“Episode quality”, this is the phrase that i have heard each and every time someone has talked about (or reviewed) Star Trek: Insurrection from the moment i stepped out of the theatre onwards. I find it funny because the way its used can either be an insult, or a shrug of ones shoulders.
This review is gonna be a short one, as there just isn’t all that much to talk about with Star Trek IX.
The tone for Insurrection would appear to have taken a page from The Voyage Home, in that it is very light and breezy. There is a lot of light humour, and some romance thrown around that makes the film’s tone seem quite distant from First Contact. It seems that the cast and crew of the film were having a bit of fun while filming this outing (almost like they were on a vacation in the mountains of California and decided to make a movie while they were at it). It’s this sense of brevity that helps make the film a bit more palpable.
Unlike Shatner’s baffling work in Star Trek V, Jonathan Frakes shows himself to be able to time and motivate the film’s humour a little more properly. While many of the jokes fall flat at least the crew’s odd behaviour is motivated by the environment, and there are some good laughs to be had (Worf’s pimple, or Data’s examination of Riker’s face after a shave).
The biggest problem with the film is that it just isn’t all that interesting. Sure it has more substance than either of the reboots, but its fountain of youth concept and attempts at moral ambiguity just isn’t all that involving. I would place much of the fault of that to the film’s light tone, as the scene where Picard removes his rank is meant to be taken as a huge important line being crossed, but the film’s tone manages to gut all of the weight in it.
While F. Murray Abraham gives a good scenery chewing performance as Ru’afo, with his violent hatred matching his grotesque physic, it doesn’t stop him from being a rather dull villain. The problem with that being he has no connection to Picard or any of the protagonists of the film. All of the best villains in Star Trek have some sort of connection to past events (Khan, Borg Queen) or some sort of personal connection to the captain or crew (Chang, Shinzon). But Ru’afo has neither, he comes out of a void and once he dies his suitably horrible demise he goes straight back to it. Its a bit of a shame as an actor of Abraham’s calibre would be able to do so much more if he were just given the material*.
The story itself also feels like it is a “further adventures of” tale. The urgency and scale has been pulled back and while it attempts to further some personal relationships of the crew members further (Riker, Troi, and Picard’s romantic subplots), it ultimately doesn’t hold much weight in the grand scheme of things.
Star Trek: Insurrection, is a rather strange beast. It’s no wonder that “episode quality” is used so often to describe this entry, it’s neither bad nor good enough to be notable in any regard. It’s a cinematic equivalent of a mid season episode with “this week’s monster/planet/crisis” coming and going as easily as changing the channel.
** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE
*as an aside, if you ever wanted to see what good acting is compared to bad acting, the most black and white film that displays this is believe it or not “Thirteen Ghosts”. Just about everyone in the movie is absolutely dreadful. But when Abraham shares the screen you can see the difference between garbage and gold. It is truly bizarre but really rather illuminating.