The Final, Final Frontier?
Star Trek: Nemesis is the 10th film spawned by second generation of the original tv series (there are five series altogether). The franchise has long seemed relentless, and yet, Paramount is promoting the new film with the fatalistic tagline: “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins.”
There is more than one way to read this. First, this is the final film for the crew of ST: TNG, that in Trek tradition, it’s time to pass the torch to a new crew, and most likely that of ST: Voyager. That said, the cameo in Nemesis by Kate Mulgrew as Admiral Kathryn Janeway already sets up an altered future—she won’t be a captain again unless she’s demoted.
Or second, this claim to the “final journey” is a marketing ploy to revitalize interest in the series, as receipts for ST: Insurrection (1998) were less than stellar. But, Nemesis will hardly be the end. Instead, it will likely institute a story arc that spans several more features, as has been done before, in the original cast Star Trek movies II-V.
Perhaps this should be the final “final frontier” story. As Nemesis amply demonstrates, the franchise is getting quite long in the tooth. The film sacrifices much of TNG‘s thoughtfulness and seriousness in favor of some “ironic” nostalgia for the camp of the first ST series, at least in the first half.
It begins with the marriage of Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). When Data (Brent Spiner) toasts the couple with a song (and why does Data always have to sing?), he opens with “Ladies, Gentlemen, and invited Transgender Species.” Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) later calls Riker “Mr. Troi” and worries over the all-nude Beta-Zed wedding ceremony for the two that he will have to attend, and states that until that time, he’ll “be in the gym.”
Many such attempts at humor fall flat. It’s unfortunate. One of the things I liked most about TNG on tv was its philosophizing and scientific sophistication. What we get in Nemesis, however, are cornball comedy and oversized dune buggies (don’t ask).
The plot hardly needs elaboration, as it follows the general outline of any ST film. The Enterprise crew encounters some galactic mystery, unravels it to discover just how it threatens all of humanity, and then saves the day and the earth. Here the villains are the Romulans, which is welcome. Though they have been the most consistently treacherous enemies of the Federation throughout the tv series, the Romulans have been given precious little time in the films. It’s good to see them take center stage here.
Nemesis also introduces a new species to the ST galaxy. These are the inhabitants of Romulus’s twin planet, Remus. There’s a complicated bit involving interplanetary relations, but in the end, the Remans are in cahoots with the Romulans and even rise to power when Reman Shinzan (Tom Hardy) becomes Praetor of the Romulan Empire. As one side of Remus is always facing their sun, and is thus uninhabitable, the Remans have evolved on the dark side, which apparently accounts for their looking like any number of previous film vampires.
That is, except for Shinzan, who is human. Shinzan clearly evokes Hellraiser‘s Pinhead, with his fetishy rubber trench coat, but without the malevolence. So, Shinzan comes off more like Billy Corgan, with all the bald-faced (and -headed) whining that entails. It’s hard to feel threatened by a mope-rock wannabe.
Where Nemesis diverges from the formulaic is in the very unnecessary rape of Counselor Troi. After Picard and crew have made contact with Shinzan and returned to the ship to consider his peace proposal (used to lure the Enterprise to Romulus), we get a gratuitous scene of Troi and Riker having sex. In the middle of this, Shinzan invades Troi’s mind and replaces Riker on top of her. He mutters some vague threats and naked images of both him and his vampiric Viceroy (Ron Perlman) grunt away above Troi as she screams.
What make this trauma even worse is how willing Captain Picard is to sacrifice Troi, and subject her to further rape. When she asks to be excused from duties on this mission, Picard refuses, telling her she must be willing to expose herself, “if [she] can, to further violations,” for the good of crew, ship, and Federation. It’s a callous demand that seems very much outside the character so meticulously developed for Picard. But then again, this too is nothing new. Despite the vaunted values of the Federation, and their respect for basic human (and non-human) dignity, they always seem to act against the rights of someone in their pursuit of an interstellar “utopia.”