Written by “Gladiator” scribe John Logan (who also wrote 2012’s “Skyfall”) and directed by famed editor Stuart Baird (who clearly had little-to-no feel for the material), “Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002) is one of the most derided entries of the Star Trek film canon. For this overview, I’m going to skip the traditional synopsis, and just address my issues with “Nemesis” in chronological order, beat by beat (which kind of amounts to a synopsis, I suppose…). I also want to address the virtues of the film as well. Having watched it recently via my home projector (trying to approximate the theatrical experience as best I could), I did notice some praiseworthy elements, but on the whole, the movie just has so much wrong with it. That said, I hate doing full-on hatchet jobs, so I will do my best to highlight the film’s positive bits wherever I can. Is it truly the worst Star Trek movie ever made? I generally avoid rankings, but “Nemesis” usually hovers near the bottom of the pile, flitting between “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Star Trek: Insurrection.”
For this overview I’m going to assume that you, valued reader, have already seen the film. Of course, if you haven’t, I would suggest you turn back now. If you have? Let’s talk “Star Trek: Nemesis”…
“Star Trek: Nemesis.”
Beginning with the opening Star Trek TNG/TMP motif from the late Jerry Goldsmith, with assists from his son Joel, the music then changes into something a bit less epic as we pan to the planet Romulus. The title font looks more Goth than Star Trek, like something befitting a movie about Vatican demon hunters from 1764, but I digress…
The film opens with the Imperial city on Romulus, and, points for continuity, it looks fairly close to the capitol city as depicted in The Next Generation (TNG) two-parter “Unification”, which was the first episode to depict Romulus (if I remember correctly). Love the slightly lavender hue in the sky, and the Roman-style architecture. While the early 2000s-era digital FX of the scene are slightly dated, they still hold up well enough, even on my 7 ft. home pullout screen.
Next we see the “thalaron radiation” bomb dissolves the Romulan Senate, like so many vampires in sunlight. Essentially a coup d’é·tat by the Romulan’s previously unseen rivals, the Remans. Points to the film for addressing that Remans even exist. Their home planet of Remus was first mentioned waaaaay back in TOS’ “Balance of Terror” (1966), but they were never seen in any of the post-1987 Star Trek series, despite many trips to Romulus since TNG’s “Unification.” Like most early digital FX work, the Senate’s disintegration into piles of ash is generally well done, but it does leave a few questions unanswered. Later in the film, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) says a microscopic amount of thalaron particles would be instantly lethal to the entire crew of the Enterprise. So is the thalaron radiation we see here somehow magically contained within the Senate chamber, or would it spread to the rest of the Romulan home planet? If someone set off a dirty bomb in New York city, you’d need many blocks of the city cordoned off at the very least (if not half the city itself). Later in the film, we see Picard and Shinzon chatting over dinner in the very same chamber, so is thalaron radiation extremely short-lived? Is it easily cleaned up?
Next up is this film’s equivalent of the campfire scene in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” — the wedding of Commander Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) in Alaska (represented by a lavender mountainscape, a few trees and a futuristic tent). The scene is a genuinely warm moment, and it’s easily my favorite in the entire film. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart) toasts his old shipmates as the android Commander Data (Brent Spiner) serenades them with Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” We also see (but not hear) Wil Wheaton returning as Wesley Crusher, back from exploring other dimensions with “The Traveler” (see: TNG’s “Journey’s End”). Wesley is also seen in a Starfleet uniform again (he and Starfleet previously had a nasty divorce). This begged for exploration, but it never gets any. We also see Whoopi Goldberg return as “Guinan”, the worldly El-Aurian bartender of the USS Enterprise, and at least she gets a line (about her multiple marriages). The Alaskan wedding scene is great in its potential, but it’s cut way too short. I understand there are additional deleted scenes out there, but I only have the standard issue DVD which didn’t include all of them. That said, a film shouldn’t depend on the audience filling in gaps with bonus material (or spinoffs, comics, etc)—if it’s important or relevant, it should be up there on the screen. I hate it when the coherence of a given narrative is compromised or weakened if the audience didn’t see or read the bonus tie-in material.
Now the action returns to the USS Enterprise-E, which debuted in “Star Trek: First Contact” and has been rendered entirely through digital FX work since that film. We hear the riffs of Jerry Goldsmith’s fleeting Enterprise theme (originally written for 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”), followed by a scene on the bridge where resident Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) and Geordi (LeVar Burton) locate ‘positronic’ readings suspiciously emanating from a planet near the Romulan/Federation Neutral Zone. The dialogue includes some funny bits about the Rikers’ forthcoming nude wedding on Deanna’s home planet of Betazed. Worf refuses, and Picard vows to hit the gym (hehe). Between the risqué jokes (cute) and the gorgeous color palette of the Enterprise bridge set (a soothing mix of grays, russet tones and blues), the scene works well enough, though an all-too convenient ‘ion storm’ renders the transporters inoperable, allowing Picard and company to break out the “Argo”—the ship’s dune buggy. I kid you not. Space dune buggies. With rubber tires, for chrissakes. We know that Star Trek has antigravity technology, so why the hell would there still be rubber-wheeled vehicles in this future? It’d be like modern US aircraft carriers stowing horses and carriages.
Okay, so Picard, Worf and Data are on this arid desert planet Kolarus III near the Romulan Neutral Zone, with Picard merrily driving the Enterprise’s dune buggy, Argo. Fine. Whatever. The cheap looking Kolarus III desert (shot in SoCal) is made ‘alien’ by shooting overexposed images through yellow filters. This trick was used more effectively in the 2003 revamp of “Battlestar Galactica” to depict the sickly, nuked planet Caprica in that series. These days it just looks a mite dated; sort of how bullet-time looked when every post-“The Matrix” movie and TV show decided to use it. A minor nit, so let’s move on the other problems of this sequence…
After the trio gather up the positron-emitting head, torso and limbs of the Soong-type android B-4 (how many did Dr. Soong make?), they make a break for it, as the angry dune buggy-ing natives of Kolarus are giving chase, firing mounted machine gun turrets at the Starfleet officers. For some reason, the Prime Directive is never mentioned at all here. Earlier on the ship, Data made mention of the fact that the Kolarans are a pre-warp, early industrial age civilization, yet Picard and company zip around in the Argo and shuttle (in full view of the natives) without a care. Worf and Data even kill some of the natives as they head back to the shuttle. I had the same issues with this sequence that I’d have later on with Kirk’s casual dismissal of the Prime Directive in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but it feels even more pronounced here, as Picard was usually much more mindful of the Prime Directive than Captain Kirk. Here we see Picard just enjoying “unsafe velocities”, zipping around in a dune buggy blasting aliens to hell as he grabs pieces of android here and there. TNG’s Picard would’ve thought long and hard about even setting foot on an inhabited pre-warp civilization planet just to gather android parts that were very clearly planted as bait. I miss that more thoughtful Picard we knew in the television series (who would later make a return in CBS-AA’s “Star Trek: Picard”).
Note: Oh, did I mention just how silly it looks for Picard and his officers to rev around in a rubber-tired dune buggy?
Back aboard the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher and Geordi LaForge examine the pieces of Data’s doppelgänger, an earlier prototype with less developed neural pathways and a childlike demeanor. Dr. Crusher makes an inane comment about Data having ‘nicer eyes’ (at least it’s a step up from her boob chat with Troi in “Insurrection”). Picard arrives to take a look at their hard won pieces of B-4, and orders LaForge to reassemble him, clearly forgetting all of the pain and suffering caused to the Enterprise-D and her crew when they reassembled Lore, Data’s other ‘twin’ brother (see: “Datalore” “Descent”). How about just keeping the pieces stowed away until the Enterprise returns to Earth? For this plan of enticing Picard and Data with B-4 to work, it would assume that Picard reassembles the android aboard the Enterprise. But what if Picard, remembering the lesson of Lore, had simply waited till they were back home? What if the Argo crew were killed by the native Kolarans? The entire Reman plan of using B-4 as a lure would’ve failed. Much of “Nemesis” is predicated on luck. Such plot laziness is really surprising coming from Academy nominated screenwriter John Logan.
Next up is the (literal) phoned-in cameo from Kate Mulgrew as newly promoted Admiral Janeway. Janeway orders Picard to Romulus for historic peace talks with the new Praetor Shinzon (a very young Tom Hardy). While I have a few nitpicking issues with “Star Trek: Voyager”, I absolutely adore Kate Mulgrew. She is a delightful and inspiring lady to see at conventions, not to mention a hell of an actor (if anyone doubts this, seek out her predecessor Genevieve Bujold’s utterly lifeless interpretation of Captain Janeway on YouTube). While it is little more than a Skype cameo (11 years before Leonard Nimoy’s in “Star Trek Into Darkness”), it’s nice to see Janeway settling into a new career on Earth, having clearly gotten the hero’s welcome that was her due (if only Kirk had learned to accept promotion so gracefully). The only thing that dates the scene is the 4:3 LCD computer monitor used for Picard’s ready room computer screen. Up until then, most of the images on Star Trek monitors had been burn-in images added in post-production, using film elements to create super-clear images on monitors. While archaic, this technique also future-proofed the images, making them at least as sharp and clear as everything else. Director Stuart Baird clearly thought early 21st century computer monitor technology was up to 24th century Starfleet specs, and the results are a teensy bit dated. Once again, this is a minor nit. There are much bigger ones coming up…
Picard and his officers discuss the Romulan coup, the Shinzon peace offer, and the Remans themselves. The Remans are the natives of the planet Remus, first mentioned in TOS’ “Balance of Terror” as being the twin world of Romulus (paralleling Earth’s legend of Rome’s twin founders). It is around this point in the film where we learn the ugly truth about the Remans, who are seen as an ‘undesirable caste’ in Romulan society, often used as cannon fodder during bloody wars when Romulans are too precious to spare. This could’ve been a hard-hitting commentary on racism and caste systems if only the movie offered it. Instead, the Remans are seen as light-sensitive, vampirish zombies who skulk around in dark corridors, and seem to lack any relatable qualities at all. We learn that Praetor Shinzon has liberated the Remans from their cruel captivity on their planet’s dilithium mines. For this alone, Shinzon and the Remans should be sympathetic characters, but they’re not. Instead of being the freed slaves of “Spartacus”, they are depicted as little more than hideous monsters. This is one of the reasons this film just doesn’t work as Star Trek.
Note: On the positive side? I love the new mocha upholstery and wall coloring in the Enterprise E’s briefing room. Kudos to longtime Star Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman. In fact, the entire color palette of the film is just gorgeous, from the lavender hue mountains of the wedding sequence to the warm browns and cool blues of the Enterprise E’s interior spaces. Too bad the ugly racism of the movie takes something away from those visual attributes.
Against his own better judgment, Geordi gives in to Picard and Data’s wish to upload Data’s memories into his doppelgänger. Okay, am I the only one who remembers Lore threatening the Enterprise and her crew on several occasions? I realize Jean-Luc has a sentimental spot for his android Ops officer (brought full circle in “Picard”), but this is ridiculous. Does that download include highly sensitive Starfleet tactical information? Or Data’s own guarded memories of being “intimate” with Tasha Yar? When Geordi asks his android friend if he’s okay with giving B-4 all of that, Data reacts with his his old “I don’t feel anything” response. Once again, did John Logan see “Star Trek: Generations” or “First Contact”? Data has an emotion chip now. In “Generations” it was ‘fused’ to his neural net. In “First Contact” he learned to turn it on or off when needed, and in “Insurrection”, he (apparently) learned how to remove it. So what happened in this movie? Did he step on it in his quarters? Is it just gone now? Like Wesley Crusher’s inexplicable return, this is something that begged for exploration, but is maddeningly stifled. The emotion chip was once a critical element in Data’s quest to become more human, and now it’s treated like a forgotten snow-globe souvenir left in a hotel somewhere. Anyhoo, the download is only partly successful (as we later learn in “Picard”) since B-4’s neural net simply wasn’t sophisticated enough to handle all of Data’s memories, but it did leave a few crumbs for Data’s continued existence (those leftover neurons in “Picard”). A bad decision at one time becomes ingenious foresight at another.
The Enterprise arrives in orbit of Romulus, where they wait in a maddening 11 hour power play by Praetor Shinzon. With the other officers are getting antsy, Picard implores them to be patient, just as Shinzon’s super-lethal warship Scimitar decloaks right off their bow. The massive vessel looks like a cross between a Klingon warship and the mining craft Narada from “Star Trek” (2009). They are greeted by the hideous, Nosferatu-inspired Reman Viceroy (Ron Perlman, in a thankless role), who invites Picard and his officers aboard the formidable looking warship. Watching this movie with the benefit of hindsight, we know that Shinzon is on a ticking clock–his body is rapidly dying as it prematurely ages to ‘match’ Picard’s, so what exactly was the point of having the Enterprise-E wait for 11 hours over Romulus? We know that Shinzon didn’t have 11 hours to burn on a casual power-move like that.
Picard, Riker, Troi, Data and Worf beam aboard the darkened ship (Remans are sensitive to bright light), and are greeted by Shinzon, who only superficially resembles a young Jean-Luc Picard. We also see Shinzon’s lurking henchman Viceroy nearby. Why exactly do the Remans look like vampires, anyway? We know that Romulus and Remus were settled by ancient post-war Vulcans nearly 2,000 years earlier, so how could the Remans have devolved so quickly into such a monstrous form? Yes, they were forced to work in darkened mines, but that alone couldn’t have turned them into linebacker ghouls in less than two millennia. So just what happened? Did the early Vulcan settlers breed with vampiric-looking natives of Remus when they arrived? Was it a sudden mutation from an element unique to Remus? Once again, a nagging question is left unanswered.
The newly liberated Remans are depicted as ugly monsters simply because the movie needed obvious ‘bad guys.’ Interesting that the Romulans are not the movie’s bad guys for keeping their Reman brothers enslaved in mines for nearly 2,000 years. In the classic TOS episode, “Devil in the Dark”, the rock-dwelling ‘monster’ known as the Horta was later revealed to be a mother protecting her eggs, and the human miners on the planet were exposed as the true ‘devils in the dark.’ No such luck with this shallow film, which never owns up to its own blatant racism. “Nemesis” has IDIC backwards–anything less than homo sapiens is depicted in the film as unwelcome and ugly.
After meeting Shinzon, Picard and his crew are rightfully suspicious of the new human Praetor of the Romulan Empire. He leers lasciviously at newlywed Troi, and seems to know all of their names and ranks, and even of Picard’s childhood bout with painful super-hearing (“Shalaft’s syndrome”). Data takes tricorder readings, and Shinzon even offers his own blood as ‘proof’ that he is a human clone of Picard, originally created to replace the captain at some future point. Taking the blood back to the Enterprise for analysis, Crusher determines Shinzon is indeed a clone of the captain. My following nitpick isn’t so much of plot but of production. Tom Hardy (a marvelous actor) simply doesn’t resemble Patrick Stewart enough to convince as his doppelgänger. Yes, doppelgängers are a recurring theme in the movie, with Data/B-4, Picard/Shinzon and even the twin worlds of Romulus/Remus. In each case, you have the successful twin (Picard, Data, Romulus) and the less-advantaged twin (Shinzon, B-4, Remus). I get all of that, but it might’ve been more effective to have Patrick Stewart playing his own twin. Anyone familiar with Stewart’s one-man version of “A Christmas Carol” knows that the man can play multiple characters without breaking a sweat, so why wasn’t he playing Shinzon as well? True that Shinzon is supposed to represent a younger, more ruthless version of Picard (Picard as he was in his youthful arrogance), but what if Shinzon had successfully jumped ahead in age (the process that was already killing him) and were played by the older Stewart as simply being emotionally immature instead? A biologically older man, but lacking the wisdom and graces of age (see: Donald Trump). That might’ve been a much stronger reinforcement of the movie’s ‘twins gone wrong’-theme if Picard/Shinzon were exact copies of each other, and not weak approximations.
We later see Shinzon alone with his advisers and assembled ass-kissers as he deals with impetuous Romulan leadership and a military commander named Donatra (Dina Meyer) who unwisely attempts to wise her feminine wiles to curry some favor with her clearly unstable new Praetor (once again, insert Donald Trump metaphors here). Shinzon refuses her advances by telling her he’ll kill her if she ever gives him Romulan cooties again. This convinces Donatra to quietly initiate a military coup against Shinzon that will later bear fruit in the movie’s climactic space battle between the Enterprise and the Scimitar. We also see Shinzon spasming in pain when Donatra exits, as his Viceroy puts a gentle hand to his chest. It’s as if the telepathic Viceroy (who befriended Shinzon as a rejected, frightened child) is keeping his Praetor alive though sheer willpower. This scene illustrates Shinzon’s instability, both emotionally and physically; his contemptuous rejection of Donatra reinforcing Shinzon’s rejection of all things Romulan, which is understandable, given their cruel enslavement of both he and his Reman “brothers.” Yet, by the end of the movie we are somehow supposed to cheer as the Romulans help the Enterprise defeat the newly liberated Remans. Will the Romulans simply go back to their slave/master relationship with the Remans after Shinzon, or will they offer them seats at the tables of power? Once again, a nagging and relevant issue is ignored in this all-surfaces movie.
The next scene sees Picard gazing wistfully at an old Academy photo of himself, looking exactly like a bald Tom Hardy. Did anyone working on this movie ever watch TNG? Picard wasn’t bald in his youth (TNG’s “Tapestry”). In fact, we see Picard with hair during a flashback to his days commanding the Stargazer (TNG’s “Violations”). So why is Academy-age Picard depicted this way? It doesn’t work with established TNG lore. I could see angry Shinzon shaving his head in an act of youthful rebellion perhaps, but Captain Picard lost his hair naturally. Picard even jokingly laments the gradual loss of his hair in lighter moments (TNG’s “Bloodlines” “Tapestry”). On the plus side, this scene does feature one of the rare appearances in the movie of Dr. Beverly Crusher. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Dr. Crusher character, but she is indignantly reduced to little more than a walk-on role in this film. Gates McFadden, who is very charming at conventions, deserved more.
Predictable as a sunrise, the newly reassembled B-4 (who was clearly planted on Kollarus as bait) is ‘activated’ by Shinzon via remote. The android spy begins accessing the ship’s computer, gathering all sorts of information about fleet deployments, etc. Fortunately, it’s largely false information, as we later learn from Geordi, but the fact that B-4 was left unsupervised after the Enterprise-D’s earlier experiences with Lore is just mystifying. Not to mention that no one detected his homing device or activation mechanisms during his reassembly. As I said earlier, if they’d simply kept B-4’s pieces as pieces until they got back to the Daystrom Institute on Earth, then none of this would’ve happened. Shinzon’s plan to entice Picard and Data was predicated largely on luck and coincidence.
The next scene is my second favorite in the film, as Picard accepts Shinzon’s offer of dinner in the Senate Chamber on Romulus. Aside from Herman Zimmerman’s beautiful stain-glass windowed set, the scene gives us fascinating glimpses into both characters, as the younger Shinzon seems genuinely eager to learn about Picard. Picard tells him that his lineage isn’t comprised of noble explorers or great warriors… they were largely French vintners who never left their native solar system. Jean-Luc Picard was a pioneer in his family, just as Shinzon was a revolutionary on his own planet. What makes this scene so sad is that we, like Picard, see potential in Shinzon. Yes, he assassinated the Romulan Senate and took over the Empire in a vicious coup d’état, but he did so in the name of justice–the Romulan government’s cruel and abusive behavior towards Shinzon’s adopted Reman brothers was wrong. So what if Picard had encouraged those positive parts of himself he recognized in Shinzon, such as their shared righteous anger for injustice, for example? This scene is the fulcrum where the movie could’ve gone another way. Imagine if Picard encouraged his younger self to be the responsible new leader of the Empire, and offer both Romulans and Remans seats at the table? Instead, Picard and company throw in their lot with the Romulans to restore the status quo–keeping the “civilized” Romulan overlords on top, and the “monstrous” Remans at the bottom. In fairness, this is an issue with most of the Star Trek movies–the tendency to offer simplistic ‘good vs evil’ stories that are more suited to Star Wars than the Star Trek TV shows.
Because Shinzon’s taking bloody revenge upon his Romulan oppressors didn’t make him unsympathetic enough, the movie adds ‘rapist’ to his list of ugly traits. Troi and Riker have their honeymoon night in their quarters aboard the Enterprise-E, and just as they embrace in passionate lovemaking, Shinzon uses his Viceroy’s telepathy to put him inside of Troi’s mind, replacing Riker’s face with his own…and the hideous Viceroy’s. Troi is understandably traumatized by this psychic gang rape, initiated by Shinzon through his creepy skulking friend (Troi was similarly assaulted in TNG’s “Violations”). Recovering in sickbay, the sexually-assaulted Troi is offered little-to-no sympathy from her shipmates. Crusher pronounces her “fine,” while her captain refuses to grant her request to be taken off duty. This scene made me angry as hell. Troi has just been psychically and sexually assaulted, yet no one aboard the Enterprise-E seems to give a damn. It’s in that very instant that Picard is beamed aboard the Scimitar by Shinzon’s transporter beam. Since the Scimitar has a “perfect” cloaking device, Geordi is unable to penetrate it with sensors and beam him back. Shinzon has now added kidnapping to his list of felonies, so we can wish him dead by the end of the movie with a clear conscience. How convenient. This glosses over everything that was done to him by the Romulans, who are portrayed as the ‘victims’ of Shinzon.
Aboard the Scimitar, Picard is bound in a medieval looking contraption as Shinzon explains the reason for his abduction… Shinzon is dying and needs a full transfusion of Picard’s blood to survive his accelerated aging process (which was written into Shinzon’s DNA so that he might ‘catch up’ to Picard’s age and replace him, until that plan was abandoned). Given that Shinzon’s genetic error is in all of his cells (not just his blood) it makes zero sense to hope that a blood transfusion could somehow rewrite all of Shinzon’s DNA. But that’s the kind of scientific mumbo-jumbo that Shinzon is risking both of their lives over. Shinzon also reveals plans to obliterate all life on Earth using the Scimitar’s larger scale thalaron energy weapon, which takes a ridiculous amount of time to set up. None of this is ever explained nor justified. Why does Shinzon want to wipe out all life on Earth? The only reason Shinzon alludes to is for a victory of “the echo over the voice,” implying that all of this is a personal shadow-boxing match against his ‘rival’ Picard, who never expressed any such rivalry towards his younger clone. We’re supposed to believe Shinzon is basically Picard born into harsher circumstances, but the movie stacks the deck against the doppelgänger so much that we’re never allowed to feel any humanity from him. Such humanity would’ve made him a more compelling and sympathetic villain. But as he is? Shinzon is just a threadbare Khan-wannabe. He’s hellbent on revenge for little reason beyond plot convenience and pew-pew space battles.
Somehow Data inexplicably gets aboard the Scimitar, shortening his pointed sideburns to match those of his ‘brother’ B-4. This is never explained. Did Geordi penetrate the Scimitar’s cloak? If so, why isn’t this advantage exploited later on during the space battle? And if Data beamed aboard, why didn’t the Scimitar’s internal sensors detect the transporter energy signature? Once again, never explained. Of course, Data rescues Picard by posing as B-4, pretending to escort Picard…somewhere. Data mentions he has a single use personal transporter, but Picard won’t hear of it…insisting that they leave together. None of the Remans walking by the pair ever think to check up on them, so they just casually stroll down to the shuttle bay together. Later, as they are caught in an intense firefight with the Remans, Picard and Data manage to break into the shuttle bay and steal a “Scorpion”-class fighter craft. Unable to exit through the locked/shielded shuttle bay doors, they take their small craft through the ship’s corridors and burst out through the glass window in Shinzon’s own throne room (a set that mimics the Emperor’s throne room from “Return of the Jedi”). This is one of the few genuinely exciting action sequences in the film, but it’s still might’ve been much easier if they just exited the same way Data got in. Catching a glimpse of their escaping vessel, Riker beams the small Scorpion directly aboard the Enterprise and makes a run for Federation space…
With the Enterprise hauling it back to the Neutral Zone, Data deactivates his brother B-4, who still doesn’t understand what he did wrong. It’s a sad little moment that might’ve had more impact if the audience had any emotional investment in this new android. B-4’s childlike protestations of innocence are a last minute attempt to tug at the old heartstrings, but it doesn’t work; we never really got to know B-4 as a character in any meaningful way. The movie is already overcrowded with its main plot, various subplots and a few tertiary characters who never quite contribute their full due to the story (some of whom are among the main TNG cast, sadly). As a result, B-4’s deactivation doesn’t really pack any great emotional punch for us or for Data. It’s merely a way to keep the character on ice until needed again for the coda.
A briefing on Federation fleet deployments is interrupted when the Enterprise is attacked by the Scimitar. The ships fly near a green incandescent nebula that vaguely echoes the battle of the Mutara nebula in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. As space battles go, this is one is painfully lopsided as the Enterprise takes a pounding from the still-invisible Scimitar. An interesting moment happens when Shinzon’s hologram meets Picard in his own ready room. Picard makes one last passionate appeal to the young man to stop all of this, but his pleas fall on deaf ears, and the hologram vanishes. The attack resumes. Shinzon’s accelerating decrepitude is making his face look veiny and monstrous. Once again reinforcing the movie’s notion that physical unattractiveness somehow equals evil. Speaking of evil, as Shinzon “ages” he begins to look more and more like Mike Meyers’ famous “Dr. Evil” character from the Austin Powers spy spoof comedies. There are moments when the character stares, mouth agape, and I half-expected him to be petting a bald cat…
A clumsy attempt is made during the battle for Troi to get her revenge on the Viceroy and Shinzon for gang-raping her mind by using their own telepathy against them to locate the cloaked Scimitar. She guides Worf’s hand over the tactical console (like an Ouija board) and fires weapons into the invisible Scimitar, seething venomously at her assaulters, “Remember ME?” It’s good that Troi got some comeuppance, and I appreciated the gesture, but it’s falsely predicated on the movies-only notion that one act of revenge can magically heal a psychic scar such as rape or sexual abuse. Real abuse survival is far more complicated. That said, I’m glad that Troi got some justice, especially after her own shipmates didn’t seem to give a damn earlier. If a movie is going to bring up something as profoundly traumatic as rape or sexual assault, it has to be dealt with responsibly, and not just as a throwaway gimmick. Troi was mind-raped on her wedding night, for god’s sake. That’s a horror a lot of people would be dealing with for the rest of their lives.
Now we get to my favorite action piece of the film, and it’s a doozy–the Enterprise-E, exhausted of torpedoes and drained of phaser power, is set to collide directly into the Scimitar’s hull. Shinzon thinks he’s anticipated Picard’s every move, but this shocks him, and its understandable–it’s atypically reckless of Picard to ram the Enterprise into an enemy ship. The collision itself is spectacularly rendered, as metal bits of the hull are cast aloft in zero gravity around the smashed saucer section. It’s the most impressive single piece of spaceship action in a Next Gen film since the similarly audacious saucer crash landing in “Generations.” While it’s an impressive sequence, I have to wonder… were any text warnings sent to all of those crew members below the bridge? There were possibly hundreds of people in those forward sections. Did they at least have a chance to get to the center of the saucer section before the collision? Like everything else in this maddeningly obtuse movie, it’s never dealt with again. At least in “Generations” we saw families and crew being evacuated to the saucer before the Enterprise-D separated, and bracing for impact during the saucer’s final descent. Even the final captain’s log of “Generations” assured us that “casualties were light” following the crash on Veridian III. But in “Nemesis,” we never deal with the fallout of Picard’s decision– it simply happens, and that’s the end of it. As a result, we don’t care as much about this sequence as we should, because we’re meant to think those crew below decks simply weren’t important enough to invest our emotions. There is no human cost.
Note: I wish to be clear on one point: I am a great fan of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. He is an intelligent, thoughtful character, and he has many fascinating aspects well worth exploring. That said, the ‘action hero’ Picard we see in the final three TNG Star Trek movies isn’t quite the same man we saw in the TNG TV series, or even later on in “Star Trek: Picard.” Fortunately, “Picard” redeems the macho, movie-era Picard by once again showing us the caring, compassionate, vulnerable, thinking person’s hero we grew so fond of during those seven seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
While we don’t see much in the way of human cost below decks, we do see the luxe Enterprise-E bridge take quite a beating, and that’s something, at least. A helmsman is blown out into space after the forward section of the bridge is destroyed, briefly exposing the bridge to the vacuum of space before an emergency forcefield is erected. Not since the Enterprise-D’s saucer crash have we seen an Enterprise quite so trashed. There’s even a gag when Picard orders an incoming hail to be put “onscreen” before he catches himself, and realizes that there is no viewscreen.
Will Riker is one of those regular TNG characters who is given very little to do in this film, other than get married. So he is tasked with one bit of action during the movie’s climax–getting into a prolonged fight with the Reman Viceroy. The Viceroy, along with a squad of troops, boarded the ship during battle; most are killed by Worf and Riker, but the Viceroy jumps into a convenient Jeffries’ tube crawlspace. Since the Viceroy is one of the two beings who mind-raped Deanna, it seems ‘appropriate’ somehow that Will is the one sent to kick his ass. When the Remans boarded the ship, I kept wondering (even as I watched the movie theatrically for the first time), “Why doesn’t anyone simply tell the computer to turn up the lights?? The photosensitive Remans would be blinded.” I think I said those very words sitting in my theater seat. But no such logic is to be found anywhere in this film. Riker and the Viceroy fight mano e mano, until the Viceroy is sent plunging to his death, Palpatine-style, down a plunging steel shaft that’d be more at home aboard a Death Star (or even the Nakatomi building in “Die Hard”) instead of the 26 decks of the Enterprise-E. Once again, the Enterprise of the films isn’t a place for any sort of sensical spatial geometry–it’s as big as it needs to be. It’s now the Tardis.
With Shinzon’s decrepitude rapidly advancing, his head is now sporting thick green veins and his eyes are clouding over like a zombie, because disfigurement still equals evil in this shallow film. Picard beams aboard to stop the thalaron energy weapon, which is set to go off in a bunch of minutes (at least enough time for Shinzon and Picard to fight to the death, of course). After Picard beams over, the Enterprise’s transporter is disabled. The thalaron weapon’s ridiculously slow deployment, as well as the lack of suspense in the final fight, hinder what should’ve been an emotionally weighty final showdown. At the climax of the fight, Picard impales his already dying opponent with a bent piece of metal… but the younger man slides his torso along the protruding spike, quickening his demise, but not before getting a good last look at Picard. Meanwhile, Data disobeys orders and runs through an open airlock in order to fly across to the nearby Scimitar. Being an android, Data can survive in the vacuum of space, of course.
Data boards the ship, finding his captain standing near his slain ’nemesis’. Before Picard can protest, Data quickly places his personal transporter on Picard, beaming him back to the Enterprise. As Picard dissolves away in the transporter beam, Data simply says, “Goodbye.” Following Spock’s lead from “The Wrath of Khan”, Data then turns his phaser into the near-critical mass of the thalaron particle fountain and fires–destroying the weapon, the Scimitar, and himself. Self-sacrifice–there are few things more human. Yes, Data arguably dies too abruptly for some Star Trek fans, but I actually appreciated the brevity of his death. We don’t always die when it’s convenient, or when we have the time to make a pretty speech to our friends and loved ones. We die when we die. End of story. In a movie full of missteps, this is one thing that “Nemesis” really got right, even if it seemed to do so by accident.
Back on the shattered bridge of the Enterprise-E, Geordi and Troi watch in shock as the Scimitar explodes, seemingly with the captain and Data still aboard. From behind them Picard murmurs, and the crew is relieved to see the freshly-transported captain standing on the rear of the bridge. With lingering hope in her voice, Troi asks, “Data?” Picard shakes his head. The moment is very adult and very real. We’ve seen the crew deal with loss before (most memorably the late Tasha Yar in TNG’s “Skin of Evil”) but this was a character who’d been with them on the entire 15 year journey. Like Spock’s death in 1982, the seeds for the Data’s resurrection were sown within B-4, who (like McCoy in “The Wrath of Khan”) had Data’s memories dumped into his inferior brain shortly before he sacrificed himself.
Note: But unlike “The Wrath of Khan”, “Nemesis” was a box office dud, opening the same month as a “Harry Potter” sequel and a “Lord of the Rings” sequel. It looked like Data, for now at least, was going to have to remain dead.
There is a penultimate scene in Data’s quarters, as the main officers gather to toast their fallen comrade with a bottle of Chateau Picard. Not much is said, though Riker recalls meeting Data in the holodeck, as he struggled to whistle like a human being (“Encounter at Farpoint”). Data’s best friend, Geordi, merely smiles with tears in his synthetic eyes (he really should’ve been allowed to give a speech). One actor who gets to shine in this mess of a movie is Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi; she gets married, she gets attacked, she gets ‘revenge’ (we talked about that earlier), and her emotions speak for all of us as he collapses into her husband’s shoulders in tears. This scene is once again hurt for its brevity… the emotion isn’t allowed to seep into our pores as it did when Spock died. Riker then says his goodbyes to Picard, as he and Troi depart for their new assignment as captain and counselor aboard the USS Titan. It’s a time for change.
Note: While “Nemesis” may not be so great, one upshot is that Deanna Troi gets a lot more to do than usual. This is her best film since “First Contact” (her hilarious drinking scene with Zefram Cochrane). Kudos to Marina Sirtis.
The final scene sees Picard talking with B-4 about his late ‘brother’ Data’s wish to better himself. Poor B-4 is truly thick, comprehending nothing of what the captain is trying so patiently and eloquently to impart. Hoping to continue their conversation later, Picard gets up to leave the clueless android by himself. As he heads to the exit, he hears B-4 murmuring the lyrics to Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” Unable to remember the lyrics on his own, Picard helps him out with a line before leaving. The song’s message of irrepressible optimism tries to wrap this downer of an ending within a blanket of hope… maybe more of Data survived than we thought? Ultimately “Nemesis” is TNG’s wannabe answer to “The Wrath of Khan”, a film the Star Trek movie franchise has tried emulating without success. This is just another less-than-successful attempt.
Much of the material in “Nemesis” is later referenced in “Star Trek: Picard,” such as a new cover of “Blue Skies” (sung by series’ costar Isa Briones, who has a hell of a voice). “Picard” also catches up with Will and Deanna Troi, living in retirement on the rustic planet of “Nepenthe” with their daughter, Kestra (named after Deanna’s late sister), as well as the memories of their late son, Thaddeus (named after one of Will’s Civil War ancestors). Despite their personal tragedy, the Rikers’ marriage was indeed a solid one. “Star Trek: Picard”, in spite of its vocal detractors, untangles much of the mess left in the wake of “Nemesis.” It redeems much of it, in fact.
For those who didn’t appreciate the abrupt demise of Commander Data, we learn that surviving neurons from his memory download into B-4 left behind the seeds for the eventual creation of an entire race of Soong-type androids living on a remote planet after a ban on synthetic life forms. This ban also squelched an avenue of medical research that might’ve saved Thaddeus Riker’s life. At the end of “Picard”’s first season, Data, once again played by Brent Spiner in both practical and digital de-aging makeups, is finally allowed to give a proper goodbye to his former mentor and captain. It’s fitting that the two meet just as Jean-Luc Picard is preparing to make the transition into an artificial body himself. My only regret of this ‘second take’ of Data’s death is that he (still) never has the chance to say goodbye to Geordi LaForge, his best friend during TNG. Ugh!
All things considered, “Nemesis” is a deeply flawed film that raises many questions and does little to answer any of them, focusing instead on boring fisticuffs, phaser battles and other bits of repetitive action business. One of the reasons that the Star Trek movies were never quite as creatively successful as their lower-budget TV counterparts is that they forsook much of their ingenuity and creativity for the bigger canvas of the silver screen, trying to appeal to broader audiences while arguably alienating those more thoughtful elements that made them so successful on the smaller screen. While I appreciated Data’s death in “Nemesis,” I also think it’s more fitting that the character said his true final goodbyes on the home screen, because that is where Star Trek will always be the most comfortable.
“Star Trek: Nemesis” and “Star Trek: Picard” are available for streaming on CBS All Access right now in the United States, and Amazon Prime overseas. “Nemesis” is also available for rental on Prime and on YouTube ($2.99-$3.99 US). “Nemesis” and “Star Trek: Picard” can, of course, be purchased on Blu Ray/DVD via contact-free shipping through Amazon.com, among other retailers.
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic as well. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is nearing 239, 000 as of this writing (that number is increasing daily). So, for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public, and avoid crowded outings as much as possible.
Live long and prosper!