Dir: Stuart Baird. US. 2002. 117mins.

After four years in space dock, Paramount's Star Trek franchise is back with a solidly entertaining 10th big-screen instalment, whose disappointing US debut nevertheless casts doubt over the future of the 23-year-old movie series. An opening weekend gross of $18.8m from 2,711 US sites suggests that Star Trek: Nemesis - which in its second week will face potentially crushing competition from the similarly oriented Lord Of The Rings sequel - will not even equal the $70.2m US gross of 1998's creatively uninspiring Star Trek: Insurrection, itself the franchise's weakest domestic performer since the 1980s. Improving much on the franchise's recent international track record - the last three movies have averaged less than $50m outside the US - will also be tough, though Nemesis might get a small boost from the casting of young Brit Tom Hardy (from The Reckoning and Black Hawk Down) as the villain of the piece.

Pre-release reports were already suggesting that Nemesis might be the last mission for the cast, led by Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the 1987-94 TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation (a fact that had been expected to help the new film at the box office). The story does point towards a parting of the ways for the current crew and the script, by franchise newcomer John Logan (Gladiator), handily blends the adventure at hand with affectionate interplay between the longtime colleagues on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Nemesis will certainly be helped commercially by suggestions that this may be the last mission for the Next Generation crew led by Patrick Stewart's Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The story does point towards a parting of the ways for the current crew and the script, by franchise newcomer John Logan (Gladiator), handily blends the adventure at hand with affectionate interplay between the long-time colleagues on the bridge of the Enterprise.

An early, atypically muscular action sequence involving Picard and pals in what is essentially a good old-fashioned car chase leads into a trip by the Enterprise to the homeworld of familiar Federation enemy the Romulans. On Romulus, Picard is summoned to meet with the planet's new ruler Shinzon (Hardy), an ambitious young human who, it transpires, was secretly cloned by the Romulans from Picard himself. Shinzon claims to be a peacemaker, but before long he's headed towards Earth with a powerful new weapon of mass destruction. The Enterprise sets off in pursuit, hoping against the odds to save the inhabitants of Earth from annihilation.

The film's relatively talky first half emphasises Star Trek's philosophical bent, as Picard struggles to come to terms with the existence of his genetic 'son', a son who shares many of the Captain's qualities but plans to put them to less noble use. Shrouded in shadows and assisted by a scary looking henchman (Perlman), Hardy makes an intriguing, morally ambiguous nemesis for the ever-dignified Picard.

Woven into the central battle of wits are sub-plots that pick up ongoing franchise storylines concerning other Enterprise officers. The impending marriage of second-in-command William Riker (Frakes) and counsellor Deanna Troi (Sirtis) provides some touches of humour (Worf doesn't fancy the minimalist dress code customary on Deanna's planet). And the discovery of B-4, a lost prototype of the ship's almost-human android Data (Spiner plays both roles), sets up a plot thread that leads eventually to one of the franchise's most affecting moments.

In its second half, the film focuses more on space action, as the Enterprise slugs it out with Shinzon's massively armed Romulan destroyer. Director Stuart Baird (US Marshals) orchestrates the action well, giving the battle the feel and pace of a classic naval confrontation. The sequence might have been even more impressive, however, with better special effects. Never exactly on the cutting edge, the Star Trek franchise's effects work now suffers by comparison to the digital wizardry of the new Star Wars films and other mega-budget spectaculars. If Paramount decides to continue the franchise - perhaps with the cast of one of The Next Generation's follow-up TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager - it will have to allow for a significant increase in effects budgets.

Prod cos: Paramount Pictures
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Rick Berman
Exec prod:
Marty Hornstein
John Logan
Jeffrey L Kimball
Prod des:
Herman Zimmerman
Dallas Puett
Jerry Goldsmith
Main cast:
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, Tom Hardy, Ron Perlman