-hards will bitch and moan about that, but general movie-goers looking for a bit of sci-fi action will be moderately entertained. There’s everything here from a dune buggy chase across a planet surface to a grandstanding space battle that leaves entire decks of the Enterprise exposed to the vacuum of space. We might have seen it all before, but Baird stages the set-pieces competently and at great frequency. Unlike Insurrection, I was never bored.

Besides the Borg, Nemesis also has the best antagonist of Picard’s cinematic tenure. Shinzon knows what makes the Captain tick, providing a villain that is at least up to the challenge. It’s also fascinating to see Hardy this early in his career, relishing a role of villainy and holding his own against Stewart. The script makes him a facsimile of Khan, there’s no doubt about that, but his need for vengeance makes the rivalry deeply personal. It leads to a rising body count that includes the death of a regular character. In short, this isn’t a time-waster like Insurrection but an attempt to make something more impactful. Nemesis doesn’t always succeed, and it is victim to a plethora of plotholes and inconsistencies, but high stakes always make for something more compelling.

This is also a very well-made outing from a technical standpoint. Though fourteen-years-old, the excessive CGI has aged well, and Baird gives a majestic sweep to some of the trailer moments. The late Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the signature theme for 1979’s The Motion Picture, also provides his final Trek score to appreciative effect. It’s just a shame that such craftsmanship is powering a film that is so relentlessly dour and dialled into mortality.

On the topic of death (SPOILERS), the end of the film has the much-loved Data (Brent Spiner) sacrificing himself to save his fellow crewmembers from a Doomsday device. This is almost a play-by-play of Spock’s death in Star Trek II, but to me, seeing the Next Gen‘s beloved android explode into a million pieces is still an affecting moment. It ensures that, instead of something jubilant, we leave these characters on a thoroughly melancholic note. This is my main issue with the film, and why I am less likely to return to it in future. Nemesis is deeply joyless, and that’s before you factor in that these familiar characters are no longer acting like their old selves. To enjoy it, you need to divorce yourself from the mythology of the show and just accept it as a routine action flick with a halfway-decent villain. It was made to be as commercially-viable as possible, and that results in a picture that is alternately entertaining and frustrating.

As an end to the first continuity of Star Trek movies, Nemesis isn’t all it could have been in retrospect. Who knows if they were planning to do another movie to give them a real send-off, but this film effectively killed the franchise with its lacklustre $67 million box office haul (only just recouping its budget). It didn’t deserve to flop, but then we should all be thankful that its commercial failure led to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot. If you want a better send-off for Picard and co., just watch the final TNG episode “All Good Things.” Short of them cropping up in a future movie or series, that’s the best you’re going to get.

Best Scene

A great tribute to Data’s last strand. Don’t be surprised if this chokes you up more than the film.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Is the lowest grossing Star Trek film in the history of the franchise.
  • Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) had a cameo in the earliest draft of the movie’s script. It was scrapped when Ryan got a part on Boston Public. The cameo was given to Kate Mulgrew (Admiral Kathryn Janeway).
  • The ships backing the Enterprise in Federation territory according to Data (Brent Spiner) and Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) meeting in stellar cartography are, USS Intrepid, USS Valiant, USS Galaxy, USS Aries, USS Nova, USS Hood and USS Archer (named for the Captain in Star Trek: Enterprise).
  • Riker comments that he first saw Data on the Holodeck trying to whistle a tune, but cannot remember which tune. This refers to the pilot “Encounter at Farpoint,” and the tune was “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
  • Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) was invited back to the cast by executive producer Rick Berman after Wheaton spoke with LeVar Burton (Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge) on a special Star Trek edition of NBC’s The Weakest Link (below). Wheaton remains in the end titles although all of his scenes were cut from the final version of the film and he can only be seen as a non-speaking extra during the wedding scene.

Dave James

Editor-in-Chief at Film freak, music minion, professional procrastinator, podcaster, video-maker, all around talented git.

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