This film was one hell of a ride to review. I loved it, then I got angry at it, then I hated it, and then I loved it again.
Talk about a roller coaster!
By the end, I was impressed enough to buy a copy because I found myself wanting to contribute to episode two. I should point out that for an Australian, it costs $95 to purchase the DVD because our exchange rate sucks right now. For me to spend $95 on the DVD I had to think the film had something going for it.
And it does. Renegades has the potential to be something special if given the chance. Almost everything is there, it just needs a little tweaking.
There are some missed opportunities and a couple of moments that might have worked on the page but did not translate well on film, however after watching it through to the end I found myself wanting more… which I didn’t expect.
I’m not sure if Renegades’s has completely earned the right to call itself Star Trek, because the film is quite a deviation from everything that has gone before it, but it presents some interesting ideas that add another layer to the universe of Star Trek and could fit quite nicely into the overall tapestry of the franchise with a little work.
Because I’ve purchased the DVD I also have access to a digital download, which means I’ve now watched the episode twice. A lot of it is better the second time around. There are a total of three scenes I find it hard to watch because they’re frustrating and derail the flow of the film, but that’s why Renegades was made, I think, to experiment with something new and build a stronger product with every iteration. That’s often the point of a pilot, to try something new and to engage in a process of learning.
I am hoping the creators of Renegades are open to the learning part, and take some time to read and consider the reviews they receive so that episode two, if it happens, is that much better. I do hope they are given a chance to present their work to CBS, and that the network gives serious consideration to commissioning a series or even a special mini-series event for the 50th Anniversary next year.
If you haven’t seen Renegades, this review has a few spoilers and a number of screen shots to give readers a taste of the movie and hopefully generate additional interest in it. If you don’t want spoilers, click or tap away now.
Star Trek: Renegades was officially launched on the 24th of August with a feature length pilot and an eye to becomming the next Star Trek television series. At least that was, and no doubt still is, the goal.
Renegades takes place ten years after Voyager’s return from the Delta Quadrant and the Federation is in crisis.
The suppliers of dilithium crystals are disappearing, folded into space and time by someone or something. In the first few minutes of the film, it’s suggested a representative sitting on the Federation Council is involved and as a result Starfleet has to turn to Section 31 for a solution – and the solution they come up with is to dispatch a covert crew of renegades to find out what is going on.
Renegades is not the Star Trek you or I are used to, which is not a bad thing. In some ways, it has more in common with Firefly or even Killjoys than it does with the Original Series, Next Gen, DS9, Voyager or Enterprise. It tries to do something new, and it tries to give us an insight into the darker, unexplored corners of the Star Trek universe, but in doing so, may take one or two (or three) liberties.
I have fallen in love with this film, but there are a few problems with it. The biggest is the dialogue. In places it is terrible. Thankfully, it has a number of strengths, including its special effects, sound design, directing, production values and costumes.
One of it’s greatest strengths is its characters, some of whom are completely engaging… and some who aren’t. There are some pretty annoying missteps with a good number of the characters, but as the episode progresses most of those get ironed out.
One misstep which grates consistently throughout the film is the writers need to bash us over the head with just how different Renegades is to every other Star Trek. It goes to great pains to point out how ‘badass’ it’s characters are, and how they’re on the wrong side of the law, but all the effort rings hollow and false, and makes them seem a little silly.
Star Trek viewers are intelligent, in fact, most viewers of science fiction in general are intelligent, and subtlety works on us. We don’t need to be force fed.
Good drama is about plot and character, and while the ideas present in Star Trek are part of what attracts fans to the franchise, it’s the characters that keep us watching. We need to relate to them and enjoy spending time with them as we discover their nuances.
Renegades makes that hard to do because of the forced way in which they make us learn about this new crew.
The first character we’re introduced to is Lexxa Singh. Yes. THAT Singh.
She’s a genetic experiment and Khan Noonian Singh’s daughter. I’m glad I didn’t know that going into the movie, because it would have turned me off. It grated. I can’t actually explain why, except to say it didn’t make sense and it felt unnecessary.
But despite my misgivings, Lexxa is an intriguing character and I was instantly drawn to her. And then the writers messed with that.
As Renegades opens there’s a beautiful, perfectly paced camera pan revealing the character as she writes on a wall, reciting the words in a voiceover. Through that voiceover she alludes to losing herself, and to her struggle to keep her mind, soul and identity intact. The poem is important, and makes a number of appearances throughout the film, bringing strength to Lexxa during times of hardship and danger.
We later learn that the poem was taught to Lexxa by her mother, before she was killed or captured (we’re left wondering about that) by agents of Section 31 – a Section 31 that seems to have devolved into a worse version of anything we’ve seen before.
In those first few seconds of the film, Lexxa is intense and vulnerable. You want to know who this woman is and you want to know her story. You want to know why those words seem to mean so much to her.
I was hooked. Had someone finally created a deep and introspective female lead for a modern science fiction television show?
Sadly, not quite.
When she next appears, she’s a very different woman. She’s transformed into an all too familiar stereotype, bitter and aggressive.
Too many science fiction heroines in the last few years have been ass-kickers and moody reprobates who are ‘badass’, and it’s gotten a little overused and tired.
Thankfully, we do see moments of that woman we first met in the opening shots of the film, but it takes a while.
Through flashbacks we eventually learn bits and pieces about Lexxa that help us reconcile the woman in the first few frames of the film with the woman who does – for a while – seem like just another carbon copy of other modern female action heroes.
Adrienne Wilkinson is intense and obviously capable of playing an action hero, but she really shines in those moments where she is allowed to drop her impression of Starbuck and express an emotion other than anger or contempt.
Her portrayal of a vulnerable woman looking for her mother, and maybe a purpose, is excellent and more than enough to make you want to overlook the feeling of ‘sameness’. You want to watch her because she’s magnetic.
The next characters we’re introduced to are the bad guys from Galaxy Quest… at least, they reminded me of the bad guys from Galaxy Quest.
I’m afraid they’re a bit of a disappointment.
When we first see them, they are beastial and imposing… then they open their mouths. Their dialogue is cliche and clumsy. I can’t help but think they would have been more menacing and effective if they’d spoken less.
Thankfully they’re not ‘the big bad’, otherwise Renegades would have been so much less, but at the beginning we don’t know that.
Design wise, they look great. The makeup is excellent, and the actors under all the prosthetics do a masterful job of bringing them to life.
They’re just not all that convincing as a credible threat to the Federaton.
Next we’re introduced to the crew of the Icarus.
Some of them are pretty hard to like. Thankfully, two characters, Doctor Lucien and the Betazoid, Ronara, are literal bright sparks in this overly dark mix. The rest, with the exception of Fixer, are unpleasant.
If it hadn’t have been for Doctor Lucien and Ronara I wouldn’t have kept watching the first time I sat down to view Renegades.
We’re introduced to a Nausicaan, who seems to be the Captain of the Icarus until Lexxa comes back. Then the lurking Breen, the overly anxious and slightly bumbling Fixer, the mysterious Doctor Lucien, the ethereal Ronara, the gruff Han Soloesque Ragnar, the Bajoran criminal Jaro Ruk, and Icheb.
The Nausicaan is kind of annoying, mostly because of the ridiculous things the actor is forced say. I know I keep harping on about the dialogue, but at times it really does throw you out of the moment.
The Nausicaan doesn’t last long. When Lexxa is reunited with her crew she quickly disintegrates him.
Lexxa brings a Cardassian along with her to the Icarus, but the poor guy barely gets anything to do before he’s killed off, which is a shame. I think he would have been an exciting addition to the crew.
It’s unclear why the Breen is there. He’s set dressing for most of he film, but I hope they do more with him because it would be wonderful to learn something about this enigmatic race.
Fixer might be bumbling, but he’s likable. He doesn’t say a lot, and has a special relationship with Doctor Lucien which works. The character grew into someone I wanted to care about by the end of the film, which is what you want. It’s a real credit to Edward Furlong, who puts in a great performance in the role.
Doctor Lucien, played by the serenely beautiful Sean Young of Blade Runner, is the heart and soul of this film. She and Ronara are characters you can relate to and empathise with. Neither of them are doing the badass thing and are stronger characters for it. They own their scenes without trying.
Both women exude confidence and it’s so nice to have some people on the ship who want to do what is right just because it’s the right thing to do.
Doctor Lucien, we learn, is carrying on a relationship with Doctor Lewis Zimmerman via holographic projection. She worked with him at Jupiter Station, but after an accident that killed a person she was forced underground and joined the crew of the Icarus.
Ronara is a Betazoid with a genetic defect, which means she’s not telepathic – but she does appear to have the ability to crawl into a person’s mind and control their body to a certain extent. Chasty Ballesteros brings Ronara to life and injects her with real humanity. She’s convincing and natural and a pleasure to watch.
Plus, there might just be a bit of sexual tension between Ronara and Icheb which could be fun to watch.
Next we have Ragnar, played be the very talented Gary Graham.
Ragnar comes across as an angry Han Solo clone with all the requisite badassness that seems to be so important to the writers of Renegades. Thankfully, Gary elevates Ragnar beyond that and adds layers to the character which make him three-dimensional and relatable. He shines in his scenes with Doctor Lucien, particularly when the both of them are working together to try and save Earth. Gary and Sean have great chemistry and play off each other beautifully.
Then there’s Jaro Ruk, a Cardassien hating Bajoran who seems to worship the Pah’Wraiths, because that’s badass and remember, being a badass is part of the job description if you want to join the crew of the Icarus. Jaro grew on me, but didn’t get a chance to come into his own before doing something pretty screwed up and getting killed for it in a kind of anticlimactic way.
And then we have Icheb.
Super badass Icheb.
They totally ruin Icheb.
He was a great addition to Star Trek: Voyager, and I was excited to see he was included in Renegades… but his character isn’t treated very well.
He’s been turned into a bitter sociopath with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Death Star.
In an attempt to make him badass, they’ve given him a back story where he’s been betrayed and altered by Section 31 and now just wants to hurt people with his CGI arm because he likes the power.
We learn this during the worst character exchange in the episode. It’s terribly written and does not play well on film.
The first time I watched Renegades I actually turned the episode off after that scene and almost abandoned the whole film. It’s that bad. The second time, the scene was still bad. I’m hoping it was something that looked good on the page and just didn’t work on screen, otherwise the writers and director really need to ask themselves some serious questions.
Fortunately, not long afterwards we are introduced to Captain Alvarez and Commander Petrona and together they and the USS Archer get the film back on track.
They were a breath of fresh air!
I have no idea why. But, Corey Nemec and Tarah Paige are great to watch.
Every time they appeared on screen, I silently applauded because I really wanted to see more of them. And we do. I just wish we could have learned more about their characters.
Of the other individuals that populate the Renegades universe, they’re a mix and some of them end up joining the Icarus.
Admiral Chekov is great, as is Tuvok as the new head of Section 31, but I admit to being biased because I’m a huge fan of both Walter Koenig and Tim Russ. They are surrounded by characters who don’t get enough to do, which is a real shame, though there are one or two very welcome cameos – including Richard Herd as Admiral Paris and Herbert Jefferson Jnr as Admiral Satterlee. If Herbert Jefferson Jnr looks familiar, it’s because he played Lieutenant Boomer in the original Battlestar Galactica.
There’s a Vulcan/Romulan (just Romulan?) woman who is Chekov’s personal bodyguard. She is badass, of course, but I can see some very interesting story lines for the character. I can’t help but wonder why Starfleet lets Admiral Chekov employ an ex-assassin, but maybe we’re not meant to ask those sorts of questions?
There’s also an Andorian hacker with attitude, which must mean she’s badass too. Because you know, attitude. The Andorian has an interesting device that seems to be able to ‘hack’ people’s minds.
There’s Chekov’s granddaughter, played by Crystal Conway, who only seems to be there to show us that someone is trying to kill Chekov when a mystery assassin infects her with nanites and turns her into a bomb.
Lastly, there is her best friend whose sole purpose is to show us how horrible it is that Chekov’s granddaughter is a bomb when the bodyguard phasers off the poor girls hand and beams it away. The two young women are quite good, and if this concept becomes a series, it would be nice to see a few B stories focusing on them as they train to become Starfleet officers.
While the characters are a pretty even mix of hit and miss, so is the story – but it does introduce a cool mystery that has me hooked. I want to know who the real bad guys are and where these strange devices come from.
The film doesn’t come into its own until the threat comes to Earth and all of the characters start to work together.
Everything just clicks.
The characters become people we can care about and the narrative smooths out.
The resolution to the film isn’t ‘big’ enough, but the build towards the climax is quite good.
The last ten to fifteen minutes of the pilot, however, are the best part of the film and where Renegades becomes Star Trek. There are some beautiful character moments: Lexxa cracks a smile, Doctor Lucien shares her secret, someone we thought was dead actually isn’t, Chekov is reunited with his granddaughter, a dire warning is given about “crossing lines”, and the crew are given a purpose. Those few things bring it all together and suddenly elevate a good, but not spectacular film, to something special.
There is a missed opportunity almost fulfilled with Chekov’s speech to Tuvok. Both reflect on what they’ve done to save the Federation, but don’t go anywhere near far enough. Star Trek does a great job of making us think about ourselves and our world and Renegades almost goes there, but not quite.
Renegades excels at little moments, when it gives itself the time to have them. Sometimes those moments are between the characters, and sometimes it’s something in the background that’s there to reward the fans – like the images of the original Enterprise crew on the walls of Admiral Chekov’s office, or the use of Majel Barrett Roddenberry’s voice for the computer, or a carefully placed sound effect from the original series.
Renegades also excels at visual effects.
Some of them are simply beautiful.
That handful of screenshots don’t do the visuals justice, but please trust me when I say that it looks like a lot of time and thought went into making all of the VFX extra-special.
Not every effect is wonderful, but when you remember they have so much less money to play with than any studio produced feature film, it’s not difficult to forgive a few poor visuals.
A few other comments that the creators of Renegades might want to take into consideration:
- The makeup for the Romulan (Romulan/Vulcan) character played by the beautiful Larissa Gomes is bad. The eyebrows look like two pipe-streamers were pasted to her head, which is just strange because the rest of the makeup work is extraordinary.
- There are too many closeups. I think that might have happened because of the budget constraints associated with practical sets, but it does jar and seem out of whack with the visual narrative of the film.
- Avoid green screen. There are a lot of places where it’s clear the special effects artists had a lot of difficulty marrying the live action with the effects work – which is understandable. Unless you have the budget of a Star Wars film, getting green screen right can be pretty damn hard.
- The mustard (?) yellow walls work beautifully on the Archer, but they don’t work for the offices and corridors of Starfleet Command. It doesn’t make sense.
- I’d love to see Ronara help Icheb rediscover his humanity.
- Bring in Nichelle Nichols and George Takei, that would be so so good.
- The new Starfleet Delta is distracting. Consider returning to a more established design.
- Please find a way to keep the crew of the Archer a part of the series.
- Give us more Tuvok!
- Comment on modern issues. You almost got there with Chekov’s warning about crossing lines at the end of the film.
- A note to the writers: read the Voyager relaunch novels. They’re superb and they do an incredible job of realistically exploring the Federation and Starfleet post Nemesis, and…
- Please respect the source material. Star Trek has a rich and beautiful history, don’t ignore it or disdain it.
Most of those last few criticisms are minor, and it is obvious that there is a lot of heart and soul in this film.
I know that this review probably sounds more negative than positive, but believe me – that’s a good thing. If I didn’t care about Star Trek: Renegades, I wouldn’t have an opinion of any kind. I wouldn’t have bothered to write anything. I would have ignored its existence and posted something about Star Trek Beyond.
Like I said at the beginning of the review, this idea has potential. Incredible potential.
The film ends on a good note, with the promise of more adventure – and a great final shot where the old Renegades film production logo is immortalised on the hull of the Icarus before the credits roll. Look for the little alien skull and crossbones.
Star Trek: Renegades is worth your time, if you love Star Trek.
If you want to check out the episode, it’s live now. I’d really be interested in hearing what you think. Click the link here to visit the official website.
Support this promising idea by purchasing a DVD or BluRay copy and help the creators refine and continue their pretty decent addition to the Star Trek universe.
Bring on episode two!