Dec 12, 2022
By Steve King
Okay, okay. Many Trekkies don’t like Nemesis. We all know that it had potential and didn’t really live up to the hype. A lot of fans were pissed off, but fandoms are like Democratic Socialists. They’re alway pissed off. So let me offer the most charitable rebuttal I can.
The Next Generation movies did not work out the way they should have. Generations was cool, First Contact is the best Trek film ever, Insurrection was just okay. Nemesis is a mixed bag. Back in 2002 we didn’t have much to do on the internet except watch porn and read movie spoilers. We didn’t even have Myspace yet. It was barren but we could read full leaked screenplays.
Producer Rick Berman wanted Nemesis to be different. He brought in screenwriter John Logan (RKO 281, Any Given Sunday, Gladiator) to sex things up, and master film-editor and action director Stuard Baird (Executive Decision) to jazz up the rest.
The script that I read in late 2001 or 2002 was excellent. I usually don’t like deleted scenes because they were cut for a reason, but the stuff Baird excised should have been in the final product. There was a longer dinner scene with Picard and Shinzon, a drink between Picard and Data after the Troi-Riker wedding… basically an extra 30 minutes of character development that the director chose to scrap in order to get to the action. That’s my biggest complaint. The director didn’t know or care about the story he had been given. The rest is pure Trek. The one good thing that Baird contributed to Trek was that he cut the phasers and disruptor-fire down by a frame, making them a bit more dangerous and visceral. It’s his one Trek legacy, and something that is still done today.
Nemesis starts with the the assassination of the upper echelons of Romulan leadership. They’re killed with a biogenic weapon that fucking vaporizes them on the Senate floor. That’s pretty awesome. Classic Romulans! Scheming and killing each other for political gain. Only this time, the castle intrigue is meant to install a different kind of Praetor, Shinzon of Remus, a discarded clone of Picard exiled to the dilithium mines of Remus, an undesirable caste planet next to the Romulan home-world. Remans had been used as cannon fodder in the Dominion War, as weapons manufacturers, and as slave laborers of dilithium on the dark side of the planet. The Remans themselves look like Nosferatu vampires. Subtle, right?!
The film then transitions to the Troi-Riker wedding. Troi wears a pink dress… because we all know she couldn’t wear white. Picard makes a nice toast, Worf is hungover on Romulan ale, Westley Crusher is inexplicably there. Guinan is straight chillin’ and Data sings a totally lit and fun version of “Blue Skies.”
When toasting the men and women in attendance, Data makes the first Trek mention of other invited “transgender species.” The Enterprise, then en route to Betazed, stops near the Neutral Zone, where they pick up a discarded beta version of Data, named B4. There’s a totally unnecessary action-chase sequence on an alien planet where the Prime Directive is thoroughly thrown in the shitter. The Enterprise is then directed by Admiral Janeway(!omg!) to go to the Romulus and suss out the new Romulan Praetor.
Picard and company wait for hours for the Remans to show up. When they do eventually de-cloak, the flagship, Scimitar, is armed to the teeth and designed to look like a cross between a bat and spider, with plenty of Xs on the hull, just in case you forgot you’re watching Star Trek 10.
Picard and some of his senior staff are invited over to the Scimitar to meet with Shinzon and his Viceroy (Ron Motherfucking Perlman). Shinzon is played by a young and scrawny Tom Hardy. This was way before he got all buff and hot. Shinzon was written as having wavy blond young-Picard hair, but Hardy being Hardy, decided to shave his head as production began. Shinzon has the hots for Troi, Picard realizes Shinzon is a clone of himself, which Shinzon confirms and then welcomes him to a great dinner scene that the director slashed. What remains is a brief yet poignant conversation about diplomacy and how their vastly disparate life experiences have produced two very different men from the same base material. They both lament their shortness.
After dinner, it’s revealed Shinzon is dying from a genetic defect in his Romulan cloning procedure and that he needs Picard’s blood to stay alive. What ensues is a Wrath of Khan-style spaceship dogfight between Picard and Shinzon, along with a classic Star Trek moral debate about Nature vs. Nurture ish. Shinzon’s deteriorating body acts as a stand-in for his debilitating bitterness; it’s a kind of a clock that’s essentially counting down the film. Shinzon is also in possession of a large amount of the Thaloran radiation that he used to kill the Romulan Senate, which he intends to deploy on Earth.
There’s the B-story with Data and his lesser self, B4, hence the misuse of the word “nemesis,” but this is a Stewart/Hardy show. A lot of franchises misused the word “nemesis” in the early 2000s. It just sounded cool. B4’s voice is slightly augmented throughout the film, until the last scene. There’s a Spot cameo with B4, so it wasn’t a total waste. Data downloads his memories into B4 in the hope of making him into a more complete individual.
Picard confronts his worst self in the abused, neglected, angry, and Napoleonic Shinzon. It’s the darkest Trek. It’s just a darker film, figuratively and literally, with Romulan silvers, greens, and variations of blue.
Remans, like Romulans and Vulcans, have some telepathic ability, which allows the Viceroy and Shinzon to mind-rape Troi. Next Gen was really into mind-sex. Troi later uses her telepathy to locate the Scimitar. The lighting used on her face in the sequence is an old school and appreciated Trek trick.
There are nods throughout the film to the Next Gen finale “All Good Things.” Before the final space battle, Data and Picard have a heart-to-heart in the astrometrics lab about how B4 and Shinzon don’t aspire to anything and therefore cannot improve themselves, and while they are all made of the same material, their life experiences have produced vastly different people. During a brief and tragic negotiation, mid-battle between Picard and Shinzon, JL says that they have the same potential to make themselves more than what they are, to be better men. Shinzon, barely above a whisper and with his voice cracking, says that he can’t fight what he is.
The space battle itself is one of the best. The Scimitar can fire while cloaked, so the Enterprise takes a beating. The Romulans show up and try to help out with cool newer warbirds, but they’re quickly outmatched by the Scimitar. At one point in the fight the Scimitar targets the Enterprise bridge, blowing out the viewscreen and nearly killing the senior staff. Picard is left with no other option but to crash the Enterprise into the Scimitar. It’s pretty cool.
With his ship’s cloak properly fucked, Shinzon, his eyes faded and veins bulging, begins to deploy his Thalaron weapon on the Enterprise. Picard uses some of the Enterprise’s last bit of power to transport over to the Scimitar and try to stop Shinzon. The final hand-to-hand fight with Shinzon ends in a super-grizzly way for Trek, with Picard impaling Shinzon, and Shinzon dying with his hands wrapped about Picard’s throat. The whole ordeal leaves Picard shocked into catatonia. He’s only saved when Data floats through space with a one-way transporter (a stupid but effective story device) that he uses to transport Picard back to the Enterprise. He says goodbye and detonates the Thaloran trigger, destroying the Scimitar, sacrificing himself, and like Spock in Wrath of Khan, saves his friends. It’s as heartbreaking as it is mishandled and brief. The death of a character like Data needs time to land on its audience, but Baird was an action director, not a dramatic one.
After a brief toast to Data with the senior staff, the film ends with Picard explaining to B4 that Data always wanted to improve and make himself more than what he was. B4 doesn’t understand but he retains a few lyrics from “Blue Skies,” meaning that a very small part of Data survived.
Fandom, not the rigid, timefighter, gatekeeper bullshit, but true fandom, means loving something even when you don’t like it. You may be let down by it, you may hate it, but you must always abide it. The final film is far from perfect but it’s not terrible. Though it took nearly 20 years to correct its mistakes.
While Data’s memory transfer to B4 was unsuccessful, the positronic neurons leftover were used to create Dahj and Soji, and because of that his character was given the peace and send-off he deserved in the first season of Picard. Is it the best Trek movie, no-to-the-way-to-the-Jose; but is it better than people say it was? Yes-way!