The marketing campaign for STAR TREK: NEMESIS trumpets the fact that "a generation's final journey" has begun, and rumblings from Paramount's franchise handlers suggest the 10th big-screen TREK could indeed be the last for Captain Picard and company... maybe. If so (the film's opening weekend gross should give a pretty good idea of this particular crew's future), at least the most popular heirs to Kirk and Spock would be going out on a good note.
Embracing the passage of time in a way the previous two Next Generation solo films did not, NEMESIS has some of the epic sweep the TREK features have lacked since the beloved Kirk-helmed trilogy kicked off by 1982's STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN. By contrast, the Picard crew featured in 1994's STAR TREK: GENERATIONS through 1998's STAR TREK: INSURRECTION seemed frozen dramatically, with inter-character dynamics fundamentally unchanged since the early seasons of the Next Gen TV show. A static ensemble of heroes with all of their personal conflicts long since worn down, a first officer who never leaves the ship to take his own command, romances that hardly go anywhere after a decade not exactly the stuff of space-saga greatness. Especially for more mainstream moviegoers, who didn't come to the films with the same built-in, unconditional affection for the characters as the fans.
NEMESIS' intention to shake things up a bit is clear from the beginning, as Picard (Patrick Stewart) gives a best-man speech at an Alaska wedding reception for his longtime "Number One," Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), and ship's counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), who are tying the knot at last after all these years. Riker is finally on his way to a starship of his own, and Picard faces the loss of two of his most trusted officers as the newlyweds prepare for a new stage in their lives and careers.
But a couple of funny things happen on the way to a second set of nuptials on Troi's homeworld of Betazed humorously, to be conducted in the nude. (Laid-back Starfleet apparently has no problem with the wedding party using the Enterprise as an interstellar limo for shuttling between festivities.) First, the crew stumbles on yet another version of android officer Data (Brent Spiner) on a world with an overexposed desert look borrowed from PITCH BLACK. Then the Enterprise is ordered to the Romulan homeworld of Romulus, where a familiar-faced young military genius named Shinzon (Tom Hardy from BLACK HAWK DOWN) has seized control of the Empire in a bold coup. It turns out Shinzon is a clone of Picard, created years earlier as part of a Romulan scheme to replace the famed Starfleet captain with a doppelganger sort of a Shakespearean Mini-Me. After the plan was abandoned, Shinzon was shipped off to work in the horrific mines of Remus, home of a previously unmentioned, oppressed brother race of the Romulans. Now he's one pissed-off clone, and will use any means necessary to liberate his adopted Reman brothers from the Romulan yoke.
Not all of the storyline's threads are so effective, alas. Data's interactions with his childlike prototype, jokingly named "B4," will give fans a serious case of déjà vu wasn't all this ground covered with the android's earlier "brother" Lore in the TV series? Seemingly inserted as a way to set up a future arc should there be another Next Gen film, the character does little more than waste screen time this time out. Meanwhile, in an example of how attitudes in the 24th century may not be quite as enlightened as advertised, a psychic rape of Troi by the bad guys is immediately brushed off by the Enterprise's male officers, who never mention the event or its possible emotional ramifications again, leaving the counselor to initiate her own form of payback on the perpetrators.
The good news is that the filmmakers' willingness to raise the dramatic stakes of the series continues through a finale that is not only surprising (if viewers haven't been trolling Internet spoilers, that is), but presents us with the potential for some fresh character development if a sequel of sorts to this film is made. In NEMESIS, we sense for the first time since at least GENERATIONS that the TV/movie franchise's cautious-minded execs have decided to go for broke and make a film, and the result is an installment that feels much more significant to the TREK universe than the previous Next Gen efforts.
In many ways, NEMESIS is the movie that should have been made back when Picard took the baton from Kirk back in the mid-'90s a true saga in which characters live, grow and move in new directions, not just work the same comfortable shticks in films that feel like expensively made two-hour TV episodes. In this sense, it would be a shame to end the Next Gen movie arc at this point, just when it really was starting to go where it had not gone before.