There is a website that unfortunately isn’t updated nearly as often as I would like. It’s called 10YearOldMovies.com and the guys over there post reviews of flicks on their tenth anniversary. Some of them are really funny, some less so, but they are all an entertaining read. Inspired by them, and his imminent return to franchise baddie duty in The Dark Knight Rises, today I have elected to watch Tom Hardy’s 2002 big screen debut*.
Never let women drive starships.
After Riker and Troi’s wedding, the Enterprise is sent to Romulus to hear a proposal for peace from the new Emperor, Shinzon. As it turns out, Shinzon is actually a clone of Captain Picard and – surprise, surprise – wants to destroy the Federation. The crew of the Enterprise has to find and destroy Shinzon’s much bigger and more heavily armed ship before shit meets fan. Meanwhile, Data discovers a long-lost brother.
This film has been referred to as the “franchise killer” so much over the last ten years that I basically just accepted it as truth without seeing frame one. This fact is made even more egregious when I tell you that between the ages of 7 (when Next Generation started) and about 16 or so, I was a complete Trekkie. I had a model of the Enterprise in my bedroom that I had built myself; I had the books and the tapes, hell, I even went to a convention once. But here’s the thing: it’s really not that bad. Although, at the same time, it kind of is.
The first mistake on producer Rick Berman’s part was hiring a director who freely admits (in the fucking DVD extras!) that he had never seen any Star Trek before and wasn’t really a fan of science fiction anyway. Stuart Baird is primarily an editor who had only directed twice before: Executive Decision and US Marshals. These two films, while fun, are both basically a string of action scenes with some exposition in between, whereas Trek is traditionally more about the characters. That’s where it’s strength has always been. Jonathan Frakes understood that when he took the reins for the two flicks before this one. Of course First Contact was a bit scrap happy, but it had the motivations that were carried over from the series, as well as all the stuff with Riker and Geordi and Cochrane down on Earth to break things up. Ultimately, Nemesis feels like a lot of fighting and shooting that I felt I should care about, but just didn’t.
There are a few things about this movie that do work quite well, chief among them being Hardy as the almost Bondian bad guy Shinzon. Never afraid of a bit of prime monologuing, he is a much better villain than poor F. Murray Abraham in Insurrection. He gets quite the backstory too; created as part of a plan to eventually replace Picard within Starfleet, he was abandoned after a change in the Romulan government caused the idea to be scrapped, and grew up in a Reman prison mine where he fell under the protection of Ron Perlman. By the way, am I the only one seeing some unusual-for-Star-Trek subtext in that relationship? The effects in the flick are fairly good considering the budget, using a mix of CG and miniatures for the ship battles, although Stuart Baird seems to have some kind of fetish for explosive decompression. All three films he directed have featured this uniquely unpleasant way to die.
After fifteen years, the main cast all know these characters inside out and back to front, but the script by John Logan – with story credit by Logan, Rick Berman and Brent Spiner – has some continuity problems when taken into the context of the series. Things like Data’s emotion chip and Wesley Crusher’s fate are just ignored, not to mention the fact that Worf had actually left Starfleet at the end of Deep Space 9 to become the Federation ambassador to the Klingon homeworld (I would put the name of the planet here, but I think I have shown myself to be quite enough of a geek by now).
There are two problems that have faced all the Star Trek movies to one degree or another. These same problems actually apply to all film adaptations of television series, but particularly Trek due to its pervasiveness and the “return to status quo” episode structure it had. Those problems are scale and consequences. The scale issue is much easier to deal with, even if only because of the higher budget and longer production schedule than that afforded the show. Consequences is where more of the difficult issues lie. In this universe, the only way to really reflect true consequences at the end of the story is to kill a whole bunch of people. Or just one. In Star Trek 2 – altogether now… KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!! – it was Spock who went to the big transporter room in the sky after sacrificing himself to save the ship, albeit surviving just long enough for a goodbye speech that still brings a tear to my ear after the countless times I’ve seen it. This movie couldn’t be ripping that idea off any harder, right down to the last minute bait-and-switch. Just in case I’m not the only person who hasn’t seen this yet, I’m going to refrain from naming any names. Actually, fuck that: Data blows up Shinzon’s ship at the last second before it releases its weapon, with him still on board. The problem is that we have become so inured to the constant reset button in this franchise that even something like this loses a lot of the emotional capital that it should have, and the hesitant reprise of Blue Skies by B4 really does not help. Even if this wasn’t originally meant to be the last Next Gen movie, I’m glad it was, just so I don’t have to sit through a Search For Data episode.
*Except for a small part in Black Hawk Down. He played Twombly, the one who got shot in the leg and bled out through a ruptured femoral artery.