Nemesis is the worst Trek movie not just because it’s bad, but because it’s so glumly bad. Other Trek films have sucked ass, but at least the casts seemed to be having fun occasionally while doing it. In Nemesis, the crew of the Enterprise seems old and cranky. Part of that is probably from the actors merely growing older — as Brent Spiner has aged, his supposedly immortal Commander Data has developed bags beneath his eyes and gained a suspicious amount of weight — and part of it could be the actors struggling to adapt to how poorly written their parts are this time around.
The script for this piece of shit was written by John Logan. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay a few years after this for writing The Aviator. Logan’s turnaround from scripter of a shitty fantasy film to Oscar winner was even quicker than Akiva Goldsman’s. Unlike Akiva, that cocksucker, Logan is capable of being a decent writer. Just not here; Nemesis plays like the most expensive fan-film ever made. Logan got the job because he was a fan of the series, and he was an outsider who was supposed to bring a fresh voice and perspective to the film.
He wrote an undisciplined, juvenile piece of fan fiction. Virtually every established character is out of character; new characters, like the villain Shinzon, are vague and dull. Characters are thrown into situations seemingly for no other reason than Logan thought it would be cool. You catch a whiff of Logan’s nerdy “wouldn’t it be awesome?” reek in scenes like: Worf getting hammered at Riker and Troi’s wedding, Picard taunting Riker afterwards by calling him “Mr. Troi,” Picard bogging across the desert in a dune buggy, Data meeting his mentally retarded identical twin, Picard and Data flying a Romulan shuttlecraft through the corridors of Shinzon’s warbird, and oh, I could go on. Logan’s method of freshening up the franchise is to write everyone contrary to their long-established characters — Picard is now a wisecracking, adventure-seeking smartass, but only when Logan needs him to be — and throw them more or less randomly into underwhelming action sequences.
The director is Stuart Baird. He used to be an editor, which is unfortunate since the film suffers from noticeably poor editing in a few places, Picard and Data’s shuttlecraft flight through the Romulan ship being the most glaring example. Supposedly their thrilling escape from the clutches of the enemy, the sequence is so awkward and boring it’s like watching two Trekkies trying to fuck for the first time. Baird was an editor on Superman: The Movie; this movie would have been better served had he taken up the editing duties here and left the director’s chair open for someone who knew what the fuck they were doing. Was Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander Riker and did a fine job directing the previous two films, too expensive? I doubt that.
Nemesis aspires to be like other respected entries in the Star Trek film canon — and by “aspires to be like” I mean “blatantly rips-off.” It wants to give Picard an archenemy, as Kirk had Khan in Star Trek II; it wants to move the audience by sacrificing a beloved character — Data here, Spock in Star Trek II; it wants to be a closing chapter, a bookend to the adventures of Picard and crew, just as Star Trek VI was for Kirk and the crew of the original series. It fails miserably in all these respects — Shinzon is a laughably ineffectual villain, Data’s death seems contrived and arbitrary, and any sense of closure is negated by the crushing mediocrity of the rest of the film. This is a horrible note to go out on, and it’s a real shame the producers couldn’t do better for the final adventure of Captain Picard and company.
There is some closure. The best scene in the film is right at the end, when Riker, who has finally accepted promotion to Captain and been given command of his own ship, says goodbye to Picard. Seeing the characters part ways after fifteen years of television and film is the closest we get to a moving and meaningful scene, and it only works to the degree it does if you’ve been a Star Trek fan for awhile and had a pre-existing interest in Picard and Riker; there’s nothing in the film itself to make you give half a fuck about anyone.
Data gets blown up, Riker and Troi get married and move to another ship, Dr. Crusher takes a post at Starfleet Medical (which seems a step back for her — wasn’t that supposedly where she was during the second season of The Next Generation, when Gates McFadden left the show for a year and Diana Muldaur came on as Dr. Pulaski?), and Geordi and Worf seem to just keep on keeping on. The DVD has a deleted scene where Picard’s new first officer is introduced, a coma-inducingly generic young commander we’ve never seen before. If Logan wanted to give Picard a new first officer, what’s the matter with Worf? He’s apparently just there hanging around, with nothing specific to do, no actual position in the crew. One of the most entertaining and satisfying aspects of Worf’s time on Deep Space Nine was his evolution from a thick-headed, short-tempered security guard to a thoughtful and capable command officer. Promoting Worf to Riker’s old post at the end of the film would have at least given the character some closure, instead of just planting him behind a random console on the bridge.
Watching the Trek films again a few months ago, I was annoyed when I noticed for the first time how similar Nemesis was in several key ways to another earlier Trek film, its immediate predecessor, Insurrection. So much of the bonus material on the Nemesis DVD is devoted to interviews with cast and crew where they explain how much they wanted Nemesis to be fresh, to be different, to have fun with their characters and show other sides than had been seen before. It strikes me that so much of what Nemesis tries and fails to do, Insurrection attempts and succeeds. Insurrection has some humor and goofy moments (Picard, Worf and Data singing “A British Tar” while in the midst of a shuttlecraft chase; Data’s flotation device gag) which are actually funny, allows Picard to lighten up a bit without acting like a completely different character, and shows us an interesting corner of the Trek mythos (the Briar patch, home to the Son’a and the Bak’u) we’ve never seen before.
Insurrection was written by Michael Piller, who as a producer and writer on The Next Generation and co-creator of Deep Space Nine was certainly not the outsider Logan was. Piller’s film is sharper, wittier, fresher, and superior to Logan’s in every way. It’s a shame they didn’t just let Piller write Nemesis, since I’m sure he could have crafted a much more satisfying farewell than Logan did. Or better yet, they could have made Insurrection the final installment and quit while they were ahead.