Star Trek : Nemesis



USA 2002 : Stuart Baird : 117 mins

As movie franchises go, the Star Trek movies are a notoriously hit-and-miss affair. Even non-initiates may be are aware of the famed ‘odd-number curse’ which supposedly explains the crossover success of episodes II (Wrath of Khan, 1982), IV (The Voyage Home, 1986) and VIII (First Contact, 1996). It’s a neat theory, except for the fact that the audaciously Tarkovsky-flavoured episode VII, Star Trek : Generations (1994), is arguably the best of the lot – while VI, The Undiscovered Country (1991) isn’t regarded as anything special. And now episode X arrives to lay the curse once and for all – Nemesis turns out to be a distinctly ordinary slice of standard-issue futuristic hokum, guaranteed to delight established fans but containing very little to divert potential newcomers.

While previous episodes showcased meaty guest-turns from the likes of Alfre Woodard (First Contact) and Malcolm McDowell (Generations), here we have only an underused Ron Perlman, kitted out with the latest in his endless line of prosthetic disguises as the (nameless) right-hand man to Shinzon – the nefarious ‘nemesis’ of the title. Shinzon himself is played by British newcomer Tom Hardy, an actor who seems to have been cast mainly for his resemblance to a younger version of Patrick Stewart – Shinzon, we soon discover, is a clone of Stewart’s venerable Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard. Clones, doubles and the nature-nurture debate are the running themes of Nemesis, itself is a faithful reproduction of countless previous Trek outings.

After taking control of the planet Romulus, the vengeful Shinzon reveals himself as yet another planet-hopping megalomaniac wielding a doomsday weapon against Picard, the Enterprise, the intergalactic ‘Federation’ and, of course, planet Earth. That’s about it, plot-wise, although there are the usual shenanigans among the crew for the benefit of Trekkies. Picard’s long-time number two Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) finally marries Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and prepares to take control of his own Starship, which means a promotion for Enterprise android Data (Brent Spiner). Data, meanwhile, is bemused to discover a prototype of himself, named B-4 (Spiner again), though this turns out to be part of a trap laid by Shinzon to lure Picard into his grasp.

The exact whys and hows of the plot aren’t especially important, of course. This is space-opera by numbers, with all of the familiar elements in place: silly names, wigs and costumes, technobabble dialogue, CGI special-effects, explosions, arbitrary countdowns, etc, leading up to a climax featuring the heroic self-sacrifice of a long-running character that’s a near-perfect simulacrum of Spock’s demise at the end of Khan.

There’s certainly nothing very new or surprising on offer – notwithstanding Picard’s unconvincing promise that travelling to Shinzon’s planet represents a “journey into the unknown.” These Trek movies and TV shows have been running so long now that the cast and crew seem to find the whole process rather effortless – and while the general level of competence on both sides of the camera is high, a cosiness has set in that suggests everyone is stuck in a bit of a rut. The public seems to agree – Nemesis suffered the indignity of losing its opening US box-office weekend to the latest Jennifer Lopez vehicle, which must put something of a question-mark over the franchise’s future.

At least one more throw of the dice is warranted, however – Nemesis isn’t really a ‘handover’ movie in the mould of Generations, meaning Picard and co will have to pop up at the start of Star Trek XI when the Voyager team take the spotlight. Their leader Admiral Janeway is restricted to a brief cameo in Nemesis, but actress Kate Mulgrew deserves much more exposure – if only for the novelty value of seeing such an eerily accurate clone of Katharine Hepburn up on the big screen.

16th December, 2002
(seen same day: Warner Village Newcastle)

For the short version of this review click here

by Neil Young
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