Not going to make anybody forget Willie Nelson’s definitive verson.

The Plot: Captain Picard goes to Romulus to try to work out a peace proposal with the new leader there, who reveals a secret connection to Picard. Things quickly get tense and dangerous, a cat-and-mouse game develops, a character sacrifices himself, yadda yadda. It’s Wrath Of Khan, you’ve seen this before.

What Works: The movie looks good. Special effects are amazing, best of the series to date. Big improvement over Insurrection.

What Doesn’t Work: Honestly, everything wrong with the movie can be found in this scene:

For one thing, making the villain a casual rapist is a cliche, a sign that you’re not watching a very good movie. But this isn’t just some Chuck Norris film from the 1980s, this is Star Trek. I’m not saying that you can’t portray sexual violence in it, but this is just wrong for the franchise. We had similar stuff to this in the series with “Violations”, which is not exactly one of my favorite episodes, but that episode at least earned it to a level this one didn’t. The eventual abuser in that episode was given far more of a personality and reason for doing what he did, even if it was a bog-standard erotic thriller plot. This is just something to jerk the audience around, emotionally. Fuck them for this.

Why does Shinzon do this? Why does he do anything? The classic Plinkett review for this movie makes mincemeat of any plausible motivation for the character. Shinzon is I guess motivated by sadism, sexual and otherwise. He doesn’t really care about political power or much of anything else. Of course, Khan didn’t really have a plan, but at least the movie sold us on how his trauma made him lose it. His desire for revenge is at least a motivation, and can be traced back to the pain of losing his wife. Shinzon, though, enjoys mind-rape, he likes toying with Picard, and ultimately he wants to destroy Earth, not because Earth ever did anything to him, but apparently because it would make Picard sad and cause a lot of pain. Gosh, what a fun villain.

Not as though there’s much going on with our heroes either. There’s a classic bad-movie bit at the movie’s 2/3 mark where Data has a speech where he lays out the film’s alleged theme about aspiring to be more. A Star Trekian theme to be sure. But it has nothing to do with the movie. The movie’s motif of dark doubles doesn’t quite amount to a theme. John Logan has proven himself to be, if not one of the all-time greats, at least a proficient screenwriter, so it’s hard not to lump the blame for this onto credited story contributors Brent Spiner and Rick Berman. I don’t know who’s to blame, and ultimately it doesn’t really matter. I’m happy to blame them all! This movie takes care to give everybody something to do, which is not the same as having them figure prominently into the story. You could have cut Troi’s rape subplot and Riker’s fight with the Reman altogether and have lost nothing of consequence from the movie. This is a major, major problem. Then again, if you search YouTube, there are so many deleted scenes from this movie! Whole characters and subplots that went by the wayside. Seems clear enough that the entire project was unfocused from the start.

As for the obvious thing. This is yet another riff on The Wrath Of Khan, though more direct than the prior couple in the series. It is, though, a very surface-level take on The Wrath Of Khan, one that seems to not understand what actually made that movie work. Picard has no real arc, he and Shinzon have essentially the same scene, over and over again, with Picard being the Luke Skywalker to Shinzon’s Darth Vader, only Shinzon is actually Emperor Palpatine, so getting through to him is hopeless. There’s so little to say about the mechanics of the plot since they’re so similar to The Wrath Of Khan–there’s even a climactic fight in a nebula!–that privileges plot over character to an insane degree. Those Khan beats are damn well going to happen, whether or not they make any sense based on the characters! (This is probably why Shinzon is such a bad character–he’s just bent and prodded into these dramatic beats which have little to do with the character at all. He’s not really a Khan figure but they sure try to make him one.) To me, the real failure of the movie is present in the wake they hold for Data (which is, surprisingly, not available on YouTube). It’s just profoundly wrong, almost an afterthought where Khan had a funeral scene of striking emotional power. And for a true incarnation of Marx’s “second time as farce” rule, we get Picard interacting with the B4 unit–truly, one of the worst characters ever created for Star Trek–which teases the “Data’s not really dead” thing in the context of a painfully misjudged scene. This is the new version of the David scene from Khan, this!. Bad comedy and a clumsy let’s just say “homage.” The film ends with time-lapsed footage of the Enterprise‘s repairs, yet another indication that they intended to keep on making these. Not since the ending of the Super Mario Bros. movie has a sequel promise been so hilariously incorrect.

In the end, what can you say? Star Trek Insurrection broke little new ground, but at least it was made with some care by people who knew the franchise. Nemesis was made by people who had contempt for it. I’ll never get Paramount’s seeming distaste for being in the Star Trek business. Instead of finding a good director who liked (or at least understood) the material, they just got some studio hack in there to whom they contractually owed a film. Why? Why did it take four years to make this movie? (Presumably because Berman was busy miscarrying Enterprise, I suppose.) Why did they think this was a good final chapter to The Next Generation. Questions abound. But as an ending to the story of Rick Berman, it’s actually sort of perfect. Berman produced some good Star Trek, but the big mistake was to give him the movie franchise as well. Even at its height under his stewardship (First Contact), it was never quite what it should have been, and one has to assume it was because he was so busy with the two television shows he executive produced. And, honestly, movies never seemed to be his particular strong suit. The four TNG movies are too formulaic and share too many of the same stock elements, suggesting that Berman was in over his head in trying to create distinctive cinematic adventures for the crew. It’s true now that the boundaries between TV and film have become blurry, but Berman is old school in that respect and never really seemed to understand what makes a good film. Aside from First Contact, none of the films feels particularly assured, and in context that seems like a fluke. Given the nature of the film industry it’s often hard to pin the blame on one person, but in this case, it’s the only logical explanation.

Legacy: Killed the franchise. Fans and cast about equally hate it. Not the worst made but the most hated of the entire series, and with the worst box-office performance to boot. No doubt there will be an attempt to reevaluate this at some point but it doesn’t matter. It’s painfully bad.

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