For Star Trek fans, this is a great installment in the series. It is chock full of inside jokes and tie-in cameos that will keep you watching closely. Some highlights: cameos by Voyager’s Neelix and The Doctor, musical quotes from the other movies (listen closely during the attack on the Borg cube), new insights into the characters you know and love (Deanna Troi under the influence).
There’s even a little self-deprecation. The character of Lillie, who, after listening to Picard haughtily extol the virtues of the 24th century, calls his bullshit, bullshit. Picard had boasted that in a mere 300 years, humans had evolved beyond greed and revenge, even while Picard himself was out for revenge. Like the new “M” in the James Bond movie – the one who calls 007 a sexist dinosaur remnant from the cold war era – Lillie gives a voice to critics who say Star Trek is sometimes blinded by its optimism. And, like in the Bond movie, once it is said, we can get on with the fun.
But as a movie, First Contact is not so good (2½ stars). It is enjoyable. It is a must-see for Star Trek fans. But it is not cohesive enough to be a good movie. The plot has too many threads and they don’t work well together. In only two hours, there is a separate subplot for Data, Picard, Zephraim Cochran, Crusher, LaForge, the Borg Queen, and the list goes on. This kind of structure works well on a weekly TV series where all the little parts add up week after week to a more interesting whole, but there’s no “next week” in a movie. If you introduce an idea in a movie, you have to cover it in the movie. For that reason, many of the scarcer subplots should have been left out. First Contact is just not specific enough for a standalone two hour movie.
For example, Data kisses the Borg Queen halfway through the movie, but he is not seen again until near the end of the movie. By this time the audience has forgotten about his existence. When we do meet him again, we see that he has changed, but not how or why. It is explained later, but only in a few sentences. Several ideas were introduced but never delved into, like Geordi’s new eyes and the birth of the new enterprise.
The thread that follows Data and Picard in a tense standoff with the Borg Queen is intercut with a triumphant test flight of the first warp drive. It is customary when intercutting two threads of a story that they have some relation to one another, or that the disjunction between the two draws an interesting contrast. But in this case, the only reason for intercutting the stories is that they happened at about the same time. The sense of triumph in one detracts from the tension in the other and vice-versa.