Star Trek: Nemesis is about to divide Star Trek fandom. At issue will be whether it is the best of the "Next Gen" movies.
Go see it.
The longstanding blessing/curse of Star Trek movies, according to which the even-numbered ones succeed while the odd-numbered ones are disappointing, is still intact. This tenth installment is good. Real good.
The movie opens with a brief interlude on Romulus — homeworld of the Romulan empire — where we learn of a possible plot against the Federation. But the film soon signals us to expect the unexpected. The Romulans may not be quite the bad guys we expect them to be.
Someone else may be even worse.
Nemesis is about pushing the envelope, about taking what we know of Star Trek and boldly going to places we’ve never seen the franchise go before. Often we’ve seen similar things — even very similar things — but not quite these things.
A good dose of the familiar comes as we meet the Enterprise crew. All of what we expect is there: the camaraderie, the bonhomie, the jokes. The characters haven’t seemed this funny in who knows how long. But don’t trust it. It’s the calm before the storm.
Even here the film is pushing the envelope. The film opens at a wedding reception; two cast members, it seems, have just gotten married. Since they are from different worlds, there also is another wedding ceremony still to come on the other’s homeworld.
The main cast is no longer trapped in amber — never changing their relationships, never getting promoted, never leaving the Enterprise. They’ve become unstuck.
It’s a sign of things to come.
Apparently on the way to the characters’ second wedding, the Enterprise is drawn by strange readings to a planet where events take an eerie turn. This itself is nothing new; many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation had a Twilight Zone quality about them. This movie does, too.
We meet Data’s (temporarily) dismembered android brother — not
the one we already knew from TV, Lore, who was permenently
dismembered during the series — but another one, a less-advanced
brother who came before Data and Lore. His name is
We also meet the new praetor of the Romulan senate, Shinzon of Remus (Tom Hardy) — who isn’t Romulan at all, but eerily resembles a younger Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart). Now the film has two sets of twins: Data and B-4 (Brent Spiner), and Picard and Shinzon.
Star Trek always has had odd echoes of Shakespeare, and the introduction of two sets of virtual twins takes on echoes of Shakespeare’s play "The Comedy of Errors."
Only this is no comedy.
The jokes and the light-hearted action of the first part of the film dissipate as we get farther into the action. More and more, we move from comedy to tragedy.
Star Trek: The Next Generation — filmed in the 1980s and 1990s — was always darker, more serious, more mature than the rollicking, campy fun of the original, 1960s Star Trek. After several movies trying (not that successfully) to imitate qualities of the movies that sprang from the original series, one gets the feeling that the "Next Gen" movie franchise is finally owning its own, embracing the difference between the two series.
In keeping with this, there is more character depth and complexity than we find in previous Star Trek movies. There also is more of a philosophical turn. In particular, we are faced with the question: Are we fated to be what we are? Are we just an inevitable playing out of hardware and its programming, of DNA coupled with life-experience?
The answer that the film poses to the question is correct. It isn’t articulated as well as it could be, but the film makes the right point: We are more than just the sum of our parts, more than just biology plus biography. We have free will. We can be what we choose to become.
That’s the main point.
Of course, there are many minor matters as well. Among them are the chances that we get for closure by seeing certain characters. One of these is Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain (now Admiral) Janeway. After an arduous, multi-year trek across the galaxy, she jovially tells Picard that he always gets "the easy assignments."
Another is Dr. Crusher’s son Wesley, whom we see in the background at the wedding reception. There was more footage filmed of him, providing his character also with some closure (after the horribly inept send-off he got in the TV series), but it got cut from the film. We’ll have to wait for the DVD release to see it.
We also learn more about the Romulan empire, including Romulus’s second homeworld, Remus. Long-time fans of Star Trek will know that the Romulan empire is loosely based on the Roman Empire. In legend, Rome was founded by two twins: the superior twin Romulus and the subordinate twin Remus. Similarly, there has always been an indication that there were twin homeworlds for the Romulan Empire. The name of this second, subordinate world has been unclear. One early episode of the original Star Trek series unexpectedly implied that it was named Romii. Nemesis establishes that the planet Romulus’s twin is actually named Remus.
We get to meet the inhabitants of Remus. But they aren’t the almost-Vulcan Romulans that we’d expect. Instead, they’re extraterrestrial Count Orlocks, sprung from a twenty-fourth century Nosferatu.
There is much in this film that reaches back into the history of the Star Trek franchise and pushes it forward — things that we had always wondered about but had never seen. Sometimes the reaching back takes the form of deliberate allusions to prior Star Trek films (I can’t tell you which ones without spoiling what you’ll see).
We also see (important emphasis) allusions to other classic sci-fi films. There are visual references to Star Wars, The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Alien, and even the TV-series Babylon 5. (A nice gesture after the rivalry the two franchises had on the small screen.)
The special effects are stunning — not merely dazzling, but stunning. Most sci-fi movies try to dazzle the audience with amazing patterns of light and color. There is razzle-dazzle in Nemesis, but this film also uses its effects to stun the audience, which watches in silence as particular special effects hang on the screen in front of them. (I’m trying very hard to resist the line "Set special effects on stun, Mr. Sulu!")
Occasionally when the film pushes the Star Trek envelope, it does so in completely unexpected ways. There’s one point in Nemesis when Captain Picard desperately tries to pull out an ace in the hole — an ace that has been there for him and every other series captain — only to have it suddenly disappear.
This, however, is nothing compared to the desperate move he makes at the film’s climax — a move that leaves him so psychologically stunned that his and the Enterprise’s very survival is in jeopardy.
In the end, Nemesis pushes the "Next Gen" movies in a darker direction than they have gone before. It is not, however, an area darker than "where no man has gone before." There are deliberate allusions to what Star Trek has given us in the past.
There also is a substantial amount of foreshadowing in this film. This happens down to its very last line when, after a dark climax, there is a clear ray of hope.
Whether this hope will be explored remains to be seen. The advertising for the film implies that Nemesis is "a generation’s final journey." It may be this in the sense that the "Next Gen" characters will never be the same. But by the end of the film there is a sequel begging to be made — as the actors and the film’s screenwriter, John Logan (Gladiator) have indicated.
Whether that sequel is ever made will be determined by how well this film does at the box office.
Go see it.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.