Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

2010 #107
Stuart Baird | 112 mins | TV (HD) | 12 / PG-13

After the widespread disappointment with Insurrection, the ninth big screen outing for Star Trek, fans hoped the tenth, Nemesis, would mark a return to their old adage “even ones good, odd ones bad.” They had reasons to be hopeful: a new director, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, and (potentially) the final outing for the beloved Next Generation crew. Surely they’d be given a fitting send-off?

Sadly, it wasn’t to be: Nemesis was a critical and commercial flop, the only Trek not to open at #1 in the US, the lowest-grossing of the entire franchise. And quite rightly, because it isn’t very good.

While Insurrection was accused of being dull because it was largely about a dispute over who got to live on a planet, the political side of that kept it engaging. Nemesis’s plot, on the other hand, just doesn’t go anywhere fast. Attempts to liven it up with some action sequences often come off as tacked-on asides, while discussions about just who Picard’s clone is and what he wants feel hollow — of course he’s a nasty piece of work, otherwise your film is completely villain-free!

Picard’s clone is played not by Patrick Stewart, but by a shaved Tom Hardy. Yes, that Tom Hardy. We should be glad Nemesis didn’t kill off his career, which at the time consisted of small roles in Band of Brothers and Black Hawk Down but has gone on to acclaimed leads (or other significant parts) in TV such as Stuart: A Life Backwards, Oliver Twist and Wuthering Heights, and on the big screen in Bronson, Inception and (soon) The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max 4. He’s not got much to work with here, Only the clonelythough the knowledge of better things to come means his presence somehow lifts his scenes a notch.

The film ends with the most pointless heroic sacrifice I’ve seen for a while. OK, the well-loved character’s dead, but that identical clone — you know, the one they downloaded all the character’s memories into — is still hanging around. Give me strength.

It’s a shame the Next Generation lot had to go out on such a duff note, their series of movies conforming more to the usual sequel pattern of diminishing returns (their first, First Contact, is highly praised, with the next two increasingly slated) than the original series crew’s good/bad alternation. Still, at least it cleared the way for what Trek probably needed more than anything: a good, clean, rebooting.

2 out of 5

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

2010 #81
Jonathan Frakes | 99 mins | TV (HD) | PG / PG

Star Trek: InsurrectionMany years ago, back when both the shows I’m about to mention were still on the air, someone drew a comparison that I felt summed up the whole of ’90s/’00s Star Trek. The two series in question were Farscape and Star Trek: Voyager, both of which concern humans trapped far away from Earth with no feasible way home, and the comparison went something like this: if the crew were offered a way to jump straight to Earth in exchange for a crewmember’s limb, in Farscape they’d discuss it briefly, then hack the limb off, hand it over, and be betrayed, all before the opening titles; in Star Trek: Voyager, they’d sit around discussing it for the whole episode before deciding “better not” and going on their way. Hopefully the point makes itself.

Insurrection seemed, apparently, the very personification of this idea. Rather than the broadly action-adventure style of First Contact, or other big contemporary sci-fi movies like Independence Day, The Fifth Element, Lost in Space, Armageddon, or even Star Wars Episode I — itself lamented (in part) for featuring too much discussion of trade blockades and whatnot — Insurrection concerns a minor dispute over a survey mission to a single planet. Yawn, right?

Picard had accidentally added a 0 to his iPad orderActually, this is when Insurrection is at its best. Action-adventure undoubtedly has a place in science-fiction, but so do wordier stories — when they’re done right, and when they’re where you expect them to be. You shouldn’t expect them from Star Wars; you should from Star Trek. (That doesn’t make Voyager’s attitude better than Farscape’s, incidentally; not if it was boring or implausibly honourable considering their situation. But that isn’t the matter at hand.) And so the first 45 minutes or so are mostly enjoyable. Critics say even this isn’t as deep as The Next Generation on TV got in its prime, but having not seen much of that I can’t compare; as a film by itself, the disputes and political wrangling kept me engaged. But then it begins an attempt to be all Exciting, at which point it begins to get dull, degenerating into a stock runaround and shoot-out, only with some disappointingly cheap CGI here and there.

Mad eyes; moodyThere’s a greater array of fan-pleasing nods and winks this time out. As with First Contact, they have to find an excuse to get Worf back on board (at the time, in universe continuity, he was on Deep Space 9 in Deep Space 9). Luckily little time is spent on this, but there are myriad references to DS9, the Dominion, the Borg, the Romulans — all of it irrelevant to the story at hand, all of it suggesting stuff was happening in the concurrent TV series that the filmmakers wanted fans to be sure they were aware of. Removed from that context by over a decade, and to a viewer not submersed in the Trek universe, it’s safe to say we don’t care. Elsewhere, Data gets a significant subplot — as per usual, then — and Picard gets a sort-of love interest. Perhaps it’s actually these bits the critics latched on to…

Die PicardMost negative reviews — so, most reviews — accused the film of being essentially a TV episode (or two, of course), not earning itself a spot on the big screen. They may have a point. The subject matter isn’t at fault — a planet with the ability to make everyone live forever has suitably large potential — but the execution of it is frequently low-key. This isn’t too bad in the first half, which maintains the interest as it unfurls the story, but when it degenerates into action in the second half it falls apart. It’s no longer interesting and, ironically, looks made-for-TV, lacking inspired direction or suitable scope. Perhaps it would’ve been better served as a TV episode; or, as a film, better served by a writer and/or director and/or producer with greater vision.

3 out of 5

Film4 and Film4 HD are showing the first ten Star Trek films across Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th October. Insurrection is on at 9pm on Sunday.
Star Trek: Insurrection is on Channel 4 today, Sunday 21st September 2014, at 3:30pm.