Wing Commander is an under-appreciated science-fiction film with slick effects and solid production values. It tried to accomplish much, and like most movies, did not hit everything aimed for. At times it touches upon poignant themes that resonate with the nature of mankind. Occasionally, it lapses into derivative moments not worthy of these higher concepts.
Our patented synopsis in a sentence: Humanity, still recovering from a civil war, now face an alien cat-like (and poorly realized) enemy who after conspiring with a traitor (cut from the movie) are on the verge of destroying Earth not realizing they are about to be stopped by a fresh faced young band of hip (and good-looking) heroes with attitude, flying skinny fighters, getting oppressed by “the man,” squeezing in some smooching, and occasionally breaking the laws of physics.
Chris Roberts, the father of the popular Wing Commander games of the 1990s, got a rare chance to realize his vision on the big screen. Did he get enough time and money to realize it fully? No. But was he bold enough, and perhaps new enough to Hollywood to include uncommon, worthwhile themes? Yes.
Dedication, selflessness, (occasional stupidity,) and duty are exemplified by our endangered heroes. While none of them are exactly Audie Murphy (the most decorated United States soldier of World War II), they do personify the brash, indestructibility of youth. They play off veterans of varying character and temperament who put up with their juvenile notions of fighter jock-ism.
There is also a Pilgrim subplot highlighting heritage and faith. This is quite the departure from modern era, faithless, counterculture garbage Hollywood often upchucks (believe us, we know). We found it to be a most pleasing foundation which gives the movie depth beyond that provided by hipster actors and quick action.
Young Christopher Blair, the part made famous by Mark Hamil in the later Wing Commander games, was portrayed by Freddie Prinze Jr. He was pleasantly likable.
Tcheky Karyo played the grizzled mentor with the mysterious past (classic; like Obi Wan Kenobi, but with 70% more grizzle). His role, like Prinze’s, was not one that pushed acting to its very experimental limit. But both hit solid notes within the material they were given, and bettered the movie.
Perhaps mistakenly, the movie tried to reinvent the Wing Commander franchise. This may have alienated and disappointed those familiar with it. Additionally, 20th Century Fox gave the film a bum deal, poorly marketing it because they were only its distributor, not its producer. They also bungled the release date. All these factors contributed to a rough box-office run.
The production design was instructed to make World War II in space; they largely succeeded in an entertaining, occasionally silly way. Digital Anvil’s computer graphics and pilot displays added interesting, distinctive spice. However one area in which the visuals fell flat was the alien Kilrathi. Ugh.
The Kilrathi were brought to life well in the filmed game scenes, and at reasonable (though not cheap) cost. The “expensive” movie versions, however, did not even live up to that, looking horribly plastic. The producers knew it too, cutting scenes which featured them and reducing their shots to quarter-second flash cuts.
You will enjoy computer-generated space scenes that look as good as model work, huge sets, full-sized fighter mockups, and lots of goofy expressions from likable actors.
David Arnold’s music is excellent background to scenes which often showcase the wonder and majesty of nebula colored space.
If you like science fiction, and like action, and are capable of tuning out the fair in order to enjoy the good, we suggest you try Wing Commander. Go in with no expectations, and just enjoy yourself.