I went to see Star Trek: Nemesis. And it wasn’t bad. You might be thinking, this is not overly effusive praise…and you’d be right. I have no intention of avoiding spoilers, so be careful if you’ve not yet seen the film.
I have formulated a theory of Star Trek films. The theory is this: no Trek film is entirely good. There are often good bits, even great bits. But there’s always something that you don’t like at all, and you don’t like it enough that it stops the film being remembered as “good” in your mind. Therefore, no Trek film will ever be top on your list of great films. Evidence:
- First Contact: really good Borg Queen, Data, Picard-as-Captain-Ahab psychological bit. Ruined by the whole Cochrane and Lily “contemporary guys in the Star Trek universe” shtick. (This shtick is what comprised the whole of The Voyage Home, apart from the tree-hugger bits, which is why it’s the worst of all the films).
- Insurrection: cool stretchy-skin villains, Picard being masterful as a captain and rebelling, etc, etc. Ruined by Picard’s girlfriend, who teaches him how to stop time. Never see him use that little trick again, do we? Lame!
- Generations: Soran was an excellent bad guy, we got a Guinan origin story. Ruined by William Shatner being amazingly fat but still getting to ride a horse and whatnot. Bah! Mutton dressed up as slightly younger mutton.
Even the film that is by far the best of them all, The Wrath of Khan, is let down severely by the sheer idiocy of Kirk’s son. Didn’t you just want to punch his teeth down his throat? I would have, if I were James T.
Actually, if the truth is faced among us, tWoK is a not-very-good film which is elevated to enduring greatness by how unbelieveably marvellous Khan is. This goes to show what a good villain can do for your films, even if your good guy isn’t all that great. Look at Batman: OK good guy (Keaton tried hard but wasn’t given all that much to work with), fantastic bad guy (Nicholson gets let completely off the leash into insanity and portrays the Joker as a real out-of-control lunatic, and obviously loves it all the time he’s doing it).
So, we come to Nemesis. Unsurprisingly, it follows the above pattern. (Amazing, that, eh? Can I get a research grant now?) It has some great bits. Riker and Deanna get married (finally!) and Picard does a pretty good best man’s speech (but not as good as the one my best man did). Data dies, and it’s really emotional. Someone kills the whole Romulan Senate with this really cool rain of death weapon. But it has its big flaw, and the big flaw is this:
The villain is lame.
Yes, that’s right. The Picard-looking guy in the trailer, who you all thought was going to be the anti-Picard in the anti-Enterprise crew that they’d be up against? He’s not. And he’s pathetic.
There’s a scene in the trailer where we see Picard say, “I’m a mirror for you as well.” And the cool anti-Picard says, in tones of contempt, “Don’t be so vain“. Now, that’s a pretty compelling exchange. But it wasn’t in the film. Those lines were spoken, by those characters, in the same scene, but not one after the other. The bit in the trailer would have been a much better exchange than what we actually got.
Shinzon, the bad guy, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, is a clone of Picard, who suffered the torments of the damned throughout his childhood in the dilithium mines of Remus, Romulus’ twin planet. The premise here is that Picard himself would be reacting exactly as Shinzon does if he had gone through the same tortuous formative period. Now, this idea has a lot of power behind it. We’ve seen Picard tortured by his own perception of himself — witness Lily accusing him of being Captain Ahab in First Contact — and we’ve seen him brought low by physical torture in the episode Chain of Command (which is the one with the “There are four lights!” scene, but you knew that). And we’ve seen what being confronted with a double can do for you, with Will Riker and his transporter-created duplicate, Thomas. Shinzon has the potential to be a really compelling, charismatic villain. He could have been TNG‘s Khan. And yet how did he come across? As a spoiled, spiteful child, lashing out at the surrounding world in a pitiful revenge fantasy. This was a criminal misuse of a character. It really was. Confronting Picard with the way he could have been if the situation had been different should have shaken the captain’s foundation of self-belief to the roots, denying his firm conviction that he is a decent man to the core. The film tries to riff on this theme a little, but it doesn’t succeed, because Shinzon is no majestic villain with the power to carry it off, but instead a petty Caligula, spiteful and childish.
I’m getting a bit bored with planet-destroying weapons, too.
So, Nemesis: a film with a great potential, let down by a big flaw. Well, it’s nice to know that Star Trek is at least consistent.
Oh, one more thing. When you first saw the poster for the film (below), did you think, that’s Morpheus from The Matrix?