(2002)2.5Karl WilliamsUsing as a story template Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) -- the most popular and critically acclaimed entry in the long-running Star Trek franchise -- the tenth film in the sci-fi saga from Paramount Pictures is an entertaining, tightly paced action epic that doesn't quite live up to the high-water mark it's aping. Director Stuart Baird performs admirably given the budgetary constraints imposed by his corporate masters: the effects are fine, the sets and costumes suitably eye-pleasing, and a few performances are quite memorable, particularly guest star Tom Hardy as a scenery-chewing villain in the best Ming the Merciless/Khan Noonian Singh tradition. As usual, audiences are also treated to generous helpings of the genuinely funny, touching pas de deux that is Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard and Brent Spiner's Data, the yin-yang relationship that is at the heart of this enterprise, literally and figuratively. However, the real problem with all of the Next Generation stories remains the same. This particular incarnation is too top-heavy with characters and their respective plot lines, all shoehorned in to keep their respective costume-wearing fans satisfied. The original Trek wisely kept such day players as Chekhov, Sulu, Uhura, and Scotty mostly in the background, focusing primarily on the Freudian trio of McCoy, Spock and Kirk (has it ever been more obvious that three characters represented Id, Superego and Ego?). Here, every supporting player gets his or her moment in the sun, whether it's a couple of sarcastic quips (Worf) or an entire, energy-sapping subplot (Riker and Troi). Thus hobbled, even devoted fan and Oscar-winning screenwriter John Logan is forced to glance away too often from his main storyline, a credibility-straining but satisfyingly exuberant attempt to create protagonists as fiendishly clever and personal as the series' finest bad guys, the Borg. What works in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) works quite well, and that could cause the studio to remain understandably reluctant to tamper with success. But while recycling may be good for the bottom line, it doesn't yield blockbusters. Discovery is only ever the result of experimentation and exploration, of pushing boundaries and trying something new, of literally going where no one has gone before. What could be more appropriate for Star Trek than that?