The problem with reviewing any Star Trek film is that it is a no-win situation from the point of view of both the fan and the anti-fan. If I praise it, I will be accused of being a Trekker. If it slam it, its because I dont like Trek in general and diss the flick on principle. I could tell you that the truth lies somewhere in between, but such a protestation would be met with only skepticism and perhaps just a touch of condescension.
Alas, the news is good for neither cinephiles nor fans, though that wont stop the latter from giving STAR TREK: NEMESIS a boffo opening weekend. Thats just the way things are. This is a turgid bit of filmmaking that tarries too long in its farewell to its NEXT GENERATION cast in this its swan song. As with all Trek films, there are special moments with each of the regulars, but unlike THE WRATH OF KHAN or THE VOYAGE HOME, those moments arent worked into the plot. Instead, as with the wedding of Riker (a still-expanding Johnathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) that opens the film, schmaltz is the order of the day as those of us interested in plot quietly cool our heels waiting for things to get underway. Even Patrick Stewart, an actor of immense charisma, power and presence cant rise above the cutesy toast that Picard is forced to give the happy couple, so rife is it with clichés, wan humor, and catching us up with all the goings one with the crew since last we met.
Riker finally has his own command and Troi will be not only the captains wife, but also his ships counselor. Data (Brent Spiner) will be Picards new first officer. Worf (Michael Dorn), whos carrying a torch for Troi, will eventually stop drowning his sorrows with Romulan ale at the reception and resume his post on the Enterprise as security officer, Crusher (Gates McFadden) is still the ships doctor, and dont make me go down the rest of the list.
But as with all movies, a joyous occasion is just so much filler until things get dangerous and in short order. Before you can say make it so and before Riker gets to his new ship, the gang notices a positron emission from a distant planet and is hot on the trail. If that last sentence made no sense, dont worry, everything is explained and then explained again with enough exposition to make you scream I get it already.
Meanwhile, on Romulus, theres been a coup and the new head of that empire is an native of Romulus twin planet, Remus. This is odd because the Remans as a race are the underclass. But theyre an underclass with a nasty new weapon and what would a Trek film be without a snazzy new weapon that gives the effects people a chance to strut their stuff?
Eventually the crew finds yet another of Datas android prototypes, this one a particularly annoying precursor given to asking questions such as Why is that mans head shiny referring to Picard. In a nice twist, they also discover Shinzon, the clone Picard never new he had, the one that was created as part of a nefarious Romulan plot that never took off. And not only is he a chip off the old block, hes also the Reman now in control of the Romulan Empire. Hes also more photogenic than the Remans, who look like deaths heads in very badly tailored robes. Shinzon, on the other hand, wears very snazzy black outfits with nipped in waists and flowing cloaks. He also wears a shaved head, so that the slower among us can glom onto that clone thing more easily. Tom Hardy as Shinzon does a credible job as a younger, twisted version of Picard, partly thanks to a splendid prosthetic chin and nose, but mostly by reproducing that commanding presence I was talking about earlier. When this guy says hes going to take over the galaxy, you believe he just might do it. Still, hes saddled with the same cliché-ridden dialogue that everyone else is.
Unfortunately, he makes these sorts of pronouncements in almost total darkness. The Remans, for reasons that dont bear going into here, prefer the dark and even when Shinzon turns up the lights, its still all but black-on-black up there on screen. Even the shots on the Enterprise are dark, perhaps to spare our eyes having to make radical adjustments during the 113 minute running time. Or to save us from seeing a series of special effects that are not so much special as competent. That combined with plodding direction by Stuart Baird that allows for no suspense or thrills and you have a waste of time and franchise loyalty. And dont even get me started about why Data the android is showing the jowly signs of aging.
There is, as a saving grace and a harkening back to what the Trek franchise can be at its best, an intriguing look at the implications of human cloning. When Shinzon muses on what exactly he is, created in a lab to be someone elses ghost, hes hit on something deep and timely. The further ethical question, of someone being cloned without his or her knowledge, much less consent, makes for even more interesting fodder for thought. Not here, though, screenwriter Josh Logan working with a story co-credited to himself, Rick Berman, and Data himself, Brent Spiner, has pulled his punches and went for pop philosophy lite and another series of cutesy moments with the crew as they once again affirm their affection and respect for each other at every turn. We are strictly going through the motions here folks, with a script that recycles what was good about this series the first dozen or so times we saw it, adds a dash of thudding dullness, and serves it up with all the verve of a nap.
My advice, pop the DVD of KHAN or VOYAGE or, heck, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY in your player and savor how good this franchise can be. If we all collectively ignore NEMESIS, it will go away. I promise.