As you may already know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the most recent Star Trek films. Instead of fitting the more thoughtful tone, relaxed atmosphere, and steady pacing that made the classic Trek TV shows so timeless, they mainly (“mainly” meaning every one of them except 2009’s surprisingly solid Star Trek, which still had some major issues of its own) relied on mindless, repetitive sci-fi action to move everything along. This may have entertained some, but if we’re being frank here, it left me rather bored. So imagine my surprise when my family watched Star Trek Nemesis, a fairly older Trek film that fit all the franchise’s best aspects, and it turned out to be just as bland as anything whipped up in 2013’s Into Darkness or 2016’s Beyond. What a shame.
For all you non-Trekkies back home, Nemesis is the fourth—and, unsurprisingly, the final—Trek film to star the crew of the beloved sequel series Star Trek: The Next Generation, including Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Commander/Captain William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner), and Lieutenant Commander Worf (Michael Dorn). After an opening governmental debate (that is, a governmental debate between warring alien species) that doesn’t end well at all, the film transitions to Picard marrying Riker and Commander Deanna Troi on the Starship Enterprise, right with the entire rest of the ship’s crew.
Apparently, the film originally had far more of these more character-driven scenes, but they were cut out in order to focus on its central conflict: the Enterprise’s battle with an evil clone of Picard, Praetor Shinzon (Tom Hardy). Despite how genuinely interesting this premise sounds, it is where Nemesis ironically falls the most flat.
The thing is, in order for a plot like this to work, it really has to drill deep into the lead character’s psychology, and apply that to the clone/twin/identical lookalike they wind up facing. (Coincidentally, a couple films that are really high up on my watchlist—Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy and, to a lesser extent, Richard Ayoade’s The Double—cover very similar subject matter, and I’m incredibly anxious to see how they deal with it.)
Unfortunately, Shinzon doesn’t just fail at being a twisted, yet chillingly recognizable version of Picard (in fact, I didn’t even know he was supposed to be that until looking it up on Wikipedia just now), but is virtually indistinguishable from any other stale Trek villain. He has no charm, no personality, no memorable dialogue, and no real motivation other than “I was poorly treated and enslaved as a child so I’m really evil now, muah ha ha ha.” Yawn.
Yes, I know that if any of you are going to watch this, it isn’t really going to be for a deep and nuanced storyline. It’s to spend some nice time with the Next Enterprise’s crew, cheer them on as they evade danger, and switch your brain off as things start blowing up. On that level, Star Trek Nemesis admittedly does succeed as enjoyable-enough comfort food, an extended Enterprise episode that won’t outstay its welcome for any fans of the show.
On any other level, however, it’s really just a shallow, formulaic sci-fi thriller that does almost nothing to justify its own existence, so at the end of the day, I can’t call it anything more than “mildly watchable.”* Or at least, I couldn’t if there wasn’t a certain death that, in addition to genuinely surprising me, serves as a nice little coda for the Enterprise universe. It also would have been far more impactful if the film was better-written, but let’s not get greedy now.
*To be perfectly honest, that’s a description that’s also applicable for most of the other Next Enterprise films I’ve seen over the years… though First Contact is actually pretty good from what I recall. I’ll have to watch it again to be sure about that, though.