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Star Trek Nemesis
Movies so Bad, They HAD to Reboot the Series
Some movies are bad. Others are so bad, their sequels pretend they never happened. But these films retroactively taint the entire franchise; they travel back in time and murder their own grandfather; they're movies so bad, they HAD to reboot the series.
The Original Movies
Even diehard fans of the show had trouble embracing the films based on Star Trek: The Next Generation. None quite captured the magic of the television series. And poor Patrick Stewart got the Conan O'Brien treatment, forced to share the spotlight with his aging predecessor. After writing off Captain Kirk, the movies began to find their stride. First Contact was a fun, Earth-based battle against the Borg. Insurrection was slow paced, but arguably the closest anyone's gotten to filming a theatrical version of a TV show.
After Phantom Menace hit, Trekkies was eager to show George Lucas how it was really done.
And, credit where credit is due, they did one-up George Lucas. Because nobody kills a franchise like Paramount.
The Sequel that Killed the Series
There are two ways to criticize a Star Trek movie. You can target big picture problems, the kind of stuff that would bother even the most casual observer, or you can go after tiny imperfections only a laser-focused fanboy could spot. You won't find much of the latter here, simply because I don't have the required technical knowledge or custom form-fitting Skant. Lucky for me, Nemesis has problems so big, you can spot all the way from the Delta Quadrant.
Star Trek Nemesis was a released on Paramount's 90th anniversary. It was the golden age of Paramount, back when they spent most of their time launching Enterprise and shutting down Star Trek fansites.
The first sign something had gone horribly wrong was the Nemesis teaser trailer:
"A Generation's Anal Journey Begins."
See what I mean about big-picture problems? You don't have to be card-carrying Trekker to catch that. All you need are eyes. Eyes and enough common sense to know it's probably not the best idea for movie ads to read like a crumpled flyer from the Castro district. Unfortunately, the typography showed no signs of improvement.
You know who gets away with using backwards letters? Russians and babies. Unless Star Trek Nemesis was written by a Russian baby, we're off to a bad start.
The film opens in the Romulan Imperial Senate, no doubt due to Phantom Menace driving up demand for Sci-Fi senate meetings. The Romulan military is arguing for an alliance with Shinzon, rebel leader of the Remens. Together, they could conquer the Federation.
When the Romulan Praetor declines, one of his Senators excuses herself. She leaves behind her purse, which her colleagues are surprised to find contains a deadly Thalaron radiation generator, rather than the usual smartphone and Vulcan eyeshadow. The entire Romulan senate is wiped out by highly visible radiation, and Shinzon elects himself the new Romulan Praetor.
At the wedding of psychic Deanna Troi and bearded Kirk-substitute William Riker, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is wearing everyone out with a little good natured bitching. He may have been forced to promote Data to First Officer, but that doesn't stop him from telling his android sidekick to "shut up" in front of everyone. (You don't invite Picard to a wedding an expect him not to make an ass of himself.)
After the wedding, the Enterprise picks up a strange signal originating from a planet at the edge of the Romulan Neutral Zone. A signal that indicates there might be (yet) another android like Data.
What's a Starfleet captain to do when a pre-warp civilization has something they want? They hop in a fully-armed dune buggy and they take it! The planet's sun gives the rocky desert a bleached out look. The away team must follow blips on a mini-map to gather six robotic body parts. I hated this mission in Borderlands.
The final signature leads them to a shocking discovery: Data's head! Or at least, another Data's head. The head acts clueless and childlike. Before they can get any answers, locals show up, guns blazing. Then Data, who spent the whole ride complaining about Picard's unsafe driving (in a scene right out of my uncoming fanfiction, Driving Miss Data), pilots the dropship by remote control, parking it twenty feet past the edge of a cliff.
The android turns out to be a prototype, made by the same doctor who created Data. The head doesn't remember much of anything. All he has to offer are innocent wisecracks like: "Why does the man have a shiny head?" and "Why does the tall man have a furry face?" and "Why did a two-part episode of TNG do more with the concept of a second Data than this $60 million movie?"
Data: "Do you remember your name?"
Head: "I am B-4."
Picard: "B-4. Dr. Soong's penchant for whimsical names seems to have no end."
Get it? He's called B-4 because he was made before Data!
You don't need a lot of background information about Star Trek to know B-4 is a terrible name, you just need to know that's not how people name things.
When I was a kid, I read an Encyclopedia Brown mystery where the boy detective was asked to authenticate a sword. The antique weapon was inscribed: "To Thomas J. Jackson, for standing like a stone wall at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861." Encyclopedia Brown immediately spotted the fake, because at the time of the inscription, there WAS no second battle. If only the boy detective had been hired to rewrite this script.
You want the Data prototype to have a whimsical name that actually makes sense? Fine. I can think of one in two seconds:
If I seem a tad hung up on this, it's because B-4 is one of the two biggest problems with this movie. The other problem is Shinzon, who's about to make his big entrance.
Kate Mulgrew Skypes in her performance on a 4:3 monitor.
Admiral Janeway sends Jean-Luc Picard on a diplomatic mission to Romulus. The new Praetor has requested a meeting with the Federation. So how'd a Remen slave like Shinzon wound up ruling the Empire? The Federation wants to investigate, and the Enterprise is the closest ship.
Now, most people know about Vulcans, but lesser known are Romulans, the Vulcan's warlike cousins. And until Star Trek Nemesis, no one had even heard of Remens, the warlike cousins of the Romulans. Actually, Nemesis is kind of fuzzy about whether they're related, or just some indigenous species conquered by the Romulan Empire. Either way, Remens look like Count Orlok and dress like Pinhead. They're used mostly as slave labor -- at least until the Empire finds itself in need of some cannon fodder.
In other words, at some point in the future, the Empire is going to have to celebrate Remen History Month.
The fully assembled B-4 is plugged into Data, who believes his intelligence can be uploaded into his amnesiac brother. The side effect is, B-4 would also share Data's memories. It's too early to tell if the experiment is a success. But Lt. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) spots a mysterious redundant memory port on found on the back of B-4's neck, and asks to investigate.
The Enterprise arrives at Romulus, where they're kept waiting for seventeen hours before being hailed by the Scimitar, an evil looking warship. Picard and his team are invited to a dimly lit throne room by Shinzon's Viceroy (Ron Perlman, who always looks good under a lot of makeup).
Shinzon: "I hope you forgive the darkness. We are not comfortable in the light."
Shinzon's sinister introduction is ruined almost immediately when he sees Counselor Troi and turns into a breathless creeper. "I've never met a human woman before... May I touch your hair?"
The new Praetor wants peace between the Romulan Empire and Federation, but Picard is understandably skeptical. So Shinzon raises the lights and reveals... the face of Tom Hardy! Who looks nothing like Patrick Stewart, but nevertheless, the Captain reacts as if looking into a mirror.
Throw me a freakin' bone here, Scotty.
The Praetor cuts his own palm and gives the knife to Data for analysis, then invites Picard out later for a bite to eat.
Back on the Enterprise, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) discovers Shinzon's blood is an exact match of Picard. "He's a clone," she says. "They probably used a hair follicle or a skin sample." My money's on the latter. Heyo!
The Romulans behind Shinzon's military coup are getting restless. They want to attack the Federation now, and see no reason to invite the Enterprise for tea.
"Silence, Romulan!" Shinzon commands. "You really must learn patience. Spend 18 hours every day under the lash of a Romulan guard and you'll soon understand patience."
So... wait, why is he helping the Romulans?
When the military leaders storm off, Shinzon pulls aside Romulan Commander Donatra. He wants her on his side, but when she gets a little frisky he threatens to kill her if she ever touches him again.
Shinzon: "You are not a woman. You are a Romulan."
Yikes! I haven't heard anything that racist since Bones called Spock a "green-blooded hobgoblin."
The amount of contempt Shinzon heaps on Romulans is staggering. Every chance he gets, he takes another stab at them. So why is he leading the Romulans, instead of blowing them up?
That's one of the main problems with Star Trek Nemesis. Shinzon is biologically human, culturally Remen, and "left to die" as a child at the hands of Romulan slave masters.
They told me I was going to Hogwarts!
For revenge, Shinzon leads a Remen rebellion, builds a warship armed with a planet-busting deathray, heads to Romulus and... leads his enemies to victory over the Federation?
Ah yes, the time-honored story of a plucky band of slaves who fight to win their freedom, so that they might willingly carry out the nefarious plans of their oppressors.
And it's up to our heroes to stop them!
I'm sorry, but don't audiences generally side with slaves? Roots, The Ten Commandments. Am I missing something, or is there a rich cinematic history of heroic Hollywood stars crushing evil slave rebellions that I don't know about?
Picard and Shinzon finally get a little mommy daddy time. A candlelit dinner, some wine. Who knows what the night will bring?
Shinzon reveals he was originally cloned to replace Picard with a Romulan agent. When the plot was scrapped, the young Shinzon was sent to die in the slave mines of Remus. There he was saved from brutal Romulan guards by the man who would become his Viceroy. Shinzon found kindness in the Remen slaves. Everything he's done, from building the Scimitar to bringing an army to Romulus, has been to liberate the Remens.
Romulan guards: Evil, or new Evil Ultra?
Picard grumbles a bit about Romulan casualties, but he doesn't press the issue. And hey, maybe they can be friends. Just as soon as Shinzon earns his trust.
Back on the Enterprise, Picard learns their ship computer was hacked. And to make matters worse, Geordi detected Thalaron radiation coming from the Scimitar. Which is totally bad. Picard is heartbroken. He really wanted to trust Shinzon, but the Thalaron radiation is on the wall.
Shinzon is scolded by his Viceroy for wasting valuable time. But Shinzon says it's his time, he'll spend it how he likes. And even under all that makeup, Ron Perlman has this look on his face like, "This freakin' kid!"
The Viceroy has the air of a political campaign manager who realizes he has backed the wrong horse.
Counselor Troi tries to make the best of her honeymoon, even though that means having sex with Riker. As if things couldn't get any worse, Riker turns into Shinzon, and then into Ron Perlman. It turns out Shinzon's using his Viceroy to enter Troi's dreams and, er... not take no for an answer.
Understandably skeeved out by her dreamolestation, Troi requests to be relieved of duty. And, like a total douchepotomus, Picard tells her to put up with this and future mind-rapes, because he could really use a hand right now.
Data tries to find out who hacked the ship's computer. Soon after, Shinzon beams B-4 aboard the Scimitar. It seems B-4 was part of his schemes. Say it ain't so! The Praetor orders his Remen minions to BEGIN THE DOWNLOAD.
Hey, does your head get wireless?
Picard is beamed aboard the Scimitar. Shinzon takes a sample of his blood and informs him of his nefarious plans: First, Shinzon discovered B-4... somehow. He made a few modifications and tricked the Enterprise into adopting the little guy. Programmed for Evil, B-4 hacked the locations of the entire Starfleet. And now Shinzon has everything he needs to conquer the Federation.
Yep. Shinzon's ultimate goal is to conquer the Federation. But why? Well, Remens are "bred for conquest." They will no longer bow to anyone as slaves. Not the Romulans, and not the Federation. Who never actually enslaved them. So... yeah.
Picard is handed over to B-4, who in a twist, turns out to be Data in disguise. By feeding Shinzon junk data, they tricked him into monologuing everything. Data reveals a prototype Emergency Transport Unit stashed in his wrist. Picard points out it would only work for one of them, and hands it back. They'll find some way to escape together.
The Viceroy swaggers in and tells them, "It is time for the procedure." In a great bit, Data (as B-4) leads Picard through the ship at gunpoint, trying to act like an evil robot.
Data: "Move, puny human animal!"
They're quickly discovered, and a corridor laser fight breaks out. The two commandeer a cool looking attack ship, hurtle down the hallway, and blast through Shinzon's front window. Worf beams them aboard, no worse for wear.
All this doesn't go well with Shinzon's Romulan conspirators. The Praetor assures them that in two days, the Federation will be crippled beyond repair. But Commander Donatra, who Shinzon earlier rebuked, is having second thoughts about the whole, "Let an evil human clone rule our Empire" thing. Shinzon's not going to conquer Earth, he's going to annihilate it. Do they really want that on their hands?
Dr. Crusher learns Shinzon was designed to rapidly age until he was approximately Picard Old. Since the cloning process was abandoned, Shinzon is dying, and needs a "complete transfusion" of Picard's DNA. I'm not expert in future medicine, but that sounds a bit more involved than donating a kidney.
Data reactivates B-4, giving him the ability to talk and think, but not move. Childlike and paralyzed, B-4 has no idea what's going on. He's clueless about being programmed to spy on the Enterprise, but Data tells him he's dangerous.
B-4: "What are you doing?"
Data: "I must deactivate you."
B-4: "For how long?"
B-4: "How long is --"
Data: "...a long time, brother"
This scene is incredibly dark. Forget they're pasty looking robots for a second. You have someone forcing his own brother into a coma because the hapless dimwit has been brainwashed into attacking his own family. It's weirdly tragic, and yet the movie jumpcuts to a ridiculous "Gettin' Ready to fight!" gearing-up montage worthy of Rambo. It's as if the director accidentally stumbled across the one ounce of emotional impact this loud, annoying movie could muster, without even realizing it.
If Data's death was handled half as well as B-4's deactivation, this movie might have been salvaged. But nevermind all that, we got a fight to get to!
The Scimitar is en route to Earth to destroy humanity with Thalaron death-ray-diation. Since the ship's cloaking device makes it invisible and impossible to track, our only hope is that Shinzon will stop to grab Picard before attacking Earth. And he'll have to, because he wasted all his Grabbin' Picard time on tea parties and Dream-ana Troi.
The Enterprise hopes to manage some sort of Earth defense force, but the Scimitar, cloaked and tailgating them the whole time, knocks the Enterprise out of hyperspace into regular tired space.
They trade shots, with Shinzon crapping out lines like, "You're too slow, old man." He then issues an unforgettably cheesy command: "Attack pattern Shinzon Theta!"
Shinzon Theta is when you fire three shots instead of one.
Just as Shinzon makes a fairly compelling argument for surrender, two ships decloak. It's Commander Donatra, the Romulan with a conscience.
Donatra: "The Empire considers this a matter of internal security. We regret you've become involved."
Now it's a three on one handicap match! Hoo boy, it's gonna be a slobberknocker. The Scimitar is advanced enough to fire while invisible, but the Romulans fly around uncloaked, soaking up damage. Shinzon drops his cloak and comes to a full emergency stop, tricking the Romulans into facing them head on. The Romulan ships take so much damage, they're dead in the water -- space water.
Deanna Troi waits until everyone is almost dead before coming up with a plan. She psychically reaches out to the Viceroy, who previously helped Shinzon bump her unwilling dream uglies. "Remember me?" she quips, and fires on the Scimitar, making this the first rape-revenge movie set in the Star Trek universe.
Worf detects intruders, and he looks overjoyed, because he finally has something to do. He and Riker assemble a security team. "The Romulans fought with honor," Worf says completely out of nowhere, and Riker responds to the non-sequitur with a condescending, "Yes, they did Mr. Worf." It's like Worf's dialog was written for a small child, rather than the head of security. He might as well have said, "The bad men have scary faces."
The raiding party opens fire on Riker and Worf. The Viceroy disappears down a laundry chute, and Riker goes in after him, because the Viceroy done his woman wrong.
Meanwhile, the Scimitar blasts a huge hole in the bridge, breaking the viewscreen and sucking crewmembers out into space. Why? Because Shinzon needs Picard alive, and nothing he does makes one goddammed bit of sense in this movie. Luckily -- for Shinzon -- the crew activate a forcefield before Picard meets a similar fate.
Photon torpedoes are exhausted. Phaser banks down to 4%. Which is like bottom of the 9th, or two Hobbits on Mount Doom.
Picard does the only thing he can think of and rams the Enterprise into the Scimitar. Shinzon counters that brilliant plan by slowly backing up, disengaging his ship. Which, if you think about it, is just the sort of thing an evil clone of Picard would do -- disengage.
Cut back to a terrible brawl between Riker and the Viceroy. I think the Viceroy is there to capture Picard, but knowing Shinzon, his orders were to, "Endanger yourself and waste valuable time." The Viceroy falls screaming down an elevator shaft, executing said plan perfectly.
Picard orders a self-destruct sequence, but the auto-destruct is offline, and the captain gets this look on his face like he's trying to play EA's SimCity reboot.
Shinzon orders his crew to kill everything on that ship. The Remen Warbird deploys "targeting arms," because if there's one thing birds are known for, it's arms.
Picard grabs a rifle and beams aboard the Scimitar, because hell, why not.
Transporters are down, so Data puts Troi in charge (went well last time) and leaps through a giant hole in the Enterprise. Data flies through space -- turning regular tired space into awesomespace -- and lands on the enemy ship.
Five minutes until Thalaron radiation turns the good guys into powdered good guys.
Picard blasts his way onto the bridge and singlehandedly takes out Shinzon's crew. Both captains fight over the Thalaron controls, grappling like two bald titans, heads gleaming with sweat. Two minutes to firing sequence. Shinzon pulls a knife from his boot, and then pulls another knife from his belt, and it's like, man, Starfleet might want to look into these knife things.
Shinzon lunges at Picard, who yanks down a broken pipe at the last second, impailing his attacker. The dying Praetor drags himself along the spear, close enough to strangle Picard. "I'm glad we're together now. Our destiny's complete."
There, there. Lots of boys your age thought Santa was real.
One minute to firing sequence.
Data shows up just in time to see Picard uselessly staring off into space. The android slaps an Emergency Transport Unit on Picard and whispers, "Goodbye." After Picard is beamed aboard the Enterprise, Data shoots the Thalaraon generator, detonating the Scimitar.
What. The hell.
This is a textbook example of how not to kill a major character. The whole sequence is a badly edited mess that leaves you wondering: What the hell just happened? And that's the worst thing you can do. Because nothing about this noble sacrifice holds up under scrutiny.
Data's plan is idiotic, especially considering he's supposed to be this brilliant thinking machine. Instead of bringing two Emergency Transport Units, he takes one and stays behind to blow the Thalaron generator up himself. Nice plan, Data. Did you think that up with your positronic brain?
So why didn't Data bring a second Emergency Transport Unit? No one said said there was only one prototype. All they said was that each unit could only transport one person.
Filmmakers have certain... responsibilities. If a plane is going down and there's only one parachute left, you have to take time to acknowledge the fact. Don't just show the pilot dying in a fiery crash, and hope the audience remembers a throwaway line from an hour ago about the maximum capacity of parachutes.
When a character jumps in front of a bullet to save his partner, that works, because we're familiar with guns, and bullets, and detectives three days from retirement. But when someone dies because there's only one gadget available, then you'd damn well better include a scene where someone says, "Hey, we only have one of these!"
Data should have brought two Emergency Transport Units, chucked a grenade at the Thalaron generator, and warped home with the Captain. (And while we're at it, since when is detonating a nearby source of lethal radiation ever a good idea?)
Oh, you gotta be !@#$ing kidding me.
To add insult to injury, Data was written out of the series for the same reason Spock was -- the actor wanted out. So, no more Data. Except... they have another one right there. Aren't backups great? Of course, B-4's a little slow. So now Brent Spinner could look forward to coming back and playing a slightly dumber version of himself. You know how when Star Trek Into Darkness recreated the Wrath of Khan death scene, a lot of the emotional impact was lost due to Kirk being alive at by end of the movie? Well, it's like that, only if Kirk had come back as a dimwitted amnesiac.
Tell Grimlock about petro rabbits again.
And that's how the movie ends. After mourning for ten seconds, we cut to a cutesy scene with Picard giving advice to Riker, who's going to be Captain of his own ship. Then B-4 starts whistling a song that Data sang earlier, all but ensuring his return as a slack-jawed slow-bot in a sequel that, thankfully, never happened.
Let's face it, the real problem with this movie is the titular "nemesis" Shinzon.
Am I creepy yet?
Shinzon is so random, it's difficult to recap all his pointless actions. The man is virtually falling apart at the seams. He needs Picard to survive, and yet he keeps the Enterprise waiting for seventeen hours. Wasting time -- why? Petty mind games, from a master tactician? Shinzon also wastes the last hours of his life forcing Ron Perlman to dream-rape Deanna Troi. We're to believe that Shinzon is so enchanted with human women, he's willing to risk everything to have even a half-human like Troi. But that doesn't stop him from trying to destroy the human homeworld. Hey, Shinzon? Hate to tell you buddy, but that's where we keep most of our women.
That's Shinzon for you! Shinzon, the man bent on revenge against the people who never did anything to him, pledged to lead the people who did to victory.
So why did Shinzon blow a hole in the Enterprise, putting Picard, himself and his short-lived military coup in jeopardy? Why do so many of Shinzon's actions leave you scratching your head?
Oh, I forgot. Because he's "nuts." He's "psycho." He's "crazy."
This is an insult to both viewers and crazy people.
In order for a crazy villain to work, he has to be one of three things: funny, scary, or otherwise entertaining. (Honestly, that goes for all villains, even sane ones.) Take Batman's Joker, an authentic wacko who is portrayed as funny (Mark Hamill & Cesar Romero), scary (Heath Ledger), or just plain entertaining (Jack Nicholson). But Shinzon is none of these things. Tom Hardy is never funny, nor is he terribly intimidating. When you see his scrawny bald head poking from a Nehru collar, it's hard not to think of a young Dr. Evil. In a desperate attempt to give him some presence, the filmmakers have him commit sexual assault, but that's more tasteless than anything. And you can forget about Shinzon being entertaining. Tom Hardy's drowsy petulance makes for the dullest Star Trek villain I can think of.
Shinzon isn't crazy in a good way. He's crazy in a lazy way. In a way that gets the plot from Point A to Point B without the writers bothering with things like motivation.
You know what Star Trek movies need? Rape! Really pointless rape. Just shoehorn it in there.
How much better would it have been if Shinzon had attacked Romulus, and Nemesis was about the Federation having to choose sides? You could have the insidious Romulans caught in a violent uprising, begging the Federation for help. But Shinzon, never the reasonable type, fully intends on using his planet-busting Doomship against the very people who wronged him. Picard would have spend the movie desperately trying to stop the madman from seeking revenge and blowing up the homeworld of... of... Damnit! I'm describing the Star Trek reboot! When your script makes less sense than a Lindeloff special, you're in trouble.
When asked why Nemesis bombed, LeVar Burton once quipped, "Because it sucked!" Wil Wheaton (Wesley) blamed director Stuart Braid for being unfamiliar with the material. But the fundamental flaw of Nemesis isn't that it's a bad Star Trek movie -- it's that it's a bad movie, period. You could swap Starships for galleons and evil clones with long lost sons. The plot would still be incredibly stupid, the character's actions completely random, and the death scenes bungled to the point of absurdity.
Did the Reboot Help?
God, yes. Much like Pierce Brosnan's James Bond movies, Next Generation's theatrical adaptations were mostly a case of great actors being saddled with substandard scripts. By the time Nemesis hit you like the parting gift from an overfed seagull, you wanted the series put out of its misery.
Star Trek (2009) revitalized the franchise. It was a commercial success, while Nemesis lost 76% of its business following opening weekend -- the worst revenue drop of any major studio film in box office history... at least until the proud record was broken the following summer by Gili.
Like every Star Trek movie made since 1999, J.J. Abrams's reboot was a new take on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Actors and funky spacetime issues aside, the reboot was superior to Nemesis in every way.
George Kirk from the 2009 Star Trek reboot.
(Image credit goes to Badass Digest
Compare Data's bungled death to the reboot's opening scene: George Kirk also gives his life in a noble sacrifice, but this time, it actually works. Kirk thought it out and saw no other option to save his pregnant wife and crew. These characters barely get any screentime, but because their actions make sense, we're able to connect with them and share in their grief. With Data, it's hard to feel anything other than frustration.
Some people trashed J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot for being a mindless action movie. But if you want your action mindles, you can do a lot worse than Star Trek Nemesis.
— Zeus (Email the Bucket Bros)
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