Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Retro Review: Star Trek - Nemesis

 Lost amidst all of the 30th anniversary hoopla of now cult classics like Blade Runner and The Thing and Conan the Barbarian (as well as established classics like E.T., which beat up on those movies all summer, and maybe The Road Warrior too. I'd have to check, but that's not germane to this review) is the more important anniversaries, like, uh, Chasing Amy hitting the fifteen year mark. Or Good Will Hunting, and let's be honest here, if you'd asked the Cap'n which of those movies he's be watching again fifteen years later, younger me would be wrong in a big bad way. But we grow older and wiser, so we revisit things every now and then.

 Speaking of movies that aren't any good, Star Trek: Nemesis, unlike Chasing Amy, was maligned when it came out ten years ago (this December) for "ruining" the Star Trek: The Next Generation film series (and with competition like Generations and Insurrection, that's saying something). It broke the "even numbered film = good / odd numbered film = bad" rule of thumb for Trek films, and pretty much guaranteed we'd never see Captain Picard on the big screen again. In fact, Paramount handed the keys to the franchise over to JJ Abrams, who rebooted the whole franchise and (with the screenwriters) relegated Picard, Data, Worf, and Geordi to a comic book prequel that assured us they wouldn't be showing up with Chris Pine and company.

 For people who still want to argue that Nemesis "isn't that bad," I'll see you on the other side of the Mr. Plinkett review of the film. In fact, I'd almost considered just posting that as my "Retro Review" and writing "nuff said" because it covers almost all of the basis of why Nemesis is not, in fact, all right. It's yet another watered down retread of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which producer Rick Berman helpfully points out in the extras by explaining that Nemesis needed "a strong villain" because that's what made First Contact and Wrath of Khan successful. The jury is apparently out on what made The Voyage Home a bigger success, as its "strong villain" is a probe looking for humpback whales (SPOILER).

 Anyway, so the reason I thought Nemesis might be worth coming back to had nothing to do with B-4, the stupid "dune buggy" away mission, the pointless transposition of the Kirk / Khan storyline into a TNG movie, using characters not designed for action movies in a totally inappropriate context (the Plinkett review of First Contact, by the way, covers in some detail why the TNG movies failed even in success). It's not about the "mind rape" sequence of Ron Perlman as a creepy vampire bat Reman, the heretofore unknown "sister" species of the Romulans* who happen to look like a planet of Nosferatus, or even the Admiral Janeway cameo that confused me because I always understood that Voyager didn't end with the crew in the best esteem of the Federation. Mind you, I never watched Voyager, even the episode with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, so this is purely from a point of willful ignorance, although Trekkers I know have told me watching the series isn't worth my time.

 Where was I? Oh, right, Nemesis. It's hard to stay focused on such an unmemorable film. So I thought I'd check it out again because it was the only movie I associated Tom Hardy with until people started raving about Bronson**. In fact, it came as a surprise that Tom Hardy had a career resurgence (that continues to thrive) because he's so uninteresting as Shinzon, the Picard clone-turned-slave-turned-leader-of-the-Reman-Resistance that screenwriter John Logan opted to pair him with Ron Perlman as a vampire bat in order to make our villain vaguely menacing.

 But I did think it was cool to see a young Tom Hardy screen test with Patrick Stewart and more than hold his own, which doesn't really translate to Nemesis. In the movie, it's not clear what the hell Shinzon really wants to do, or what he cares about, or really anything. Instead we get stupid Brent Spiner slapstick (doubled!) and pointless chase scenes and an ultimately inconsequential story about an upset in the Romulan Empire after Shinzon wipes the Senate out. Why inconsequential? Well, for one thing, that supernova completely wiped out Romulus, causing Nero to go crazy and travel back in time in order to destroy Vulcan and then fail to wipe out Earth. So not only do the alternate universe Romulans still distrust the Federation, but now one of their own was responsible for killing almost all of the Vulcans and disrupting history, etc.

 Anyway, so needless to say that I was very impressed to see that Tom Hardy could be charismatic and menacing and have, well, screen presence after Nemesis. It's not his fault that the movie still sucks, and it's a testament to his work ethic in the studio system and beyond that it wasn't a career killer. Also, I don't hang it on director Stuart Baird (who also made Executive Decision and U.S. Marshals but also edited some much more impressive films), even though he gets a lot of grief for coming as a Trek "newbie" and making a movie like Nemesis. It's not totally his fault that Nemesis is a lousy Star Trek: The Next Generation movie, and the final action scenes between the Enterprise and the Scimitar look good. It's just the rest of the movie, including the awful wedding of Riker and Troi that kicks things off, that make the film so hard to sit through.

 So ten years ago this was what we had to point to and say, "well, maybe Insurrection wasn't the worst TNG movie they could possibly make after all." Now we have a odd-numbered Star Trek movie that almost everybody seems to like (Star Trek) and people are looking forward to the sequel to that. Patrick Stewart is crossing his fingers that Charles Xavier doesn't have a cameo in the Wolverine sequel and that maybe they'll just ask him to come back for X-Men First Class: Days of Future Past, and Jonathan Frakes is directing television after the one-two punch of Clockstoppers and Thunderbirds. Meanwhile, Tom Hardy was in Bronson, Inception, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Dark Knight Rises, and Lawless***. I did not see that coming, but at least something good came from such a limp closing to "classic era" Star Trek.

 * What this means for the implied connection over the series between Romulans and Vulcans has probably been explored in more depth on a Trek site I don't have time to look for, but are Remans also distantly related to Vulcans? Does it even matter?
** I haven't seen Black Hawk Down, along with several other Ridley Scott movies not featuring Tom Hardy, like G.I. Jane, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and anything after American Gangster and before Prometheus.
*** And coughThisMeansWarcough...

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