Star Trek: Nemesis Review
Few fixtures in the popular imagination have lived quite as long or prospered quite so well as the Star Trek franchise. Like Spock, Star Trek may have lost its way and died on occasion, but its exceptionally loyal fan base has always pulled it back from the sci-fi graveyard currently orbited by Battlestar Galactica. For all its dubious blend of manifest destiny, self-righteous humanism and interstellar fashion crimes, Star Trek has always tried to tackle the big “universal” questions, and that’s what makes it so enduring. From its progressively liberal viewpoint – which nevertheless continues to feature fewer black or Asian characters than whites – it takes new worlds and new civilisations as its broad canvas, and uses equally broad strokes to paint glimpses of humanity’s potential. Famously, it featured television’s first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura, and in this latest installment, questions whether humans can be more than the sum of our DNA.
But even before the Next Generation decreed swarthy moustaches looked better on Klingons with bigger, bonier foreheads, Kirk’s universe always seemed more vast, interesting and worthy of exploration than the one Luke Skywalker dreamed of. And whatever you think of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise, they pushed the final frontier that little bit further, even if it was just the politically correct gestures of a black captain, a female captain, or Scott Bakula in his most wayward quantum leap yet. The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and whatever other bits of old rope George Lucas still has lying around, look incestuously recycled by comparison: It’s not Boba Fett, it’s his mass-produced Dad; it’s not wise old gooseberry Yoda, it’s younger, arse-kicking Yoda. And the droids are just camping it up again.
Of course, every franchise comes under strain over time, and if Bond needs a succession of actors to uphold his longevity, libido and licence to kill, then the tagline for Nemesis – a “generation’s final journey” – suggests that Star Trek might also soon pass the torch to one of its spin-off crews. Like Roger Moore as 007, Kirk and the original crew hung around slightly too long, their middle-age paunches evoking nostalgia, but stretching their credibility as Starfleet’s elite. Levar Burton, who plays Geordi La Forge is certainly courting a spread here and there’s an underlying sense that Jean-Luc Picard and the rest are looking forward to retirement. But there’s enough loopholes left in Nemesis’ plot to make you suspect they might stretch it out to another mission yet.
That said, this 10th big screen outing starts less than promisingly. Patrick Stewart is a commanding actor, a man gifted with the ability to deliver even the most clunking dialogue with conviction, but watching Picard’s best man speech at the wedding of Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is to watch him finally come undone, and no amount of subsequent Shakespeare quoting can erase the horrible memory. Combined with the hungover, rumbling Worf (Michael Dorn) and a singing Data (Brent Spiner), this opening scene establishes a sense of schmaltz that is dispensed with mercifully quickly, the plot eventually kicking off with a Mad Max-style chase across a desert planet.
From here on in, the theme is one of mirror images. “Through a looking glass darkly,” Picard intones in his best bardic voice, as the planet Remus stages a coup d’état to conquer its sister world Romulus, before a genetic clone of Picard named Shinzon decides to destroy Starfleet (Tom Hardy). Shinzon is the image of the captain when he was a reckless young buck, and no, it’s never properly explained. Spiner, who co-wrote the story, also plays an android prototype called B-4, a more child-like version of Data. It’s Data’s and Picard’s story, as they both confront their doubles and their mortality, but by far the most impressive performance comes from Hardy. His portrayal of a tortured child, brutally beaten into adult villainy gives depth to what is otherwise just your average mad, evil, genius hell-bent on destroying Earth. He’s essentially the Borg, but with sexual charm and menace.
All in all, it’s a decent addition to the series, despite director Stuart Baird’s preference for excessive corridor shoot-outs. Riker’s mano-a-mano tussle with Shinzon’s Viceroy seems particularly unecessary for example, though he is granted an unusually steamy bedroom scene with Troi. But these are minor quibbles following the let-down of Star Trek: Insurrection, and Nemesis should satisfy most Next Generation fans. Look out for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.
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