"Star Trek: Nemesis" may mark the end of a chapter - the section of the longtime "Trek" movie series starring Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and other characters from "The Next Generation" - but at least it tries to go out with a big bang and a flood of sentiment.
The 10th feature-film entry in the much-loved sci-fi series that began on TV in 1966, "Nemesis" has been billed as a "generation's final journey" - a tagline that has been widely interpreted as a threat by Paramount to close down that part of the "Star Trek" movie franchise if this episode doesn't perform at the box office.
There's a chance it will. "Nemesis" is a deep-space overachiever that tries to conquer the universe again on a diminished budget and ship-bound settings. It doesn't win every battle, whether on the starship Enterprise, the twin planets Romulus and Remus, or on the screen. But, apparently bent on reviving the series from the maudlin depths of the 1998 entry "Star Trek Insurrection," the moviemakers here attack us at our weak emotional spots with nostalgia, special effects, coruscating action and auld lang syne.
This is a better movie than the vacuous "Insurrection," thanks largely to a sympathetic screenwriter, longtime "Trek" fanatic John Logan ("Gladiator"), and a crew (headed by Patrick Stewart's Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and Brent Spiner's android Data) determined to go out in glory. The movie has its problems, chief among them the often funereal pace set by new director Stuart Baird ("Executive Decision"). But if only by a small margin, "Nemesis" does continue that peculiar "Star Trek" tradition in which the even-numbered films reign superior to the odd.
At the core of the story - which is sometimes as emotional as any of the "Trek" movies since Nicholas Meyer's withering "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan" - is another archetypal "Star Trek" space battle bathed in personal trauma.
The filmmakers begin with one horrific scene (the gassing of Romulus) and one corny one (Data singing "Blue Skies" lounge-style at the wedding reception of Jonathan Frakes' Riker and Marina Sirtis' Deanna Troi). Then, "Nemesis" develops its mirror-image gimmick, showing Picard and Data as they confront another evil intergalactic plot, their doubles and their own mortality.
The space war is an attempt by the planet Remus to conquer its sister world Romulus by deception, and then to take on the Starfleet, led by a humanoid clone of Picard named Shinzon (Tom Hardy) - the image of the captain when he was younger and more reckless. Data's double, a mysterious android prototype called B-4, is a gentler, goofier, dumber version of Data, giving Spiner, who co-wrote the story, an actor's treat. But Shinzon is one of the series' major heavies, a slick and dangerous mastermind who's teamed up with the bitter, warmongering Remans and their reptilian Viceroy (Ron Perlman) to subjugate Romulus and beat Picard. Along for the battle are the rest of the "Generations" cast, including blind, blue-eyed Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton), gruff Worf (Michael Dorn) and Picard favorite Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden).
Just as the old "Trek" captain, William Shatner, was prone to spasms of hamminess, Stewart often likes to give his speeches a Shakespearean ring - but here, somehow it fits. The core of the film is the father-son battle between Picard and Shinzon, and as Stewart plays against the talented young Hardy as his clone, we get both combat and a sense of longing and regret. A melancholy feeling of autumnal sadness and leave-taking pervades the film - Riker is getting his own command, Crusher and others may be transferring or departing as well - and it's obviously the work of a writer who loves the whole series and doesn't really want to see it go.
As a pop phenomenon, "Star Trek" was notable because its stories were more than sci-fi hardware. They emphasized ideas and parallels with the present, and this movie tries to revive that idealism, even though most of the feeling it ends up quickening is for the series itself. Yet it's nice to catch a bit of that mood again, to feel connected to the long-spanned TV and movie past "Star Trek" always evokes.
Will Picard's group survive? Stewart and others have suggested that the box-office receipts here will tell that story. Though I'm no fan of the second "Star Trek" run of movies - I hated the way the first cast was dumped in 1994's "Star Trek Generations" - I find myself rooting for them here, hoping that those legions of Trekkers, Trekkies, tech-geeks and sci-fi aficionados find their ways into the theaters again. Why cross the final frontier until you're ready?
2 1/2 stars (out of 4) "Star Trek Nemesis"
Directed by Stuart Baird; written by John Logan, from a story by Logan, Rick Berman & Brent Spiner; photographed by Jeffrey L. Kimball; edited by Dallas Puett; production designed by Herman Zimmerman; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Berman. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday, Dec. 13. Running time: 1:56. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and peril and a scene of sexual content).
Jean-Luc Picard - Patrick Stewart
William Riker - Jonathan Frakes
Data/B-4 - Brent Spiner
Geordi La Forge - LeVar Burton
Worf - Michael Dorn
Beverly Crusher - Gates McFadden
Deanna Troi - Marina Sirtis Shinzon - Tom Hardy
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times