Wing Commander (1999) Movie Review

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “Wing Commander” is a bad movie; it’s just not as good as it could have been. The script is uninteresting, which is saying a lot since the destruction of Earth by enemy forces is at stake. Seeing as how “Wing Commander” is based on a string of successful PC games of the same name, the film already has one huge strike against it before it even shot its first frame of film. As we all know, the only thing worst than bad movies are bad movies based on video games.

Freddie Prinze Jr. (“Scooby Doo”) momentarily ditches his usual high school locale for space, starring as Blair, a fighterpilot sent to aid a space carrier as they attempt to retrieve something called a NavCom from the enemy. Along for the ride is Prinze’s buddy-in-crime Matthew Lillard (“13th Ghosts”), who plays Maniac, a hotshot pilot that actually makes the film almost watchable. The humans, it seems, are at war with an alien race called the Kilrathi, essentially hairy space cats in bulky armor. Besides the usual troubles, Blair has a hard time fitting in with his fellow fighters because he’s half-Pilgrim; a Pilgrim, the film tells us, is a race of human offshoot that can navigate space by instinct, or some such nonsense. As a result, everyone hates Pilgrims.

The truth is, “Wing Commander” isn’t all that bad of a movie. But even as a person who is willing to swallow just about any science fiction premise no matter how ridiculous for the sake of entertainment, I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around much of “Wing”‘s themes.

The most obvious problem is the whole notion of Pilgrims. The film informs us that because Pilgrims can navigate space without instruments, they consider themselves above man and Godlike, and this arrogance causes a war between the two factions. (Why this occurred is never elaborated, and it’s probably just as well because the whole concept doesn’t make a lick of sense.) Granted, this past conflict wouldn’t exactly endear the Pilgrims or their offspring to “normal” humans. Yet, seeing as how the Pilgrims are superior fighter pilots and human as a species is risking total annihilation at the hands of the Kilrathi, wouldn’t despising and outcasting the Pilgrims in an overt and rather childish manner seem a trite petty at this point?

The special effects in “Wing” is actually quite good, but in an age where elaborate futuristic cityscapes are commonplace, there isn’t anything groundbreaking about “Wing”‘s. There is also the design of the human fighterships, which looks like giant gun barrels with wings attached to them. Which is to say they don’t look flyable, much less maneuverable in space combat. Speaking of space, what kind of ammo are those fighters shooting, anyway?

Another annoying aspect of “Wing Commander” is its characters, all of which seem to exist outside the realm of common sense. Take Saffron Burrows’ Devereaux, who is the carrier’s wing commander, but has as much intelligence as a rock. Burrows (“Enigma”) is surely one of the best looking actress in the business today, but the dialogue that comes out of her mouth is just horrendous. That also goes for the character motivation in “Wing,” which is to say these people act in such a way that belies flesh and blood human beings.

For a war movie set in space, “Wing” is oddly lacking in any exciting action. There is exactly one dogfight in space that lasts for about 5 minutes, followed by a brief, dull raid on a Kilrathi ship by the pilots. (Why are pilots invading an alien ship? Isn’t that a job for an elite mobile infantry or some other similar unit?)

Much of the movie is dedicated to talking, plot exposition, and a silly notion where the fighterpilots refuse to acknowledge their dead comrades, treating their memory as if they never existed in the first place. This is supposed to keep the fighters’ heads “in the game” and not distracted, but it just seems rather stupid, not to mention inhumane. I wonder if the big hairy cats — er, the Kilrathis — treat their dead in the same fashion?

Chris Roberts (director) / Chris Roberts, Kevin Droney (screenplay)
CAST: Freddie Prinze Jr. …. Blair
Saffron Burrows …. Angel Devereaux
Matthew Lillard …. Maniac
Tch’ky Karyo …. Paladin
Jurgen Prochnow …. Gerald


Buy Wing Commander on DVD