With all the recent fuss over the longevity of the James Bond franchise, the folks over at "Star Trek" must be feeling like intergalactic chopped liver.
Has everyone forgotten that since starting out in 1966, the Trekkers have turned out four TV series with hundreds and hundreds of episodes, not to mention 10 motion pictures, all complete with sharp uniforms, menacing aliens and bracing commands from the bridge? Does all this fade into insignificance at the sight of Halle Berry in an orange bikini?
Ever resilient and reliable, the Starship Enterprise team has never hesitated to move forward no matter what the obstacles, and the latest feature, "Star Trek Nemesis," has once again ventured into unexplored territory. Both a writer ("Gladiator's" John Logan) and a director (Stuart Baird of "U.S. Marshals") new to the franchise have signed on for the latest voyage and ushered in a spanking new group of outer space outlaws.
These would be the dreadful Remans, as creepy in a vampire-like, "Nosferatu"-influenced way as you'd expect folks who live on the dark side of their planet to be. But it's their leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), who is most unnerving and whose back story gives this film the most insinuating villain since Alice Krige's Queen of the Borg stopped hearts across the galaxy.
Before the Remans are confronted, the Starship crew, led as always by Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), pauses for some happy moments. The captain's right-hand man, Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is marrying half-human, half-Betazoid Cmdr. Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) in a wedding highlighted by a chorus of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" sung by emotionless android Data (Brent Spiner) and Whoopi Goldberg, in an uncredited appearance as Guinan.On the way to Betazed for further celebrations, the crew stops at the planet Kolarus III, where they discover a dismantled look-alike earlier version of Data called B-4 (get it?). "This doesn't feel right," the captain says, and who should know better than he?
Given that they are already close to the Romulan neutral zone, the Enterprise is next sent on a diplomatic mission to that hostile planet, which, in a massive break with precedent, has a new ruler who comes from the usually subservient sister planet of Remus. And what a ruler he turns out to be.
For unlike his creepy Viceroy (an unrecognizable Ron Perlman) and the other Remans, Shinzon is a human, albeit a human who has seen so few of his kind that he reacts like a sailor at a strip club when he notices the lovely Commander Troi, adding one of several unexpected notes of sexual urgency to the proceedings.
Played with an unsettling youthful hauteur by British actor Hardy (previously seen in "Band of Brothers" and "Black Hawk Down"), Shinzon has a noticeable resemblance to, yes, Capt. Picard. Is it the bald head, the jaunty nose, the air of steely resolve? As someone asks in a typical "Star Trek" moment, "What is this all about?"
Hey, it's about the old-fashioned kind of thematic science fiction that isn't seen much anymore, redolent of late-night dorm-room chat sessions on issues like doubles and the nature of identity, when questions on the order of "can the echo defeat the voice" could seem, after too much caffeine abuse, like something almost profound. Questions that helped make the original Gene Roddenberry "Star Trek" such a phenomenon.
It's true that the "Star Trek" movies, and "Nemesis" is only partially an exception, have an air of pokey earnestness about them. No one is going to say they have the narrative propulsion of a runaway train, no matter who writes and directs them. And, with Stewart and in this case Hardy very much the exceptions, no one is going to say they are memorably acted. Familiarity and continuity are what the success of this series has always been about. We've been here before, and we like the neighborhood.
'Star Trek: Nemesis'
MPAA rating: PG-13, for sci-fi action violence and a scene of sexual conduct.
Times guidelines: A single strange scene of sexual substitution.
Patrick Stewart ... Jean-Luc Picard
Tom Hardy ... Shinzon
Jonathan Frakes ... William Riker
Brent Spiner ... Data/B-4
Marina Sirtis ... Deanna Troi
Ron Perlman ... Viceroy
A Rick Berman production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Stuart Baird. Producer Rick Berman. Executive producer Marty Hornstein. Screenplay John Logan. Story John Logan & Rick Berman & Brent Spiner. Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball. Editor Dallas Puett. Costumes Bob Ringwood. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Herman Zimmerman. Art directors Cherie Baker, Donald B. Woodruff. Set decorators Ronald R. Reiss, John M. Dwyer. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.