Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: Nemesis

4 years had passed since Star Trek: Insurrection was released and the popularity of the Star Trek brand was in decline. Voyager had just ended its run, Enterprise was still on the air but the ratings were shit and Insurrection had left a bad taste in some fan’s mouths. The studio should have seen that making Star Trek: Nemesis when they did was probably a bad idea. If it was made a couple of years earlier things might have gone differently for the franchise. The tenth film in the series marked the end of an era and Star Trek was dead in the water after its release.

Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew are beginning to move on with their lives and careers. A coup on Romulus gains the attention of Starfleet and the Enterprise is assigned to investigate. They discover that the insurrection is led by the charismatic Shinzon of Remus (Tom Hardy) who is a clone of Captain Picard and intends to use his forces to wipe out the human race.
As with my review of Star Trek: First Contact I am probably going to upset some people with my review of Star Trek: Nemesis. Out of all the Next Generation cast’s films I found this to be the best of the bunch. It’s definitely not a perfect film by any means, far from it actually. The movie follows The Wrath of Khan’s outline to a “T”, way too many great moments were excised and left on the cutting room floor for pacing purposes (at least I was able to see them on the DVD), there are some plot points that are kind of dumb (Shinzon’s mind raping) and one character’s ultimate sacrifice comes out of nowhere. On the other hand this is a fast, fun and unforgiving entry in the series and features some of the best outer space dogfight action I’ve ever seen.

The main reason I enjoy this movie so much is the idea behind Shinzon being Picard’s “mirror”. I have always loved stories that show a character the “what if…?” version of themself and have to confront the fact that he or she could have headed down any of these different paths under the right circumstances. It’s one of the reasons I love TRON: Legacy so much. But in Nemesis we see Picard shaken to his very core which is something that has never really happened before. Not only does he feel violated because someone cloned him, but he also sees that when he was the age Shinzon is in the film he acted in many of the same ways, sans genocidal tendencies. Could he have ended up becoming a monster himself if he didn’t get his shit together at one point (and maybe getting stabbed through the heart by a Naussican helped him grow up as well)? We see him ponder all these questions over the course of the movie, and when he shatters that mirror in the finale we see that he has lost a part of himself as well. This is the Star Trek I love. The commentary and ideas are all fine, but The Next Generation was all about its characters and this is one damned fine study of one of them.
The “mirror” through line also applies to Data when he finds another android in his likeness, the B4. Basically it’s a prototype with basic cognitive skills, but Shinzon is using it to gain an advantage over his older self by having it spy on the Enterprise crew. We get a different take on Picard’s arc because Data gives up on his “brother”, unlike Picard who is constantly trying to bring his younger self back from the brink of darkness. But in the end, something good comes of it and Data could actually live on through his doppelganger. Maybe the tough love aspect wins out over the peaceful approach? Who knows? These aspects are the reasons why I keep revisiting this sequel as often as I do.

Patrick Stewart once again delivers a fantastic performance as Picard and takes him to some dark places. From his Best Man speech at Riker and Troi’s wedding to his “Blue Skies” quotation at the end, he puts his all into this film. Brent Spiner’s Data, once again emotionless, has a few good scenes. Jonathan Frakes, who is acting and not directing, has some fine moments with his new wife and at one point goes to kick some ass to right a wrong done against her. Marina Sirtis does as well and fights back against her mind rapist in a creative way. Michael Dorn is handed some awkward lines to deliver (“Very astute”), but he has always impressed as Worf and here’s no different. LeVar Burton isn’t in a whole lot of the film, but is able to shine in the end in a scene that manages to affect me every time I see it. Gates McFadden basically gets the shaft here and is in maybe 5 minutes of the entire flick. Most of her character’s scenes were cut out, one explaining that after the current mission she’s leaving the Enterprise to accept a teaching position at Starfleet Medical.
While I do like "The Man Who Would Be Bane", Tom Hardy, as an actor, I felt like he wasn’t right for this role. Sure he gives a decent performance, but he looks nothing like a young Picard. He’s a hell of a lot taller, his face is shaped differently and I just don’t see the link at times. That picture of a young Picard at the Academy with a shaved head was a weak attempt to pull this off. I always felt that the original casting choice of Jude Law as Shinzon would have been fantastic, but that didn’t happen. I’m not bashing Hardy at all as he pulls it off for the most part.

Writer John Logan (Gladiator, The Last Samurai, Rango, Skyfall) is obviously a Trekker and pulled ideas from the best film in the series to fill out his screenplay. He does a lot right and some wrong as well. He makes Shinzon an interesting character, but his motivation for wanting to destroy Earth is not fully explored. Basically he just wants to do it because he can. I would have liked to have his reasoning been a little more fleshed out. You’d think that he’d want to destroy Romulus more than Earth with all his talk of how the Romulans are such a horrible race. Granted, a lot of the movie’s faults I can’t put squarely on his shoulders since all the parts that would have explained away all my issues were edited out of the final cut of the film. He does know the franchise inside and out and that’s a plus. It shows in the final product.
Director Stuart Baird, who was not familiar with Star Trek before taking the job, was a fresh set of eyes that this franchise needed. After Jonathan Frakes slogged his way through Insurrection the franchise needed to be realigned and put back on track. For the most part Baird did just that. He made everything fresh again, as well as keeping it familiar. Being an editor by trade, Baird knew just what he needed to shoot to fill out his story, make it just flashy enough to keep things looking visually impressive and focus on the actors and the story. Sure he also manages to put together one of the best action scenes this series has ever seen (the last 30 minutes of the film). His big misstep is all the choices he made in the editing room. There was some great stuff he had removed, like Picard’s “It’s as if a part of me was stolen!” scene with Troi were he goes into his feelings regarding his clone, the turbolift mind rape scene, Data and Picard talking about family and sacrifice which is just the hint we needed to make Data’s death hit harder later on, a proper introduction to Shinzon (it was shot in such a way that it was unusable) and a fantastic scene to go out on where Picard welcomes his new first officer. Sure they would have put the runtime well past 2 hours if they remained intact, but I am willing to watch a film of any length as long as it’s good. You dropped the ball dude. I hope we get an extended cut at some point. Seriously.

There’s cool action adventure stuff (seeing the ships actually battling three dimensionally was rad), great character work and more Trek than you can shake a stick at. So why does this flick get as much shit as it does? I am at a loss because I love it. And don’t forget, this was to be the first part of a Next Generation crew trilogy of films, not unlike The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home. The tag line was “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins”. I can only imagine what would have come after if that journey continued and finally came to an end.
Star Trek: Nemesis was a massive financial failure and only barely broke even at the box office. It’s a shame really since I felt that there were definitely more adventures that could have been had with this cast. Sadly that wasn’t in the cards. After this the brand went belly up, Enterprise was cancelled not long after and there were no plans to continue with the franchise at all. As far as I was concerned they went out with a bang. Suck it haters!

4 out of 5

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