There is no need to watch the final pre-reboot Star Trek movies to enjoy or make sense of the new Star Trek: Picard series, I can say this with some confidence having now watched both Picard and Nemesis in reverse order. However, it is also true that at least the one episode that is available of Picard, follow on from Nemesis. The focus on Data and on the Romulnan directly echo the plot of Nemesis.
As a Star Trek film Nemesis has a bad reputation. There had been an intention to make one further Star Trek film with the same core cast, wrapping up the The Next Generation era of films but poor box-office and poor reviews for Nemesis led to the final film’s cancellation.
Yet, there is a lot of positives that could be said about the film. Unfortunately, there is one substantial negative that makes the film both unlikeable and hard to recommend. That point is yet another case of ‘psychic rape’ of Deanna Troi, the empathic ship’s Counselor. I’m not going to get into the details but it is particularly unpleasant and gratuitous. There is a very thin plot relevance (later Troi’s psychic connection is used to locate a cloaked ship) and the lurid scene makes little sense for any of the characters involved.
The broader theme of the film is twins. Picking up from the twee connection of the Romulans to Rome’s legendary twins, Romulus and Remus, we get two sets of twins. Firstly, Data encounters a prototype version of himself called B4. The introduction of B4 gives Brent Spiner even more scope for humour throughout.
The second ‘twin’, is Shinzon. A clone of Picard made by the Romulans originally as part of a plan to infiltrate the Federation but later abandoned on the slave planet Remus due to leadership changes. Played very adeptly by a young Tom Hardy, Shinzon is naturally not very like Picard at all. A point everyone tries to explain to Shinzon who is convinced that he is how Picard would be if Picard had lived his life: a point that is trivially true in one sense but otherwise vacuous.
From there, the film is a decent but unremarkable Star Trek story. There are shades of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country with the story leading to prospects of peace between the Romulans and the Federation. A closer comparison can be made with Wrath of Khan, the Star Trek film that was so good that it cast an awkward shadow on subsequent films. As the title suggests, Shinzon is set-up as a nemesis for Picard of a standing that Kahn is for Kirk. We also get a space ship battle within a nebula and cunning tactical moves by Picard to outwit Shinzon.
Like Wrath of Kahn we also get the departure of a signature cast member. In the final confrontation Commander Data sacrifices himself to destroy Shinzon’s doomsday weapon. Of course, the film leaves open a way for Data to return (B4) but unlike Spock, Data’s death proved to be more final with the cancellation of the film series.
Data’s death makes for a melancholy end to the TNG era. The start of the film had already established that Commander Riker and Counselor Troi were moving on from the Enterprise, so the film genuinely has a sense of it being an end. Inadvertently, this gives the film an odd, unintended depth to it. Rather, than a final encore for this Enterprise crew, their story ends with a messy final mission and people going their seperate ways after a tragic death. T
The film doesn’t tease a sequel except for B4 haltingly remembering the words to Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’. Data sings the song early in the film at Troi & Riker’s wedding and it’s minor-key optimism works nicely as a kind of lietmotif for Data. Nicely, this is picked up again early in the first episode of Picard.
Not every story ends well and Nemesis encapsulates that both in its own themes and as a box-office flop for a venerable film series.