It's been four years since the last "Star Trek" adventure, 1998's "Star Trek: Insurrection," and the extended break (the longest in "Trek" film history) has allowed the filmmakers to step back and address the problems that surfaced the last time around. The result is "Nemesis" (IMDb listing), and while the effective parts of the film are old news, the picture as a whole brings back the excitement of this once dying franchise. This is the 10th installment of the series, and "Nemesis" feels like a long overdue second wind.
The crew of the starship Enterprise, lead by Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), is breaking up. Crew members are getting married, accepting their own commands, and dealing with aging. On a routine mission before they part ways, Enterprise is sent into dangerous Romulan territory to meet with their new leader, the shadowy Shinzon (Tom Hardy, "Black Hawk Down"), and discuss a long-sought peace treaty between the warring nations. Once Picard meets with Shinzon, it's revealed that the young "Praetor" has more on his mind than peace. In fact he plans to unleash a torrent of secrets, deception and fire power to bring down the Enterprise, and his final target, Earth, for good.
It's obvious from the very opening of the film that the template for "Nemesis" is the rip-roaring 1982 opus "The Wrath Of Khan." And there's nothing wrong with that, as "Kahn" is the very best "Trek" film of them all. Moving at Warp 9 away from the Broadway tunes and goo-goo eyes of the dreadful "Insurrection," the filmmakers have made it a point of keeping this "Trek" a straight-forward adventure, complete with one super villain, a revenge plot, and plenty of land and space battles to keep the eyes busy. They've also cleaned house behind the cameras as well, bringing in screenwriter John Logan ("Gladiator") to spruce up the story, and new director Stuart Baird ("U.S. Marshals") to takes the reins.
Hiring Baird to replace cast member Jonathan Frakes as director ("Insurrection," "First Contact") was the best move "Nemesis" could make. Taking away Frakes' often awkward staging, and his penchant for allowing his fellow cast mates insufferable vanity moments (again, those pesky Broadway tunes, which return here, but to a more appropriate effect), "Nemesis" isn't weighed down by extra fat. It's a lean, mean action adventure that benefits from Baird's streamlined instincts, and his lack of any previous incestuous relationship with the franchise. That's not to say Baird is the ideal visionary for the series, but the new take on the Enterprise's endeavors is satisfying and appreciated.
Hardy, in the villain role, offers a continually revealing performance. It's no secret that Shinzon is supposed to be a modern Kahn, complete with a death wish and insatiable appetite for revenge. The film plays out like a carbon copy of "Kahn," down to the space dogfights, comfortable cast interplay, and the tragic, unexpected ending. I don't knock the filmmakers for taking this idea around the block for another spin, but those expecting great leaps in the development of certain characters or subplots will be disappointed. As fun and welcoming as "Nemesis" is, there is an aftertaste of frustration that the production couldn't find anything more innovative to work with.
For the "Trek" purists, there are plenty of cameos and surprises sprinkled throughout, including one whopper that came as a complete shock to me. It was also nice to see this crew back in one place, working together to battle Shinzon. The camaraderie between these actors is at an all-time best, with "Nemesis" setting aside moments for each actor to have their time in the sun (with the possible exception of Michael Dorn's Worf, who doesn't have much to do this installment). "Nemesis" returns "Star Trek" to past glories, and since the film is billed as the final voyage for the "Next Generation" crew, this is a fine film to send them off on a high note.
Filmfodder Grade: B+