Friday, 11 September 2015

Renegades: Rubbish or Revelation?


I'm finally putting finger to keyboard about this one but it did take me until the eve of Star Trek's 49th birthday to do so.

There have already been a ton of reviews of Renegades out there especially since it's more public release on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, but with September's anniversary coming along I thought; "OK, what would Gene have thought of this? Is this truly what Star Trek is now and will be in the future?"

Flashback; it's taken around two years and then some to bring Renegades to reality and there have been some sizeable breaks between pre-production, then filming and finally the good old post-production polish but is it living up to the hype that the stellar Star Trek cast and co. have brought whether it was wanted or not? 


At a surface level it looks great. Renegades is a really shiny production that takes the Star Trek universe beyond Nemesis and into much darker times for the Federation. There's a ton of action, phaser battles, CG space combat and some seriously gorgeous ship sequences that rival anything we ever saw in Voyager and Enterprise. You certainly won't get bored watching it as the journey to the credits is one event after another with lots to keep you occupied visually. However it's when you start to get past the screen gloss and look into the heart of the movie that my appreciation begins to waiver. 

Let's handle the plot itself just to get us all on the same page. Renegades sees still-active 147 year old Admiral Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and apparent Section 31 chief Commander Tuvok (Tim Russ who also pulls directorial duties) releasing genetic super-person Lexxa Singh (played by Adrienne Wilkinson and yes, a relation to Khan) from an Orion prison so she can lead her "motley crew" and stop a deadly super force from wreaking havoc on the galaxy. That's basically it in a nutshell aside from the array of set pieces which drop in to make this last more than 15 minutes. 

Koenig's involvement will certainly have bolstered interest but his scenes are very, very average and he's playing Chekov in his sleep here albeit carrying some big troubles on his experienced shoulders. When I watch his performance and compare it to something that I might see in Valiant, Continues or Dreadnought Dominion there's a passion that I see in those productions which I don't see within Walter's eyes or many others for that instance. I just don't believe in the characters nor in the desire of some actors to do this. 

On that note, what was with the great-granddaughter element in this? I wasn't sure where that was going but there is a moment which actually did shock me and was totally unexpected. Again, the acting is OK from this younger actress and I suspect we will see - and I would like to see - her story expanded in future episodes of Renegades.

Aiding Chekov is Andorian hacker Shree (Courtney Peldon) and Romulan assassin T'Leah (Larissa Gomez). Their appearance might seem like window-dressing to some degree but they are fairly important to protecting the admiral and uncovering some of the darker plot elements. The problem with both characters is that due to the other events and the cast size they really don't get a lot to do once they've had their "moment".

The Syphon, just to fill that in, is a race attacking planets, including ones which provide vital dilithium for the Federation, and  are therefore threatening the survival of the inter-planetary organisation. Since the activities of the Syphon are happening outside of Federation jurisdiction and they are not controlled by Federation laws the situation will need to be handled by someone else so if you can find them and no-body else can help maybe you can hire the - sorry slipped into another show there for a second but I'm sure you get the drift. They get shockingly little time here and the concluding events of the movie seem rushed and I didn't have any strong desire for the Syphon to be defeated. Their motives seemed lacklustre and they received little to work with. 

So let's look at the renegades themselves. Enter Lexxa; driven by the possibility that her mother, killed by Section 31, might still be around(?) and lots of angst all built up ready to let fly at the first opportunity. She's also the (deposed) captain of the renegade vessel, Icarus and is certainly keep to reacquire her position from it's Nausicaan encumbant. Lexxa's feisty, ass-kicking leader you'd expect to lead such a band and it gives Adrienne Wilkinson the chance to snarl at the camera and do some slow-mo walking. You know she's important because no-one else gets that treatment and her return to the bridge of the Icarus is fairly swift after a brief punch-up in an Orion prison and Tuvok letting her out. Adrienne Wilkinson does a fine job to work with what she gets and her story is at least interesting. I pray she gets better material to work with in the future of the series as once the prison fight had gone I didn't think her supposed superior skills were utilised to any degree.

There's an impressive ensemble just in the crew itself; Sean Young, probably most memorable for her performance as the Replicant Rachel in Bladerunner is Doctor Lucien an expert in holographic technology and typically on the run it seems although she has regular contact with guest-starring Robert Picardo's Lewis Zimmerman. The Young/Picardo scenes are probably the best pairing in the movie and are certainly played with a little more emotion and care.  Seeing Picardo back is a pleasure and he does genuinely look like he's enjoying being on the screen and back in Star Trek. Mind you, the Zimmerman we see here is nothing at all like the grouch we became familiar with in Voyager. 

We also get introduced to Chasty Ballasteros as Betazoid Ronara. Not quite what you might expect, Ronara can't do that whole empathic emotional bit that Troi was so good at in The Next Generation, rather she can manipulate people using her mental abilities. Nice trick and a nice twist on an established trope but it doesn't make her character any more memorable. Y'see, there are a lot of people in this production, a lot of main and guest characters and the 90 minute duration only just gives them all time to get a few lines and some shoe-horned character exposition. Given that these guys are supposed to have known each other for a while they spend a lot of the movie talking about basic information you would assume they already know. It's obviously for the audience but perhaps they didn't need to do as much and leave a lot of stuff unsaid to be explained in future installments? I actually felt this detracted from the pace of Renegades and stalled the motion of the story.


Also on board is Edward "Terminator 2" Furlong as Fixer. Seemingly the Icarus chief engineer, Furlong only really comes into his own towards the last 15 minutes of the film. He's OK but the performance is fairly forgettable except for that key section of the movie. At least he fares better than Manu Intiraymi as Icheb. While it's great to see a second Voyager character back in the fray and for Manu to be onboard, the Icheb character betrays a lot about what is critically wrong with Renegades

Gone is the intelligent, slightly withdrawn teenager from Voyager replaced by an almost vengeful soldier. Ok I get the whole Section 31 piece surrounding his evolution since Endgame but it seems a bit too far and nothing like the person we knew. Intiraymi does the best with the material he's given - in fact having spoken to him about Renegades I understand some of the issues a lot more and seriously feel that his character is underused and under-explored. He should be a major player but is at times relegated to a background role.

Same goes for Tuvok in that Russ seems to be playing him by rote and forgetting all the nuances that made him interesting particularly towards the end of the show. These character changes feel forced and likewise this movie feels forced. I enjoyed it but I couldn't buy into the nature of the renegade force or their very existence. Nor do I feel that anyone was done full justice or written properly given the numerous returning characters we had here. The whole point of Section 31 I thought was to deal with these kind of problems so that the Federation could deny all knowledge should anything go wrong. I'm really not sure if the writers got to grips with their source material properly here as it's much more a guns-blazing action piece than anything else. 

What they have attempted with Renegades is admirable but the cast is wasted on a basic action flick. Vic Mignogna's Cardassian is killed off early and could have been a fairly interesting character but now we'll never know.  Worst is that it's also taken me this long through the cast to remember that Gary Graham is in here as Ragnar, some form of mercenary type. I have a feeling he's going to be better treated as a character in Axanar than he does here. Truth be told both Ragnar and Sean Penn's Doctor Lucien benefit the most when they are alone aboard the Icarus evading the Archer. Again, a bit of a token character with not enough screen time to be fully developed in this installment.

From the very opening this feels like a 90's episode of Babylon 5 in the style of filming, the low tech sets and the amount of very evident green-screen really made this feel a little bit raw and retro. It's not a complaint because, hey, they have to reduce costs and this is never going to have quite the same feel as a TV episode but it's very telling what an independent production can complete versus the power of somewhere like CBS. Nor am I a great fan of the Syphon. The make-up is not that great, as an enemy I didn't buy into them and all we seemed to get was a lot of grunts and snorts through the monkey-esque mouthpieces. Borrada, their leader played by Bruce Young, could have been much better developed than just the archetypical villain role. I know he could have brought more depth to the role but the script, once again, is just as unforgiving and inflexible as his excessive makeup.

The plot point surrounding the use of portals to collapse planets into space and time is a really neat concept. It's not exactly new but the idea of encasing or destroying planets using it was fairly cool to see and did enhance the sense of danger especially when it turned to Earth as a potential target. The effects with this part were a bit iffy and some of the tension build up seemed to drag on a little longer than necessary. That's actually one of the directional points that did grate since it happened a few times - an angle lingered too long, a scene could have cut earlier or started just a fraction later.

There's a lot of blasting and battles but there doesn't feel like any form of Star Trek core; no morality, no deeper meaning that you would expect. It's almost as though Renegades is attempting the fast, visual gratification that modern blockbuster movies attempt, possibly aiming for a younger newer audience a la JJ's movies? I just found it lacking anything substantial. Many other popular fan series chose to stay in The Original Series era because it can be done less expensively and still look pretty good which is where Renegades vision and ability come into conflict quite drastically. With Renegades the intention is to make it look 24th Century but given the budget it just doesn't hit the mark. I'm sorry but unless you've got the millions that produced The Next Generation and the rest it's always going to look like a cheap knock-off however hard you try. Walls are a bit plain and shaky, sets look empty and there's a lot of obvious green-screen however, a lot of the visual effects added in post-production look great especially the tech on Icheb, some of the clear padd devices and the intensity of the ground battles.


Costuming too really bugged me. Not so much the renegades attire but the production's take on Starfleet's uniform which,  in every case be it Corin Nemec on the Archer,  Tuvok or Chekov looks like something you would buy from a fancy dress shop. It seems strangely oversized and in comparison to the clothes the main renegade characters receive they look really shoddy and poorly made. Sorry,  just an opinion but they aren't the best. The bridge set for the Archer too was very cramped, oddly shot and felt like it had been constructed in about five minutes. Sorry, I have major gripes with this as you can see....

Renegades is a heck of a lot darker and much less Starfleet than you will have experienced with even the conflict-filled world of Deep Space Nine. The appearance of the USS Archer with it's oddly wide deflector dish, as well as the inclusion of admirals Chekov and Paris (Richard Herd) keep a tag that we are still in the same Star Trek universe but I can't shake the feeling that this isn't quite Star Trek. Indeed as I asked at the start, would Gene have approved? I'm not sure he would have.

We know from interviews Roddenberry gave that he wanted other people to take on the franchise, to add their twist to it but the hopeful future he spoke of and believed in which in turn brought life to the Star Trek universe does not seem to exist in Renegades. The universe seems to have gone Bad (purposeful capital "B" there) and is only getting worse. Even Starfleet seems less optimistic and after the Dominion War, the multiple Borg attacks and the rest you'd probably not blame them but it there was always a sense of hope that seems to have been sapped from Renegades. If I was to understand the universe from this perspective I'd assume that s**t happens and deal with it.

We always knew that Renegades would not look as good as the TV show but I personally expected better given the time, effort and names associated with the project. It may not be the Star Trek we could have expected nor will it ever be canon but fans deserved something much more in keeping with the feel of the franchise. It's all well and good taking the idea in different directions but at its core anything Star Trek still needs to remain true to its founding principles to be truly considered Star Trek and I think that Renegades falls short of the mark with its desire for action over genuine character interaction and development.

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't donate to the project. OK, say what you will, I didn't and regretted it to the point where I did donate to Axanar. My problem is that I'm not sure how all the cash really was spent here. The cast is incredible but it just seems bloated in comparison to the plot needs, development (written that word A LOT here) and pacing. Less characters would have given more exposure to the necessary ones and potentially helped thicken out the story with something more meaningful. I know this comes across as an utter slating but it is still an improvement on productions from the 00's however while Renegades has been in production other units have caught up and passed what this movie has attempted to do in so many ways. 

Admittedly there's no-one trying to do post-Nemesis Star Trek so they do get a gold star for that and for effort but without the backing of a proper studio it's never going to hit the heights it needs to. Yes, yes, I know that's the point of the web-pilot to get that interest but so far I've not heard anything to suggest it's going to get that. Even more concerning is that the cast is going to be increased with the recent announcement that Terry (Jadzia Dax) Farrell will be boarding ship for the next episode - even less time for the existing crew to blossom?!

Renegades may well not be the optimistic future that Gene Roddenberry envisaged and brought to the screen on September 8th 1966 but it is still a vehicle to carry the name and keep the franchise alive in some form. While we are getting numerous series expanding the tales in the era of The Original Series, Renegades has been brave enough to move forward into new, uncharted visual territory and stake a claim. 

I look forward to the next phase of it's evolution and expect that a lot of lessons will be learned from the production of this movie. I have felt this has been a huge disappointment given all the factors that have gone into making a "new" Star Trek but I am hopefully confident that Renegades II will certainly be a step forward from here. Heck, we can't go backwards can we? 

How did you feel about Renegades? Was it as "miss" as I felt it was or am I being unjustly critical on something that's keeping Star Trek alive?


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