Review by Kelly Grosskreutz
Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Saffron Burrows, Matthew Lillard, Tchèky Karyo, and Jürgen Prochnow
Director: Chris Roberts
Rating: Lambda Shuttle
Wing Commander is one of those movies that looks really good on the previews, presents itself as a movie that any science-fiction movie lover should see, so one gets really excited. And then one makes the mistake of renting it out and watching it, and realizes that the actual movie does not live up to the previews. Later on, I find out that the movie was based on a series of video games of the same name, and that those who play the games didn't even care for the movie, although in their case, it was more because of how badly it was adapted than because of other things.
I have never played the video game. My rating has absolutely nothing to do with knowing the original source of the movie and everything to do with the lame plot, the laughable fighters, the pathetic excuse for a fighter squadron that is Earth's last, best hope, and how the main character of the movie comes across as a really mediocre ripoff of a Star Wars book character.
Yes, I'll admit right now, much of my review is going to reference back to the Star Wars X-wing book series, a far superior work and one I recommend if one is interested in science fiction fighter squadrons. In fact, I'll recommend right now that you go to your bookstore or your library, grab a copy of Rogue Squadron by Michael A. Stackpole, and read that instead of watching Wing Commander. You can get some of the same things told in a way that won't have you laughing/groaning with how lame it is, and you can see a character that Christopher Blair of Wing Commander wishes he could be someday. Actually, I recommend that you go out and do pretty much anything before renting/viewing this movie.
Let's start with the plot. These aliens, the Kilrathi, are at war with Earth. Why? Because they are. Earth tried talking to the Kilrathi, but there was no negotiating with them. This is the sole reason we have for the Kilrathi wanting to obliterate Earth. Why do they want to take out Earth? Do they not like humans? Did Earth commit some grievous error of Kilrathi protocol unintentionally? Do they seek to conquer the galaxy? We will never know, because all we are given to know is that the Kilrathi are bad and are willing to go to any lengths to take out Earth.
So they attack this station and get this box which I'm assuming, from the rest of the movie, gives the Kilrathi the ability to find Earth itself. We are given the impression that, without this box, the Kilrathi would never find planet Earth. They are at war with a planet they can't even find? That makes no sense.
Anyway, the station manages to send out a message warning whoever gets it (presumably human) that the Kilrathi have the box and will reach Earth two hours before Earth's fleet does. For some reason, Earth is left defenseless in the middle of a war. Some admiral gets the message and calls up some little ship, that happens to be flying to a bigger ship that seems to be located out in the middle of nowhere. All the important data needed to save Earth is entrusted to one of the three, a newbie pilot, Christopher Blair, and the ship flies to the bigger ship, the Tigerclaw. Did I mention that the important data is encoded onto a minidisk?
So the Tigerclaw is supposed to somehow buy two hours of time for Earth's fleet to get back to Earth so they can defend it. The ship is somehow supposed to stall an entire fleet of enemy ships. While they're supposedly flying around and deciding what to do about the Kilrathi (it seems little to nothing is done on this front except hoping the Kilrathi doesn't find them), Blair and his friend get to know their new squadron, the one they were originally being sent there to join.
Let's take a look at the pilots in this squadron. The commander, Devereaux, has to struggle to get anybody to obey her orders. At one point, she capitulates when one of her pilots is subordinate, and the subordinate pilot gets his way. She is not afraid to sleep with those under her command. And, when a pilot dies, she has the wonderful coping mechanism of going around and saying that pilot never existed, a policy the entire squadron has adapted.
As stated earlier, the rest of the pilots do not know how to follow orders. They think every order is open to debate and discussion. Blair's friend and the girl he hitches up with should never have been allowed near a cockpit. I don't know if this was supposed to be the movie's version of a Wes Janson, but it came off really lame. He was an annoying jerk, he was reckless, and partly because of his idiocy, people died. His girlfriend wasn't much better, but of course nothing was done with her because she was best friends with the commander.
Once this lame excuse for a squadron actually gets to go out and fly, then we get to see what they call starfighters. The Kilrathi ships and the Tigerclaw both have shielded ships. So what seems to be the main weapon of choice on these starfighters? Machine guns. Yes, you read that right. They are using machine guns to shoot down the enemy. The pilots are constantly putting on and taking off breath masks that are obviously taken straight from contemporary aircraft. They are acting like they are flying in atmosphere instead of space.
And this is not the only time the writers of the movie seem to have forgotten that everything was supposed to be happening in space. At one point, the Tigerclaw is running silent when hiding from the Kilrathi. One guy started cheering and was shushed quickly because the Kilrathi might've been able to hear. They even took the submarine analogy so far as to have the ship being pinged by the enemy sensors. The writers must've forgotten that they were filming a movie set in space, a place where sound does not travel through vaccuum.
There is a scene where they have to clear away a demolished fighter. The order is given to push it over the side. They do so. The ship so elegantly and gracefully slips over the ledge and plummets down. This, again, would've worked if this had been a sailing ship but, again, they forgot they were filming in space, a place that also has no gravity. The ship should have just floated away, not fallen like a stone.
These are just two examples where the laws of physics are completely forgotten about. My dad swears he saw them using a helicopter in one scene as well. Although I missed that one, I believe him, just based on the rest of this movie. Need I remind anyone one last time that there was not one planetbound scene in the entire movie?
And this brings me to the character of Christopher Blair himself. Again, I have never played the Wing Commander video game, so I don't know if this character was ever in the game or, if so, what he was like in it, but just going by what I saw on this movie, all I can say is, "What a wannabe ripoff!" The character just reminded me of the Star Wars X-wing character Corran Horn, which only served to make the movie cheesier to me.
Why does he remind me of Corran? Oh, no particular reason. Their parents are both dead. They each had one parent that had a very special heritage. Corran's father was a half-trained Jedi from a long lineage of Jedi; Blair's mother was a Pilgrim, a type of human that can navigate through anything because they can just "feel" their way through. Although Blair has always been aware of his Pilgrim heritage, neither he nor Corran knew very much about what it was to be a Pilgrim or a Jedi. They both must learn to become more comfortable with that aspect of their identity. They both wear a medallion that is their only heirloom and they say they wear for luck, but each medallion also represents their heritage. They both are pilots, although we don't really know for sure how good Christopher Blair is supposed to be, so no comparison can be made in that area, although Blair seems to have a healthy dose of Corellian Pilot Ego.
Christopher Blair is not a Corran clone by any means, but the two characters are similar enough to annoy me. Even throwing out my Blair/Corran problem, which the majority of people who rent this movie would not have since they don't know who Corran Horn is, this movie should be avoided at all costs. A Death Star could navigate easily through the holes in the plot in this movie, and the navigator wouldn't need the help of a Pilgrim to get through. The entire squadron should be washed out, the pseudo-Wes Janson should be at least court-martialed if not even spaced for his annoying idiocy, and the writers should take another look at the laws of physics and how they apply to events in space. The acting wasn't that thrilling, and the special effects weren't even that great. In short, if you're bored, don't watch Wing Commander. There are a thousand other ways two hours can be put to better use.
Reviewed August 20, 2001 by Kelly M. Grosskreutz.