As the Enterprise crew gets ready to break up — a newly married Riker and Troi are leaving so Riker can finally get his own ship — they detect evidence of positronic energy on a random planet. After a poorly done battle outing with some primitives there, Picard, Data and Worf recover another Soong-type android named B-4, apparently a prototype that looks exactly like Data, though he’s less advanced. Data links with B-4 in an attempt to help the prototype develop, though the results of the data transfer are hard to predict and could leave B-4 with Data’s personality. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is called to Romulus, by the mysterious new head of the government. Turns out the new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), is a younger clone of Picard, whom the Romulans created for espionage some years back but who has led a coup to take over the government and now says he wants peace. Of course, Shinzon’s lying and he is really after Picard — he needs a blood transfusion to live — and has plans to attack Earth. The Enterprise and Shinzon’s ship engage in a massive battle, leaving both ships somewhat disabled. Shinzon then starts a buildup within his ship’s “thalaron” reactor that will wipe out everything nearby, including a disabled Enterprise. Picard beams over to stop him, and Data follows. Data sends Picard back to the Enterprise and then destroys Shinzon’s ship and himself before the reactor can go critical. Back on the Enterprise, with Riker and Troi gone, Picard talks with B-4 about Data. B-4 doesn’t understand what Picard is saying, but starts to sing a song Data sang at Riker and Troi’s wedding early in the film. A smiling Picard leaves B-4 and heads to the bridge, ending the TNG storyline.
Why it’s important
This movie is extremely flawed, as we’ll discuss. But it’s also incredibly significant in the Star Trek universe. Before the rebooted movies in 2009, it detailed the last events of the second-generation Trek timeline. It aired more than a year after Voyager’s final episode, and Enterprise, of course, took place in the distant past.
We learn that the Romulans didn’t remain allies with the Federation after the war with the Dominion, as they were in DS9, though this movie does effectively tie those events in by making Shinzon a former military leader in that conflict. We learn the Federation is still OK and apparently has recovered since the war. “Star Trek: Insurrection”, which we won’t review, takes place immediately after that war — but this movie shows things three or four years later.
Meanwhile, it appears that the events here could lead to some sort of a new relationship with the Romulans, as Riker’s first mission as captain of his new ship is said to be going to Romulus to begin peace talks (with Shinzon gone). How that plays into the reboot stuff in the 2009’s “Star Trek” is unclear. It’s also odd that there’s no mention of Spock — who was on Romulus as of TNG’s fifth season — in this movie.
What doesn’t hold up
To this film’s credit, it has fewer logical gaffes than “Generations” (though that’s not a tall order) and feels more significant than “Insurrection”. What doesn’t work is less about inconsistencies and more about poor execution and bad writing. But let’s talk about the inconsistencies and logic fails first.
Probably the worst logical gaffe comes early when Picard, Data and Worf recover B-4 from a primitive world. There’s not even a mention of how the trio is quite clearly violating the Prime Directive in its ground battle with the random aliens.
Beyond that, Shinzon’s plan is just completely ridiculous. Basically, he found B-4 (how is never explained), programmed him to be a sort of sleeper agent (he sends info to Shinzon while on the Enterprise) and planted him on the random planet figuring the Enterprise (on its way to Betazed) would just happen upon him and be the nearest ship to Romulus when he called for a Federation envoy. Then, the Enterprise would get called to Romulus with B-4 on board because it’s the closest ship.
But … how did Shinzon know that the Enterprise would be anywhere near the planet where he left B-4 (is Betazed really that close to the Neutral Zone)? Why did he feel the need to (apparently) draw the Enterprise close to Romulus? Why not simply tell the Federation that he would only deal with the captain and crew of the flagship? What would have happened if Shinzon hadn’t found B-4? That whole part of the story just makes very little sense and was pretty much unnecessary. It would have made more sense if Shinzon had built B-4, using stolen plans, or something, and demanded that the Federation send the Enterprise and only the Enterprise. Maybe he could have offered B-4 to the Enterprise as a gift?
There’s also the matter of Shinzon deciding to attack Earth. Frankly, that was just a twirling-mustache move that wasn’t necessary. Shinzon wanted Picard. Putting Earth into the equation was just overly dramatic nonsense.
Oh, and putting Worf back on the Enterprise was pretty goofy. His appearance in “Star Trek: Insurrection” was justified by a throwaway line — and apparently took place as the Federation was negotiating with the Dominion after that war ended on DS9. But in the final episode of DS9, Worf left to become the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire. I guess the idea was that he didn’t make it as an ambassador and some time over the next three years, he came back to the Enterprise?
Same goes with the situation with Wesley, who appears briefly at Riker and Troi’s wedding. Last we saw him, in “Journey’s End”, he resigned from Starfleet and was going to explore new realms of existence or something. But here, eight years later, he’s back in a Starfleet uniform. So, what the hell happened? It’s also odd that he had no lines in the actual film!
Logical problems aside, this movie fails because of its artistic choices and the idea that it has to jam some characters into the action. Notably, the Riker/Troi stuff (post wedding) was just awful. The whole business with Shinzon’s viceroy (Ron Pearlman) having mental powers and assaulting Troi is mostly uncomfortable — and Riker’s decision to fight the viceroy (after he boards the ship) was not at all interesting. As noted previously, the writers clearly ran out of things for Riker to do late in TNG. This is a great example of them struggling to get him involved.
Beyond that, there’s the homage/ripoff of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. I’ve never been offended, as some were, by the idea of the callback. But the implausibility of the situation (as noted above) just makes it feel way too forced. Data sacrificing himself and possibly living on in B-4 really wasn’t an awful idea, but the execution was bad.
The movie also has an odd tendency to include superfluous scenes (the Troi assault, the goofiness in the Romulan Senate to start the movie, the stupid action scene with the random aliens after B-4 is recovered, etc.) and to leave other matters unaddressed. Left on the cutting room floor were lines from Wesley at the wedding (I can’t imagine Wil Wheaton was thrilled with that) and a subplot about Crusher leaving the ship to go run Starfleet Medical. That last part would have been important (considering her relationship with Picard) and the idea that the family is really breaking up. Even before Data’s death, Picard would have had to deal with the loss of Riker, Troi AND Crusher.
As it is, the TNG sendoff feels forced — and overly dark. Removing the Troi assault, the Riker fight and the Romulan Senate scenes would have brightened up a dark film and allowed time for other, more important scenes.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why “Star Trek: Insurrection” didn’t get a review, it’s that it’s mostly inconsequential in the Trek universe. We never hear of the aliens in that film again (aside from one random mention on DS9) and the “insurrection” doesn’t have any last effects. The movie’s most interesting idea — that Starfleet, after all the conflicts in the DS9 years, was old and somewhat desperate — is not really explored. As a film, “Insurrection” is right up there with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” in its episodic nature and overall quality.
Coming next week …