Friday, July 15, 2016

Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)


Until Star Trek Into Darkness came out, this was the Star Trek movie most reviled by fans. It was also the movie that signaled the end of Star Trek as a viable film franchise. It came out the same year as Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Die Another Day. It pretty much failed to attract an audience in that crowded year. Is the movie as bad as history suggests, or is this a sci-fi gem that is dire need of rediscovery?


Get your Sunday best ready, because Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) are finally getting hitched. It is nonstop shenanigans as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) delivers his best man toast, and Data (Brent Spiner) sings Blue Skies. Geordi (LeVar Burton) sees what is inside one of the wedding gifts and cant figure out of Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) is a big ol’ perv or knows something about Riker that he doesn’t. As for Worf (Michael Dorn) he spends the whole reception staring down Wesley (Wil Wheaton) over a slight that that occurred over a decade ago but a Klingon never forgets.

What? That doesn’t sound like a great finale to the adventures of The Next Generation crew? Well how about a mysterious signal entices the Enterprise to stop by a world on the edge of the Romulan neutral zone. There they find a prototype of Data named B4 (also Brent Spiner). He isn’t quite as advanced as Data. This causes him to act like a five year old and make faces. Before (see what I did there) anyone can smack B4 too many times, the Romulans want to meet with Picard in person. Turns out their new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy) is eager to pursue peace. Picard is wary because the Romulans are tricksy folk. But he is an optimist. Shinzon turns out to be the leader of the Remans, a slave race that revolted against the cruel Romulans. But Shinzon himself appears to be human and even more disturbing – he is a young clone of Captain Picard. Before you know it Shinzon’s master plan to destroy Picard and the Federation is unveiled. Can our heroes defeat Shinzon and his massive new starship the Scimitar? And will one of our beloved heroes make the ultimate sacrifice to save the Federation?

Good Points:

  • Some of the best visual effects in the franchises history
  • Works an interesting theme of duality into the story
  • Patrick Stewart and Tom Hardy play off each other well

Bad Points:

  • The script is a mess
  • The movie can’t decide what it wants to be
  • Lacks the overall impact it should have


As far as series finales go Star Trek: Nemesis tries so hard to deliver. On the surface a lot of things seem to work. The movie has great production elements and the cast seems on board and does a good job. But the script tries to do too many things at once and does none of them very well. It delivers some good action set pieces and fine character moments. But anyone looking for a fitting sendoff for these characters should stick with the television series finale.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Oh pointy ship, oh pointy pointy.
It is strange that Star Trek: Nemesis and Die Another Day came out the same year. Both films have many of the same goals and the same problems. Both films ended up being one of the most reviled of the franchise. How did something that sounded so promising turning out so bad?

Quite frankly this film came out around this time Star Trek was feeling long in the tooth for a lot of folks. While some Trek fans were completely engaged in The Next Generation era of adventures, the general public still clung to the original series and its cast as the definition of Star Trek. First Contact was a success and got excellent critical marks, but it didn’t make as much of an impact as Paramount wanted it too. Insurrection fared worse, and many critics and fans calling it an expanded television episode that relied too much on knowledge of the series to pull in new viewers.

The studio wanted Star Trek: Nemesis to avoid those pitfalls. They wanted a big adventure movie that would pull in the viewers with action and edginess. It was also intended as the final hurrah for The Next Generation cast. The film would need to be some kind of celebration of these characters and all the adventures viewers had shared with them. In addition to all that, Paramount wanted a fresh perspective to the film. This worked well for them when they pulled in Nicholas Meyer in for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. They turned to director Stuart Baird who had never directed a science fiction film or Star Trek episode before.

Captain Picard is raring for off roading excitement!
One of the most obvious influences on Nemesis is The Wrath of Khan. This isn’t surprising, since Khan is considered by many fans and critics to be the best of the Star Trek films. In fact Khan’s influence looms large over all of the Star Trek films, usually to the other films detriment. So screenwriter John Logan has to frame his film like Wrath of Khan, with an over the top villain, a lot of space ship battles and kill a beloved character off. He also has to give each crewmember a moment to shine and give the film a finality to satisfy the Next Generation fans, something along the lines of the finale of The Undiscovered Country for the original crew.

It is tempting to call this script impossible. But lets just call it a supreme challenge. Sadly it was one that wasn’t conquered. The result is an unfocused script that harms a film with so much potential.

Let’s focus on some of the good points of Star Trek: Nemesis, because no matter how much it is hated, the movie does have some good elements. Visually, this is one of the best-looking Star Trek films. The visual effects hold up really well today and they looked spectacular when the film first came out. The starship battles are executed with skill and bring a lot of tension to the film. The Scimitar is one wicked looking ship, and is one of the coolest looking starships in the series.

Shinzon knows how to make an entrance.
The sets are pretty great looking too. My favorite is the Romulan Senate in the opening moments of the film. It provides a nice twist on traditional Roman architecture. Many of the ship interiors (where we spend most of the time) are also impressive. The room where Shinzon meets Picard for the first time is all shadows and mystery. It allows Tom Hardy to get a bit theatrical, and it works to his advantage.

One oddity is the decision to give this film a very dark look. Once the crew meets Shinzon most of the movie is a palate of grey, black and shadows. Even the Enterprise interiors are dimly lit. It is a stark contrast to the way the sets were lit in Insurrection and First Contact. It just feels like they were going for an obviously edgy feel, instead of working interesting lighting in as part of the story. That is something Star Trek: Generations did extremely well, and why it is probably the most visually dynamic of The Next Generation films.

"No seriously, that hair cut doesn't suit you."
I do like that the Remans look like aliens, not like humans with bumps on their head. I’m not sure why they look so different from the Romulans, it is never really explained. But I was just happy to see an alien that looked much different than a human. One thing I’m not a fan of is Shinzon’s outfit. I think they were attempting to make him look more like an insect with his iridescent chitin style armor. But there are some moments where he just looks silly and non-threatening, no matter how venomous Tom Hardy’s performance gets.

The sound effects retain all the traditional sounds of The Next Generation television series, but given a bit more power behind them. Since this movie features a lot of space battles, you get more weapon and explosion sound effects. Most of the new sound material revolves around the Scimitar and its weapons. All in all it is a solid mix of the familiar and new, just what you expect from a Star Trek sequel.

When it came to music, there was really no one else to go to. Jerry Goldsmith had provided scores to The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, First Contact and Insurrection. He composed the main title theme for Star Trek: Voyager as well. In many ways Goldsmith was the musical sound of The Next Generation (along with Dennis McCarthy and Jay Chattaway who provided the bulk of the music for all the television series taking place in The Next Generation timeline). It was only fitting that Goldsmith compose the score to Nemesis.

That outfit... just... wow.
The movie Goldsmith was given to score was darker and more aggressive than any previous Star Trek film and this is reflected in his score. The primary theme is for Shinzon, and you can hear a really thoughtful and reflective version of the theme in the end credits suite. But through most of the score the theme is much more threatening and creepy. He works aspects of the theme throughout the score, underlining intense scenes or hinting at Shinzon’s role in the deception going on around the crew of the Enterprise.

Beyond that Goldsmith creates some exciting action music, using Shinzon’s theme, but also giving us a heroic version of his Star Trek theme from The Motion Picture. There is also a four-note motif that he uses quite a bit for the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew that he established in The Final Frontier and used in all his Star Trek scores since. He also reintroduces what some folks call the Federation motif that he used quite a bit in The Motion Picture whenever the crew was bustling around preparing for action.

This was one of the last scores Jerry Goldsmith composed for films. He was already very ill at the time of the composition. It was great to have him write music for one of the franchises he was best known for, and give us all one more spin around his musical galaxy.

"So, you seen Lore lately?"
One of the elements of the script that actually works well is the concept of duality and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Brent Spiner got to play off this with Data and B4 interacting in the film. The androids allowed Spiner to play to different roles, with B4 coming across as an even simpler version of Data. What is interesting is that the emotion chip that played a crucial role in Generations and First Contact isn’t referenced in Nemesis. There are a few moments where you think it would come into play, but it doesn’t. Still Spiner gives a very good performance as Data and B4, especially his farewell to Picard and the crew before he makes his final sacrifice.

Mirror mirror?
But the real highlight of the acting goes to Stewart and Hardy. The two men make for great counterpoints to each other. Obviously Stewart has played the role of Picard for years by this point, so he was very comfortable with the character. But I really like his performance as he faces a younger version of himself, one that was raised in an environment of hate and fear. Is there an innate quality of nobility and compassion in the DNA of Picard that can be brought forth? Or is Shinzon a completely different man, one forged by the fires of his experience. Hardy does a great job showing the potential for either option. His attempts to gain Picard’s trust feel genuine, but as the film progresses Hardy becomes more and more disturbed and vengeful. While not all of his motivations make sense (why attack Earth at all? Isn’t destroying Picard enough?) Hardy plays them to the hilt. He makes for an effective and challenging villain, certainly one of the best of the franchise – if he had only been given a script that was a bit more solid.

A couple of other new faces appear in Nemesis. Ron Pearlman plays the creepy Viceroy that hangs around Shinzon and looks sinister. Kind of a shame they don’t use Pearlman to better advantage, but he does a good job glowering at everyone. Dina Meyer as the Romulan commander Donatra gets a bit more meat to her role. She provides the Enterprise with some much needed information and aid. There is even a fun cameo by Kate Mulgrew as Admiral Janeway where she delivers some exposition, but it was nice to see her on the big screen.

The rest of the cast gets to have their moments to shine and all of them do a fine job. Frakes and Sirtis probably get the most interesting moments in the film, but they also seem like the most shoehorned into the plot – just to give them something to do.

Some of the best action in the franchise.
That brings us back to the main issue with Star Trek: Nemesis, the horribly messy script. With a cast of characters this large, it is very difficult to get them all involved in some way. But it can be done. As much as people like to dismiss Abrams recent Star Trek films, his scripts always managed to give key plot moments and dialogue to all the characters. Nemesis does the same, but in such a clunky fashion. Obviously Picard and Data are the main draws for most fans, and most non-fans do recognize these two characters. So the script focuses all the conflict on these two characters.

But the rest of the cast has some minor moments to work on. Dr. Crusher helps analyze Shinzon’s blood and determine the medical issues the antagonist is facing. She helps Geordi with B4. Speaking of Geordi, he is pretty much around to be Data’s friend so when the big death scene happens he can look depressed. But Geordi and Data had formed a bond in the show and that does get played into a bit here. Worf gets to glower and say some ironic lines. But mostly he is around to shoot from the back of a dune buggy.

Some of the goofiest action in the franchise.
Yeah, that whole moment with the dune buggy chase and the lasers and aliens and Picard going all X-games on us… Well, it is just hilariously out of place. I end up laughing each time I see it. This is one of the main reasons the film feels so shallow at times. You get the feeling that these scenes were manufactured to get teen boys riled up about Star Trek. But I doubt it worked.

Then you have the whole Viceroy/Troi/Riker thing. In an attempt to give Troi something to do, the writers say that she can use her empathic abilities to find the Viceroy in the cloaked ship? How is this possible? Because the Viceroy and Shinzon try to mind rape her at one point in the film. Um… yeah. It is never explained why they attempt to mind rape her. Shinzon thinks she’s hot? I don’t know. Anyway it happens when Riker and Troi are getting steamy and it kind of kills the mood. Riker doesn’t like anyone killing his mood. So when the Viceroy leads an attack on the Enterprise Riker and the Viceroy engage in a pretty uninvolving and extended fight scene. Yeah Riker was always the man of action, but I’m sorry it just doesn’t work in Nemesis.

Now there's a Romulan!
Finally there’s the big sacrifice moment. You can see the writers attempting to mimic Wrath of Khan. It has never been confirmed, but I believe it was Paramount who keeps insisting the Star Trek films mimic Wrath of Khan time and again. The thing is, they miss the real reasons that Wrath of Khan is so beloved. It gives us a villain with stakes, a villain with a driving need to directly attack our heroes. It also gives us a sacrifice that is earned. We feel the death of Spock like a gut punch. Each time they attempt to do Wrath of Khan again, they fail at one of these elements.

In the case of Nemesis I think they actually got the antagonist correct. He does have a real reason for wanting to destroy Picard. The mirror can’t keep seeing itself. There has to be a “real” person. For Shinzon, Picard is the reflection that must be destroyed. Because of the medical issue of his cloning, he must kill Picard to save his life. Those are high stakes and they make perfect sense. But adding the destruction of the Federation to the mix is pointless and clutters the story in a way that is never delivered.

The sacrifice fails because of how it is resolved. I was invested when Data makes his final move. It feels right that he should attempt to save his friends and his father figure: Picard. It completes his journey to become human. Likke his human companions, Data is no longer immortal. He can die, and he chooses to die out of compassion – an emotion that he has developed over the journey of the story.

So far, so good.

"Is that seriously the last episode of Enterprise?
What the hell was that?"
But then you get B4 and the fact that all of Data’s memories were slid over to him. The film ends with a funeral that seems so subdued. Sad, yeah, but also kind of limp. When B4 wanders in, you get the feeling (right or wrong) that the crew realizes they still have Data around, and he’s been reset to Season 1 (or even earlier) so they can start all over again. Data isn’t really lost. This feels like such a cop out. Were the writers that afraid of killing Data? Nemesis loses its entire gut punch in those final scenes. And you realize that the only reason B4 was even in this mess of a script was to give them an out when they killed Data. Is that because they thought Nemesis would be a huge success and they might be able to squeeze out another film? Was it to give Spiner a chance to reprise his role in a later television series? Who knows. But it comes across as very misguided. The same issue would hurt Star Trek into Darkness.

Even at a wedding you can keep Picard from speechifying.
Director Stuart Baird ended up with a lot of footage for this film. He ended up having to trim it down quite a bit, and most of what was cut were character moments to celebrate the crew of The Next Generation. We found out what happened to Wesley, why Worf was hanging around and all kinds of stuff. But all that material had to be trimmed to keep the movie at two hours. Baird did the best he could, but the film ends up paced really strangely. It moves briskly and has plenty of action, but you feel all two hours. I’ve seen this film a few times and I still can’t figure out why the pacing feels so off.

Sadly Star Trek: Nemesis falls apart. All the seams in the script become painfully obvious. The manufactured feeling of the film further undermines the final experience. Insurrection has its flaws, but in many ways it feels like a better script more realized and grounded in the world of The Next Generation. Nemesis feels like a franchise flailing for relevance. It didn’t need to flail. It needed to trust its characters and the world it created to deliver an excellent, exciting and relevant story. At its core Nemesis has those kernels, but they never quite sprout. By the end of the film, you’ve had an entertaining time with the crew, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

The fine crew on their last voyage.


  1. Good review, and I agree. Nemesis was pretty good, but missed the boat in some ways. You did a good job of trying to isolate why that was. I think once a movie's run time gets near two hours, it really has to be constructed well or it just gets messy as you said.

    I don't think Nemesis was the worst of the Next Gen lot though, I think Insurrection might have been worse. For me, that movie was just a tad better than a regular episode on TV, and a film should be larger or more exciting than that.

    That too might have added into the fact why Nemesis was sort of lackluster. Plus I think Trek around that time had pretty much over saturated the market with Voyager and Deep Space 9 (which for me diluted the franchise somewhat) so maybe fans, but more importantly non fans, didn't embrace the film. Still overall though it just wasn't that great a film either. I has its moments, but something was missing. It was interesting that you said it tried to mimic Wrath of Khan, which I never thought of, but you're right. I guess knowing that this was the last film of Next Gen, they felt compelled to have B4 come in at the end with a happy ending rather than a downer. That didn't bother me.

    1. Yeah I've run into a few folks lately that like "Insurrection" less than "Nemesis". I guess opinions have softened a bit over time. I remember the fan reaction to "Nemesis" was pretty harsh at the time of its release. There was a general feeling that the creators just didn't get what fans wanted to see in a "Star Trek" movie. And that argument was made even stronger with the Abrams movies.

      Personally I think "Generations" is the weakest of the TNG movies. I need to get a review of that one up. Man talk about messy scripts. "Generations" is the king.

      Yeah I think "Star Trek" did get oversaturated in exposure in the 1990s. Having "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" on the air along with the TNG movies made a lot of folks (me included) take "Star Trek" for granted. I think one of the reasons the Abrams movies were so well received was because there was a large enough gap between "Enterprise" and the new film that people were hungry for it.

  2. From where again did the pieces come of the android scattered around that desert as a trap? I’ve been to several deserts and never found one artificial lifeform, whether intact or in pieces. At least they didn’t rename him AF-TR at the end.

    I agree that this movie seemed longer than it was – never a good sign. There is indeed the potential for good drama in facing oneself whether figuratively or – as in this case – literally. I might have gone with sacrificing Picard. Both of them.

    1. They imply that Shinzon scattered them in that desert... but where did he get them. I don't think the script ever addresses it. I always wondered, because we knew of Data's other brother, Lore, from the series. Why didn't the writers use Lore instead of bringing up B4? But I think it was because they were focusing on new fans who wouldn't know about Lore, and would only serve to confuse them. Still the whole B4 angle just feels out of place, and only around to give Data the same mirror issue that Picard is facing.

      Oh wow, I can imagine the outcry of Picard getting killed at the end of this movie. Fans rioting in the streets! I honestly think that Paramount was hoping that "Nemesis" would be such a big hit that they could milk another movie or television series out of it. In that case they needed to keep Picard and Data as viable characters. In the end, it hurt the story.