By: Bill Nelson
The year was 1999. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had yet to come out and blow…I mean underwhelm…our puny little minds. The time seemed perfect to start another space franchise. So the powers that be landed on Wing Commander. Yes, that Wing Commander, the popular 90s space flight simulator series, got made into a movie. Bet you don’t even remember it came out, right? You can thank Star Wars and a little film called The Matrix for that, though they honestly didn’t have to work very hard to dwarf this heap of a movie.
Wing Commander the movie tells the story of Christopher ‘Maverick’ Blair (yes, they even stole Tom Cruise’s call sign) and Todd ‘Maniac’ Marshall, two fighter pilots carrying news of a recent attack by the evil Kilrathi (catlike aliens bent on conquering Earth) that may have compromised the secrecy of our planet’s location to their new post. Their new ship, the Tiger Claw, has been commanded to take on the suicide mission of slowing down the massive Kilrathi fleet while the rest of the Earth’s ships scramble to get back to the planet to defend her. Along the way Maverick and Maniac bump heads with commanding officers, deal with their heritage, and make really bad jokes at the expense of Top Gun. Seriously.
Despite having a significantly higher female count the film definitely seems like it’s trying as hard as it can for the same level of machismo. The problem is that even by 1999 standards everything on this film looks dated. The aerial battles are clearly miniatures with bad CGI effects and when we do see cockpits that’s all we see so there’s never a sense that the fighter pilots are actually in space. The interiors of the space ships mostly look like large boiler rooms. And when we finally see the Kilrathi, which doesn’t even happen until the final act of the film, they look like a snarling version of something you’d want to pet, cute but vaguely evil looking and not really the villains you’d been hoping for.
The acting is both interestingly international and wildly uneven. Tcheky Karyo brings his usual dependable intensity and Jurgen Prochnow does his best to chew the scenery in what is basically the Michael Ironside role of the movie, however David Suchet (of Poirot fame) seems out of place as commander of a battleship and David Warner (the scientist guy from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze) is just flat out underused. Then there are the two leads. I like Freddie Prinze, Jr. I really do. He has charisma that works well with certain types of projects, like his appearance on TVs Psych where he plays a former geek trying to hide his nerdy behavior from his smoking hot wife, but this movie was just not a good fit for him. He brings a decent level of pathos to his character but there’s just not enough of a reason for us to care about his back story for it to matter. And Matthew Lillard. Can’t forget about him. He is simultaneously the best and most annoying things about this movie. Maniac seems to be the only character in the movie that goes through a genuine arc, though I would argue it’s solved a little too easily. Still, it’s almost as if when the movie wasn’t sure what to do next that meant it was time to punch in a standard late 90s Matthew Lillard gag and believe me they get tiresome.
The film’s biggest problem, though, is an overall lack of action. For an action film most of the movie is rather uneventful. The few battle scenes we see are really too clunky to get a sense of wonder and excitement and too much time in general is spent simply sitting around on the ship(s). You’d think that a movie based on a series of video games that helped to revolutionize video games would be given better treatment. The sad thing is that I can actually remember liking this movie way back in the day, even owned a copy of DVD. Of course, I think that can be blamed on my crush on Saffron Burrows, but who knows, maybe kid me saw a gem that old me can no longer see. Whatever the case, this movie is a fun trip down memory lane but little else.
Stank Rating –Share: – 9