Star Trek: Nemesis has aged surprisingly well. I’m not saying it’s a flawless film or a misunderstood masterpiece. It deserves pretty much all of the criticism it has received. I’m simply saying it has quite a few positive qualities I hadn’t noticed buried beneath the badness.
It had been more than 10 years since I last saw this movie when I finally gave it another shot last week. I was surprised to find myself enjoying it much more this time around. I’d like to share what Star Trek: Nemesis did right to find the good in this maligned movie.
Shaking Things Up
Right off the bat, you know this isn’t going to be a typical Star Trek film from the way it starts. Nemesis was the first film in the series that didn’t have opening credits. Sure, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had a pre-credit sequence, but there were still credits after that. By skipping the usual formalities, Nemesis tells us it has more important things to get to. There’s no time to waste getting right to the heart of enemy territory as we visit the Romulans on their home world. No film has done that before or since, so I appreciate that, as well.
Another welcome change comes in the form of the music. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek: First Contact is among my favorites in the entire series. It is equal parts beautiful and heart-pounding. The problem is Star Trek: Insurrection used pretty much the same opening musical cue from its predecessor over the main title and then a wussified version of the rest of it over the opening credits. That portended a lot of the laziness to come in that film. But Nemesis sounds totally different than either of those. Sure, it has a familiar sound when the main title comes up, but the rest of it sounds alien and hostile. This movie is clearly not trying to be First Contact.
I know, the villains’ plan to place a disassembled duplicate of Data on some random planet that has hostile natives who attack Picard’s away team doesn’t make sense. There are too many risk factors involved. Why not simply put the android aboard a spaceship in the Enterprise’s path to Betazed or put it somewhere else that it could be easily beamed up from? But whatever. I’m just taking the movie at face value, and all of this is meant to lead us to the film’s first action sequence.
For some reason, this time around I was able to look past the plot contrivances and simply enjoy the chase scene. One thing that really helped this scene has nothing to do with this film at all. I was reminded of similar scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road and Serenity. I swear, there’s a moment when a vehicle flips on its side and crashes into the camera, and it looks like it’s taken straight out of Fury Road. And the end to the chase comes when Data drives a vehicle off a cliff into the back of a shuttlecraft, just like what Mal’s crew does in Serenity. Granted, both of those films handled their chase scenes more expertly than Nemesis, but it’s fun to see the possible genesis for those scenes in this earlier film.
Pitiable (Not Pitiful) Villains
Every time I watch this movie, I find myself liking the villains more. Let’s start with B-4. The first time I saw this movie I was really annoyed with him. He’s like if season 1 Data were played like a 4-year-old. He’s a complete tool. But that’s the point of his character. Shinzon just thinks of him as a tool that allows him to get what he wants. But he can be much more than that if he chooses to be. He has potential beyond his programming, just as Data does.
I like the final exchange between Data and B-4 much better than the final one between Data and Lore in the episode “Descent.” Lore has always been a villain, so his final pleas to Data just come across as half-hearted and untrustworthy. And Data’s farewell lacks feeling. B-4, on the other hand, sounds like a terrified child, struggling to make sense of what’s happening to him. He literally has no control of himself and Data genuinely sounds sad (in his android way) to have to deactivate his brother. It rivals his emotional farewell to his dying daughter Lal in “The Offspring.”
Shinzon is similar. There are so many subtle moments that make me like him. All of his interactions with Captain Picard are filled with such yearning and malevolence just under the surface. He has a childlike desire to know about Picard and what makes him who he is, like a boy talking to his long-lost father who abandoned him at birth.
Shinzon’s talks about patience and curiosity give him a great deal of depth as a character. Sure, it doesn’t make logical sense for him not to grab Picard at the first opportunity and drain his blood on the spot. His survival depends on doing that, but he’s not just after survival. He wants his very existence to have meaning, and only Picard can give that to him. Picard alone can show Shinzon what he could have been had he been given half a chance to be good. It’s not enough to kill Picard. Shinzon must have some kind of satisfaction from killing the man he was cloned from, but this is constantly denied him. It’s truly tragic, and I find him to be more pitiable than any other villain in a Star Trek film.
Scimitar vs. Enterprise
The space battle between the Scimitar and the Enterprise is the best of the Next Generation films and among the best in the whole series this side of Star Trek (2009). That reboot film took the idea of fighting in space to a whole new level with its use of the vacuum of space and surprise attacks. But the extended fight in Nemesis deserves some praise, too. It hearkens back to the climax of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One thing that bothered me about that film is that the Enterprise never even attempted to shoot back while being bombarded with torpedoes from the cloaked Bird of Prey. Just shoot a whole spray of phaser blasts in the general vicinity the last torpedo came from and see if you can do any damage! Nemesis takes a more proactive approach, constantly coming up with creative ways to try to get around the problem of the Scimitar’s cloak. They even use Deanna Troi’s psychic ability to great effect.
However, crashing the Enterprise into the Scimitar is still a strange moment to me. Picard was desperate at that point, with virtually no weapons and no backup, but this attack isn’t particularly meaningful or smart, and it seems like Picard sacrificed a lot of people in the front decks of the ship just to moderately damage the Scimitar. It does knock out the Scimitar’s weapons and the Enterprise’s self-destruct capability, but it just feels like it should carry a bit more weight, having two giant spaceships crash into each other like that.
A Triple Double
With Picard and Data having doubles, it’s nice to see Will Riker also getting in on the doppelganger action in the form of the Viceroy. Riker and the Viceroy are both the first officer to the captain of their ships, they’re interested in Counselor Troi, they’re in charge of either kidnapping or protecting Picard, and they pull the same surprise attack on each other in a tense fight scene in a jefferies tube. I wish Riker would have killed the Viceroy in a more symbolic way than just kicking him in the face until he fell down a huge shaft. But other than that, the two offer another interesting take on the duality of characters, even if they aren’t the best utilized.
It’s been 13 years since Nemesis came out and nearly killed off the Star Trek franchise. Enough time has passed (and the series is back on strong enough ground) that it’s safe to say this isn’t the worst Star Trek film, nor is it even necessarily a bad film. It had worthy aspirations. It wanted to tell a good story and it’s certainly not boring. I’m not interested in tearing it down – I have learned to enjoy it for what it is. It’s not a great finale film like The Undiscovered Country, but the Next Generation crew already got a perfect sendoff with the final TV show two-parter “All Good Things.” Their four films were just icing on the cake.
Nemesis was a nice try. There’s too much good in this film for me to be too opposed to it.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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