Star Trek: Nemesis (2002, Stuart Baird)

Nemesis

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Soon after discovering a disassembled android who looks exactly like Data, the crew of the Enterprise are sent on a diplomatic mission to Romulus, where it’s Captain Picard’s turn to meet his double…

Regulars: The crew are gathered at the beginning for the wedding of Riker and Troi – their rekindled romance in the last film has moved on, it seems. Picard is the best man and gives a heartfelt speech. He’s been itching to use the Enterprise’s new toy, a 4×4 buggy called the Argo, so tries it out when he, Data and Worf have to search a planet. After meeting Shinzon – the new Romulan leader, who was cloned from Picard’s DNA – he’s haunted by doubts and has a nature/nurture debate with himself. After marrying, the plan for Riker and Troi is to join a new crew on the USS Titan; Riker has been promoted to captain. During the film, they have sex – but Troi’s mind is affected by the bad guys and she imagines Shinzon on top of her. She equates what happened to her to rape – but in a terribly tacky moment, Picard simply asks her to endure more assaults for his own benefit. Seeing how Riker’s been reassigned, Data is the Enterprise’s new first officer. He meets android B4, who is essentially Data’s prototype (both characters are played by Brent Spiner). At the film’s end, he sacrifices himself to save the crew. Worf gets a headache at the wedding, thanks to Romulan ale, and doesn’t like the idea of stripping off for the Betazoid half of the marriage ceremony. Geordie tinkers about with B4 and gets lots of technobabble dialogue. Crusher tells Data that he has nicer eyes than B4 (“Doctor, they are identical,” he says) and also does the blood test to confirm who Shinzon is. Her son, Wesley, appears in a Star Trek movie for the first time – he’s at the wedding, but gets neither dialogue nor a close-up. Guinan’s also there and gets one line.

Guests: Alan Dale – on a mission to appear in everything ever made – plays the Romulan president assassinated in the opening scene. Kate Mulgrew has a cameo as Star Trek: Voyager’s Katherine Janeway, who’s now an admiral. The main villain, Shinzon, is played by future movie star Tom Hardy – he’s a clone of Picard, but their physical resemblance seems to boil down to both being bald. (Hardy also plays Picard in a way: we see him in a photo of a young Jean-Luc.) Dina Meyer is Romulan Donatra and an unrecognisable Ron Perlman plays Shinzon’s viceroy.

Best bits:

* The impressive opening shot: a CGI decent from outer space, into a planet’s atmosphere and down towards the Romulan senate building.

* The creepy way the Romulan hierarchy are desiccated.

* Geordie asking Guinan if she’s ever thought of marrying again. “No,” she says. “Twenty-three was my limit.”

* “You have the bridge, Mr Troi.”

* The Argo – an unusually visceral form of transport for Star Trek.

* The washed-out cinematography used for the surface of Kolarus III.

* The hand bursting out of the sand and attaching itself to Worf’s leg. He steps back and pulls a robotic arm out of the ground.

* Picard, Worf and Data finding the robot’s head, which looks just like Data, and it opening its eyes.

* The Argo leaping off a cliff and into the bay of a waiting shuttlecraft.

* There are some very neatly done shots where we see Data and B4 at the same time.

* The twist that Data has been impersonating B4. (“Move, puny human animal,” he says a moment later when he and Picard walk past some bad guys. Picard gives a note on the roleplay: “A little less florid, Data.”)

* The Enterprise’s bridge being damaged and a crewmember being sucked out into space.

* The Enterprise ramming Shinzon’s ship, the Scimitar.

* The nicely underplayed moment of understanding between Data and Geordie just before…

* …Data runs through a hole in the Enterprise’s hull and propel himself across space to the Scimitar.

TV tie-in: The creator of both Data and B4, Noonian Soong, appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Brothers. Brent Spiner played Soong in old-age make-up, and also reprised the role of Data’s brother, Lore. If Soong’s wife had been around, presumably it would have been Spiner in a wig and a dress. It’s entertaining stuff.

Review: Nemesis has a very good ‘cold open’. The first scene sees the Romulan senate being attacked, and it’s well staged and intriguing. But it’s all down hill after that. After the smug wedding scene, we get a confused and leaden plot capped by a large amount of dreary action. For the fourth time in four Next Generation movies, Data plays a significant role, which is fair enough given how popular he was in the TV show. (There’s a ‘story by’ credit for Brent Spiner.) But the fact that many of us often forget that such a key character is killed off in this film is very telling. It’s just not very memorable cinema. A big problem is Tom Hardy’s tiresome bad guy, Shinzon. His introduction into the story should ratchet up the tension, but instead the energy seems to constantly seep out of the film. It’s also difficult to see the emotional connection: aside from being a bit spooked by seeing his doppelgänger, why should Picard treat this man as anything other than a thug? Attempts are made to mirror the two characters, and to contrast them with the film’s other ‘double’ plotline (Data and B4), but it’s all a bit perfunctory. The film was directed by Stuart Baird, who has edited many enjoyable movies (The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, The Last Boy Scout, Casino Royale, Skyfall) – but any sense of interesting storytelling abandoned him here.

Four cognitive and communication subroutines out of 10.

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Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

Insurrection

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Federation is observing an oblivious alien race called the Ba’ku. But after the operation is revealed, dangerous secrets are also uncovered…

Regulars: Picard is hosting a diplomatic dinner on the Enterprise when the crisis kicks off. He tracks down a malfunctioning Data and sings Gilbert & Sullivan in an attempt to reboot him. When affected by the Ba’ku planet’s Fountain-of-Youth-like energy, he dances a little jig to some mamba music – that’s enough to make him realise something is wrong. When ordered to leave the system, he chooses to disobey orders and – in a neat dramatisation of his decision – removes the captain’s pips from his collar. Riker and Troi try to do the background research on the Ba’ku situation, but can’t stop flirting. She kisses him with a beard for the first time (he’s the one with the beard), then they share a hot tub while she shaves it off for him. Her TV-show romance with Worf has seemingly petered out at some point. Maybe it ended when he left the Enterprise crew – he was a regular in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by this point, so we get a knowingly arch moment when Picard bumps into Worf and asks, “What are you doing here?” Because it’s not important, Worf’s explanation is essentially rhubarb dialogue underneath a more important discussion. The Ba’ku influence means Worf later oversleeps and gets acne. Data, meanwhile, initiates the plot when he behaves erratically after being attacked on Ba’ku; Geordie’s optic nerves regenerate, allowing him to see naturally for the first time in his life; and Crusher identifies the invigorating effects the crew are experiencing (but doesn’t seem all that concerned about them – great work, Doc!).

Guests: F Murray Abraham is the lead bad guy, a member of the Son’a race called Ru’afo (what’s with all these apostrophes?!). Donna Murphy plays Ba’ku woman Anji, while Anthony Zerbe appears as villainous Federation admiral Matthew Dougherty. Apparently, Armin Shimerman filmed a cameo as his Deep Space Nine character, Quark, but it was cut from the finished film.

Best bits:

* The reveal of the duck blind.

* Data going loopy while wearing an invisibility suit – the subsequent fight is seen only through certain sections of the duck blind’s window, then Data takes off his helmet so his head (and only his head) is visible to the natives.

* Geordie briefing Picard on the situation while Picard is wearing a silly ceremonial headdress given to him by an ambassador.

* Ru’afo having his skin stapled into place.

* Worf’s shake of the head when Picard suggests he sings to Data.

* Data walking into the lake and along its bottom.

* The reveal of the holo-ship.

* When Picard goes rogue, the other six regulars turn up and insist on joining his mutiny. (Most have changed into Ba’ku clothing, but Riker and Geordie are still in their uniforms. *Completely coincidentally*, they’re the two Picard asks to stay behind on the Enterprise.)

* Troi and Crusher discussing their boobs.

* Admiral Dougherty having his skin forcibly expanded – a scene oddly similar to how Anthony Zerbe was killed off in Licence to Kill.

* The Son’a being unwittingly transported aboard the holo-ship – a cute idea, which is well seeded earlier in the story. (If anything, it’s a shame they work out what’s happened so quickly.)

* “The Son’a crew would like to negotiate a ceasefire,” says Worf, who’s aboard their ship. “It may have something to do with the fact we have three minutes of air left.”

TV tie-in: The movie shares a basic setup and a general tone with a 1989 episode of The Next Generation called Who Watches the Watchers. It’s altogether a tighter, more focused and more interesting experience. Riker and Troi have to go undercover with the Mintakans, a Bronze Age-level society, after the Federation team observing them from a hidden bunker are accidentally revealed and the natives believe Picard is a god. (It guest stars Kathryn Leigh Scott from my mates Joe and Davy‘s Dark Shadows audio series.)

Review: A simplistic story about pacifist hippies and power-hungry authority doesn’t exactly make for cutting-edge drama, and this twee plot is stretched to fill out 100 minutes. Just in case you don’t get the analogy on display, Picard refers to previous ‘forced relocations’ from Earth’s history, then does a Moses impression and leads the Ba’ku on a cross-country hike to safety. That countryside, by the way, is clearly not far from Los Angeles. The majority of Star Trek filming locations are in California, of course – but the first six films felt ambitious and inventive and gave us deserts, cities, tundra, mountains, forests… With the Next Generation team, however, it seems there’s a lack of ambition in that department. And that’s emblematic of the whole movie. It’s often said that Insurrection feels like a two-part TV story cut together and put on the big screen – there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it actually does those double-length episodes a disservice. Most were more engaging than this humdrummery.

Five British Tars out of 10.

 

Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

FirstContact

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Borg go back in time and change Earth’s history, the crew of the Enterprise must follow them to 2063 to put things right…

Regulars: Picard dreams about the Borg before he hears they’re invading Federation space – he was assimilated by them a few years earlier and is haunted by his experiences. He disobeys orders and heads to Earth when it’s threatened, and when the Borg have taken over the Enterprise he kills a captured crewmember out of mercy. Lily, a woman from 2063, accuses him – rightly – of being a hypocrite for wanting revenge. Riker searches for famous historical figure Zefram Cochrane, and almost always has a wry grin on his face. Data deactivates his emotion chip from the last film when he gets scared – Picard says he envies him this ability – but the Borg switch it back on when they capture him. Worf isn’t part of the crew any more: since the last film, the character had joined spin-off TV show Deep Space Nine. But he gets beamed aboard the Enterprise early on, then later helps Picard destroy the ship’s deflector dish. Troi tracks down Cochrane, and gets drunk with him and has to swat aside his advances. (She then goes missing from the story for an oddly long time.) Crusher gets plenty of medical stuff to do: she goes down to Earth on the recce and takes an injured Lily to sickbay, and later activates the Emergency Medical Holographic doctor (in part, a reference to Star Trek: Voyager) in order to cause a diversion. Geordie, meanwhile, isn’t wearing his visor any more – he’s had cybernetic ocular implants since we last saw him. Astonishingly, no comparison or thematic rhyming is made of the fact that a regular crewmember has bionic eyes and this is a story about the Borg.

Guests: Cochran is played by James Cromwell, who I’ll always be fond of because he’s in my favourite film, LA Confidential. Alfre Woodard adds energy and humour as Lily. Alice Krige plays the Borg Queen. Neal McDonough plays doomed helmsman Lt Hawk. Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo and The Next Generation’s Dwight Schultz cameo as the EMH and Reg Barclay respectively.

Best bits:

* The opening shot: a very long pull back from Picard’s eyeball to the massive Borg ship he’s aboard.

* The old dream-within-a-dream trick from An American Werewolf in London.

* “Tough little ship,” Riker says of the Defiant. “Little?!” Worf replies indignantly.

* The Borg have assimilated the Earth!

* Picard lovingly touching the rocket ship he will later worship in a museum – and trying to explain to Data why tactile contact can be so evocative.

* Troi gets drunk. “This is no time to argue about time. We don’t have the time!”

* “And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” Zefram wins the wankiest-reference competition.

* Picard notices that the phaser Lily stole and pointed at him was on its highest setting and could have killed him. “It’s my first ray gun,” she says meekly.

* The Borg Queen’s head and shoulders being lowered onto her torso while she chats away to Data.

* Reg Barclay’s excited fan-boy moment as he meets his hero Zefram.

* The space-walk sequence and the subsequent fight on the hull of the ship.

* Riker: “Someone once said, ‘Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its own judgement.’” Zefram: “Rhetorical nonsense. Who said that?” All together now: “You did, 10 years from now.”

* Picard calling Worf a coward.

* Troi’s stentorious countdown to liftoff is interrupted by Zefram putting on some loud music (Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride).

* Data was only pretending to be assimilated!

* Zefram’s scream as he travels at warp for the first time.

* The actual first contact – a ship lands, a Vulcan gets off, Zefram shakes his hand. (Shame the gathered extras seems so underwhelmed by what they’re witnessing.)

* Zefram introducing the Vulcans to rock’n’roll.

TV tie-in: The character of Zefram Cochrane first appeared in a decent episode of the original Star Trek TV series called Metamorphosis. In it, Captain Kirk and his colleagues discover a 237-year-old Cochrane stranded on a planet where a strange entity called the Companion has rejuvenated him so he appears to be 35. (Although meant to be the same man, the Cochrane from First Contract looks and behaves nothing like this incarnation.)

Review: Well, it doesn’t hang about. But whereas the best Star Trek movies are enjoyably pacey, this is just rushed. There’s also a sense that the film is being made for established fans. It’s assumed we know who everyone is, there are quite a few continuity references, and we must recall vital details of a TV episode from 1990. Not only that, the storytelling is generally pretty shoddy. Key conversations seem to get skipped over (we don’t get to see Zefram being told the crew are from the future, for example). A bizarre holodeck sequence comes out of nowhere. Jokes stick out incongruously. We get little sense of Zefram and Lily’s relationship – and they’re the only 21st-century people we meet. Sadly it’s all a bit undercooked, like they filmed an early draft of the script. The bulk of the movie is split between a fun enough but leisurely story with Zefram and a boring Die Hard pastiche aboard the Enterprise. The two halves run parallel yet are unconnected: neither half’s characters seem to care what’s happening in the other story. There’s crash, bang and wallop, but little of it means anything.

Six Moby Dick quotations out of 10.

Star Trek: Generations (1994, David Carson)

Generations

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

James T Kirk is seemingly killed while rescuing refugees from a strange energy ribbon in space – however, 78 years later Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the current USS Enterprise ends up in the same ribbon and comes face-to-face with his predecessor…

Regulars: The film begins with a prologue set in 2293 – Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour at the launch of the new Enterprise. When a crisis develops, Kirk urges the captain to be decisive then has to take charge. He appears to be killed when the energy ribbon blasts a hole in the side of the ship – in actual fact, he’s transported into a surreal fantasy world where time doesn’t exist and he imagines he’s living in a log cabin and is obsessed with cooking. When he returns to the real world, Kirk is genuinely killed during the film’s climax. In that prologue, Chekov introduces Kirk to Sulu’s daughter, who’s a member of the new crew, then press gangs some journalists into being nurses during the crisis. Scotty, meanwhile, attempts to transport people off a stricken ship, but can only get 44 out of 150 before the vessel is destroyed. We’re then introduced to the new team of regulars, fresh from seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard is enjoying some naval roleplaying when we cut to the 24th century, but soon gets the awful news that his brother and nephew have been killed. When he’s later inside the Nexus fantasy world, he imagines a life with a loving family, but turns his back on it so he can save his crewmates. Riker takes charge during a Klingon attack and uses calm man-management skills to win the day. Geordie gets lots of screen time – he tries to help Data with his emotional struggle, then is kidnapped by Soran, who plants a bug in his visor so they Klingons can spy on the Enterprise. Data doesn’t understand why seeing someone falling into water is funny: when Crusher tries to explain, Data responds by pushing her in. (Despite what Geordie says, this *is* funny.) Once he has his emotion chip, Data revels in his new ability to hate things, laughs uproariously at a joke Geordie cracked years before, and uses silly voices. Worf is promoted during that naval roleplay scene. Crusher does the background check on Soren; she also does a bit of doctoring. Troi clocks that something is wrong with Picard and sympathetically gets him to talk about it; when a crewmember is later blown out of his chair at the helm, she takes his place. Guinan – a Next Generation semi-regular played by Whoopi Goldberg – has a small but vital role in the story, and we learn some of her backstory.

Guests: The main bad guy is scientist-cum-maniac Soran, played by Malcolm McDowell. The movie’s early scenes feature Alan Ruck (“It could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong…”) as the Enterprise B’s captain – he’s nervous, green and really can’t get his ship together. Future Star Trek: Voyager regular Tim Russ plays a crewmember, as does Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens, John Connor’s foster mum in Terminator 2).

Best bits:

* Kirk inspecting the new Enterprise, swatting aside journalists’ questions, meeting Sulu’s daughter, and looking longingly at the captain’s chair.

* Kirk having to keep a lid on his frustration as Captain Harriman dithers during the crisis.

* The ribbon is a cool special effect.

* Guinan’s on the refuge ship!

* The new crew’s first scene – a holodeck recreation of a 19th-century warship. It’s partly a bit of roleplay fun between the regulars, partly a ritual as Worf is promoted to lieutenant commander.

* Picard eulogises how great life at sea must have been. “No engines, no computers, just the wind and the sea and the stars to guide you…” Riker adds: “Bad food, brutal discipline, no women…”

* Picard’s grief, played really well by Patrick Stewart.

* Data’s unpredictable behaviour once he gets an emotion chip.

* The sudden change of ambient lighting – from sunset yellow to harsh white – as the star the ship is orbiting is destroyed.

* Guinan describing the Nexus: “It’s like being inside joy.”

* The stellar-cartography scene. It’s a very smart way to illustrate Picard’s detective work, and also gives him a chance to discuss Data’s issues.

* When their bug in Geordie’s visor is activated, Klingons Lursa and B’Etor see a big close-up of Crusher on their screen. “Human females are so repulsive!”

* Data singing to himself as he taps away at some controls. “Life forms… You tiny little life forms… “

* The Enterprise’s saucer section detaching from the rest of the ship.

* ”Oh, shit!” says an emotionally charged Data as the ship falls towards the planet. The subsequent shots of it appearing out of the cloud, skimming across a forest and crashing are fantastic.

* The energy ribbon passing through a planet.

* Picard’s fantasy inside the Nexus – a vaguely Victorian family Christmas.

* Guinan being in the Nexus too.

* Picard meets Kirk!

* “You say history considers me dead,” says Kirk. “Who am I to argue with history?”

* Kirk imploring Picard to never retire, accept promotion or get himself transferred off the bridge of the Enterprise.

* Kirk showing up in Soran’s way. “Just who the hell are you?” asks Soran. Picard, standing off to the side: “He’s James T Kirk. Don’t you read history?”

* “Oh, my…”

TV tie-in: In Star Trek: The Next Generation’s sixth season, James Doohan guest starred for one episode as Scotty. Relics is an entertaining story, built on the cute premise that someone can survive in a ‘transporter buffer’ for decades. When Generations was made a couple of years later we see Scotty witness Kirk’s ‘death’ – yet in Relics, which is set later, he assumes Kirk has come to rescue him. The episode contains a lovely recreation of the original TV show’s bridge set.

Review: Another terrific Star Trek movie. It’s got to write out Captain Kirk, introduce a whole new crew and tell a self-contained action story, yet never feels mechanical or contrived. It’s really well directed – pacey, smart and often fun – and looks superbly cinematic with some fantastic lighting. The dreamlike, surreal Nexus is also a neat way of bringing Kirk and Picard together, much more interesting and character-based than simple time-travel. On the minor downside, it’s tiresome how much technobabble there is in the dialogue, while some of the new regulars (Worf, Crusher, Troi) get rather lost in the mix. On the whole, though, this is a superb start to a new movement in the Star Trek symphony.

Nine Ktarian eggs out of 10.