Sunday, July 27, 2014

Character Insight No. 106: Shinzon

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile Shinzon from Star Trek Nemesis, who comes in at number 5 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.

("Hard to Believe This Little Guy Grows Up to be Bane")

Shinzon was created to try and give Captain Picard an ultimate personal villain in the vein of Khan for Captain Kirk. However, much of his story and motivations had to be cut from this movie and that made the actual character fall flat from where he could've been, which would have ranked near the top of this list. 

Shinzon is a clone of Captain Picard who was created by the Romulan Empire as part of ap lan to replace the powerful Starfleet officer with a spy. But the Shinzon plan was abandoned by the Romulan government while he was a boy, and he was discarded to work as a slave in the mines on Remus. The human was abused there and that made him jaded against both his heritage as a human and the Romulan government.

Shinzon got his chance to become powerful during the Dominion War, as the Reman slaves were used during this engagement. He then uses the power gained during his successes in this conflict to kill the Romulan Senate with thalaron radiation and come to power as Praetor of the Empire. 

His plan was to use the thalaron weapon to wipe out Earth to exact revenge on humanity as well as become more famous than Picard in the history books thanks to taking down the mighty Federation. Unfortunately the scenes establishing this latter motive are cut from the movie, which means the viewers only get to see a hollow revenge plot as this villain's motivation.

Quote of the Week: "We will no longer bow before anyone as slaves. Not the Romulans and not your mighty Federation. We are a race bred for war... and conquest."
Shinzon lures Picard and the Enterprise by planting parts of a Data clone B4 on a planet and then offering peace talks on behalf of the Romulan Empire. As a result of his failing health, Shinzon is encouraged by his Reman colleagues to continue the plan by trying to abduct Picard and destroy the Enterprise. His ship the Scimitar has a huge advantage in being able to fire while cloaked, much like the Klingons in Star Trek VI. But Shinzon's perverse fascination with Deanna Troi does him in, as she is able to telepathically link with him to locate where his cloaked ship is, leading to the Enterprise staging a comeback highlighted by Picard ramming the Enterprise into the Scimitar.
Shinzon then decides to try and commit suicide to at least take down the Enterprise, but Data sacrifices himself to save his Captain and end the movies for this cast. Again, making another parallel with the Khan storyline and Spock's sacrifice.
Shinzon as a villain is a great idea, but the execution was not great because it is difficult to establish a compelling back story and his character motivations in a movie less than 2 hours long. Additionally, the parallels to the Star Trek II plot were too much at times, crossing the line from honoring the past to lazy copycatting.

Tom Hardy played Shinzon, and he has continued to act in movies over the past decade, really breaking through in Inception and then highlighted by his appearance as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (Your Punishment Will Be More..Severe).

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, July 21, 2014

Character Insight No. 105: Alexander Marcus

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.--------------------Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile Admiral Alexander Marcus from Star Trek Into Darkness, who surprisingly jumps all the way to number 6 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.

(Perhaps a perfection of the "Badmiral")

Alexander Marcus is an admiral who serves as the head of Starfleet during the Kirk era. He is also the father of Carol Marcus, who later has a child named David with Captain Kirk, at least in the prime timeline. So in a way, this is old grandpa Marcus. 

When Kirk is demoted following a breaking of the Prime Directive, Marcus is convinced by one of his proteges Christopher Pike to let Kirk keep serving actively as first officer on Enterprise. But that decision does not shield Kirk from annoying Marcus, especially when he can't keep quiet during a top level briefing following Khan's bombing of an archive facility in London.

Quote of the Week: "Speak Up Son, Tomorrow is too late..."

In that same briefing, Khan attacks the admirals, captains, and first officers, which leads to the unfortunate death of Christopher Pike and the re-assigning of the Enterprise to Kirk. In order to get rid of Kirk and kill two birds with one stone, Marcus sends Kirk and the Enterprise to go bomb Khan, who has taken refuge on an abandoned part of the Klingon homeworld Qo'Nos, and he sends him with 72 special torpedos which just so happen to have frozen people inside. 

Of course, Kirk listens to the better judgement of Spock and Scotty in not using the torpedos to launch a direct attack on the Klingon homeworld, especially in view of his engine problems. Khan gives himself up when he learns of the torpedos and eventually causes Kirk to open one and discover the truth. Admiral Marcus had been using the genetically-enhanced Khan to build epic warships and armaments to gear up under the guise of Section 31 for a war to be provoked with the Klingons. 

And of course, when Khan turns on Marcus and starts a one-man war with Starfleet, Marcus tries to cover his mistake by killing Khan while also provoking the war he has prepared to start. When Kirk doesn't follow this plan as expected, Marcus and his Section 31 cronies track Kirk down in the warship Vengeance and turn against the Enterprise in an effort to finally finish Khan and correct Marcus's mistake. 

This warmongering desire and his disregard for the lives of the Enterprise crew immediately turn Marcus into another villain of the film, one that Khan and Kirk must combine forces to defeat. Indeed, Damon Lindeloff has been quoted that the Marcus storyline was intended to bring a trope of Hong Kong filmmaking into the Trek movies, that being the villain and the hero needing to team up temporarily for the sake of both.

Marcus gets what is coming to him, though, thanks to the efforts of a rogue stowaway Scotty on the Vengeance and a totally unrealistic but entertaining Thruster suit jump of Kirk and Khan between the damaged ships. He stands by his principles until the end though,...

Quote of the Week (2): "All-out war with the Klingons is inevitable, Mr. Kirk. If you ask me, it's already begun...You killed a Klingon patrol. Even if you got away without a trace, war is coming. And who's gonna lead us?! YOU?! If I'm not in charge, our entire way of life is decimated! So, you want me off this ship, you better kill me."

...And then Khan crushes his head, ending this Badmiral. 

Marcus pushes into the top 10 because the acting performance of Peter Weller is superb, showing a man standing by his principles even when the result seems flawed. Weller has been quoted as disliking the label of villain for Marcus because everything he says about the Klingons is true and he is simply trying to fix his mistakes to clear his conscience when Kirk and the Enterprise get in the way. That belief helps him pull off this performance so much more than a typical bad guy actor. This character is a huge bright spot in an otherwise ordinary copycat movie.

Weller has played in many movies and television series since the 1970's, highlighted by appearances on 24, Dexter, and of course, as Robocop in those original movies. (Insert Officer Murphy)

Until next time, live long and prosper...