A Starfleet Admiral is on the line, to tell Picard that a Borg cube has been sighted heading for Earth. Unfortunately for Picard and crew, the new Enterprise-E is not going to be part of the fleet which meets the invasion. While Starfleet has every confidence in the ship and her crew, they are not terribly sure about her captain. Naturally the crew ae not terribly happy about this, but Starfleet's orders are for the ship to patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone.
While fulfilling this less-than-interesting task, they pick up comm chatter from the battle with the Borg. Starfleet is losing ships left right and centre, and seems to be making little impact on their enemy. Picard decides to ignore his orders and head for Earth to meet the cube there, much to the approval of Data and the others. The ship heads off at warp speed.
Back at Sol, the Borg cube is advancing on Earth, not even slowing as a swarm of Starships blast away. Amongst them is the USS Defiant, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Worf, which is badly damaged but still getting hits in. The ship is loosing power and life support, so Worf orders "ramming speed!" in his best Klingon voice. Fortunately, the Enterprise swoops in at that moment and beams the crew off the wrecked but salvageable Defiant.
Picard looks troubled, and when Troi asks him what's wrong he admits that he can hear the Borg communicating in his head. He calls the fleet, telling them that he is assuming command and ordering them to target their weapons on a specific spot on the cube. The fleet lets fly, and the cube quickly disintegrates under their fire - but not before releasing a spherical vessel which heads for Earth. Picard chases but the ship opens up a temporal rift and vanishes through it, catching the Enterprise in its wake. The stunned crew watch as Earth is instantly transformed into a Borgified planet - the sphere has assimilated Earth in the past, and only the fact that they are caught in the temporal wake has stopped them from vanishing like the rest of Humanity. Picard orders full speed ahead, and they race through the rift to try and undo whatever the Borg have done.
Back in 2063, Zefram Cochrane is preparing for the next days flight of Humanities first warp drive vessel - the Phoenix - by getting stinking drunk. His assistant, Lily, spots an odd light in the sky. A light which promptly begins raining fire down on the town. Back in orbit the Enterprise arrives to see the sphere firing, and uses Quantum torpedoes to destroy it. They work out where - when - they are, and realize that the Borg were trying to stop Cochrane's warp flight and with it prevent Humanities First Contact with aliens. Picard, Data and an engineering crew beam down to the planet to try and repair the damage.
They find the place devastated, with many casualties and no sign of Cochrane. But they do find Lily, who thinks they are invaders and so greets them with a hail of machine gun fire. Unfortunately, radiation from the damaged Phoenix has contaminated Lily and she collapses as Data tries to convince her that he is friendly. Crusher beams her back to the ship for treatment, intending to keep her unconscious.
Back on board a couple of junior Engineers are trying to fix the ship's environmental controls, when Something Nasty happens to them. Picard again hears the Borg in his head, and orders Riker down to take command on the surface while he goes back to the ship with Data to see what is happening. On arrival he finds that they have lost all contact with Deck 16, and surmises that the Borg must have beamed aboard just before the sphere's destruction and have begun assimilating the ship. Data locks out the main computer core so that the Borg cannot gain control of it and Picard gets a team together and they decide that their best bet is to fight their way to main engineering and puncture one of the plasma coolant tanks on the warp core. The plasma coolant the ship uses is highly corrosive to organic material and will destroy all the biological components of the Borg, killing them all.
As Picard's team heads down to Engineering, the Borg begin an assault on Sickbay. Beverly wakes Lily up and sends everybody off into the Jefferies Tubes, leaving the ships EMH to distract the Borg for as long as possible. Lily, not yet aware of just what is going on, promptly makes her escape and begins wandering the Jefferies Tubes on her own.
Picard's team meet Crusher on the way down to Engineering, and direct her back to safety. As they continue on towards Engineering they reach parts of the ship which have been assimilated, but the Borg ignore them as usual until they are considered to be a threat. That comes when they reach the doors to Engineering; Borg drones come at them in numbers, rapidly adapting to their weapons and overpowering them. Data is captured, and several of the team are assimilated as they retreat. Picard escapes into the Jefferies Tubes, killing one of his own people on the way to prevent his assimilation. He bumps into Lily, who manages to grab his phaser and demands that he get her out of "this place". Picard agrees and they head away from the Borg.
On the planet, Riker is having problems of his own. He finds Troi blind drunk in the local bar. She has found Cochrane, but he wouldn't talk to her unless she had a few drinks with him. She tells Riker that he didn't believe her cover story, and she thinks they should tell him the truth. Riker reluctantly agrees, and they tell Zefram about the Borg and the coming First Contact. He doesn't believe them of course, but begins to think again when they use his telescope to show him the Enterprise-E in orbit. They inform him that tomorrow a Vulcan survey ship will pass through the solar system; the Vulcans have no real interest in Humanity, but this changes quickly when they realize that we have discovered warp drive. First Contact with the Vulcans is a major factor in the unification of Humanity and a big step on the way to the elimination of poverty and hunger from the planet and the eventual formation of a world government. He agrees to continue with his flight, and they set about repairing the Phoenix.
Back on the Enterprise, Data is being held captive in Engineering. He meets the Borg "Queen", who seems to be some kind of personification of the collective. She assures him that he will be easily assimilated, and reactivates his emotion chip. Meanwhile, Picard leads Lily back towards the Borg controlled areas of the ship. He fires on a section of the Borg systems, causing two Drones to come after him as he and Lily go and hide in one of his Dixon Hill holoadventures. Picard disengages the safety systems and uses a machine gun from the program to kill the Borg so that he can rip a neural processor from one of them and use it to work out what the Borg are up to. Successful, Picard and Lily make their way to the bridge with the news that the Borg are building an interplexing beacon on the ships deflector dish. When finished the beacon will allow them to signal the Borg in this century, bringing reinforcements to assimilate Humanity.
They can't hope to battle their way through the Borg to get to the dish, so Picard leads Worf and Lieutenant Hawk out onto the ships hull in space suits. They make their way to the deflector dish and find a group of Borg working on the final stages of the beacons assembly. The dish is charged up with antiprotons, and a stray phaser hit could cause it to explode and destroy half the ship. Without time to call for reinforcements to take on the Borg, Picard decides to cut the entire deflector loose from the ship and let it drift clear before destroying it.
On the surface, Cochrane is beginning to feel the strain of the Enterprise crews hero worship. When Geordi tells him that he will one day have a huge marble statue, he panics and makes a run for it. Without the time to talk him around, Riker just stuns him and has him dragged back to the base.
Data discovers that the Borg are growing biological skin onto his structure, making him more Human in an attempt to 'seduce' him. He tries to escape, but is quickly recaptured. The Queen tells him that he is free to reject them and rip the skin from his arm, but Data cannot bring himself to do it. She then proceeds to perform a more conventional seduction.
As Picard's team begin the procedure to release the deflector, the Borg attack. Worf manages to kill one with his Mek'Leth, but it punctures his suit and he begins loosing air; Hawk is caught off guard and assimilated. He attacks Picard, but Worf kills him - having fixed his leak by tying some tubing from a severed Borg arm around the area. Picard frees the deflector just as the Borg begin to power up the beacon, and as it floats clear of the ship Worf destroys it with a single phaser blast.
The Borg respond by attacking the remaining free areas of the ship, threatening to overwhelm the crew completely. Worf advises Picard to evacuate and destroy the ship, but the Captain refuses point blank - telling the, to fight hand to hand if they need to. When Worf says that Picard's previous experiences with the Borg are affecting his judgement, he calls the Klingon a coward and storms into the lounge. Lily follows, and the two have an intense argument in which Picard declares that he will never give up the Enterprise to the Borg. Lily compares his attitude with Ahabs obsession with the white whale in Moby Dick. Picard flies into a rage, smashing the lounges display case and breaking the model of the Enterprise-D displayed there. The realization that he has lost control of himself sets in at the sight of the broken ship, and he accepts Lilys criticisms. He orders the crew to abandon ship and sets the autodestruct. As they leave the bridge, picard stops Worf and apologizes for his earlier statements, informing the Klingon that "in fact, I think you are the bravest man I have ever known".
On the planet, Cochrane and the Enterprise team are in the final stages of their preparations for takeoff. Riker and Geordi are making the flight with Zefram, with Troi as launch controller. When Cochrane once again gets a dose of hero worship, he confesses to Riker that he is not exactly the great man they are all claiming - the only reason he has mounted the flight is to make as much money as possible. Riker takes it in his stride, informing Cochrane that history will make its own judgements. The take-off is successful, and the ship begins to prepare for its warp flight.
As Picard prepares to climb into an escape pod, he hears the Borg in his head once again - this time in Datas voice. Ordering the others to continue without him, Picard makes his way down to Engineering - unhampered by the Borg, who seem to expect him. Once there he meets the Queen, and begins to remember details from his own assimilation. The Queen had been present then also, even though all those Borg had been killed when the cube was destroyed. She had not wanted to turn Picard into just another Drone - instead she had wanted an equal partner to act as a bridge between Humanity and the Borg. Picard offers himself to her now, without resistance, if she will free Data in return. Data, however, seems to have other ideas and refuses the offer. The Queen gloatingly tells Picard that she already has an equal in Data, and tells the Android to remove the lock on the computer and disable the auto destruct mechanism. Data does so willingly, and locks the Quantum torpedoes onto the nearby Phoenix. Picard watches, helpless, as three torpedoes streak towards the little ship.
As they watch, the torpedoes narrowly miss the Phoenix. The Queen yells in astonishment as Data turns and smashes a plasma coolant tank, spilling the deadly substance into engineering. Picard begins to climb to keep clear of the gas, and the Queen tries to wrestle him down. Data emerges from the coolant, his Human skin completely corroded away, and pulls her down into it. As Picard climbs to safety the Queen screams in pain as all her biological parts dissolve, killing her and causing some kind of chain reaction which wipes out the rest of the Borg on the ship. Picard clears the gas from the room and finds the Queens body lying on the floor, still shuddering with the remnants of life. He picks up her skull and spinal column, and unceremoniously puts her out of his misery by snapping it.
Data has survived his exposure, and as he gazes on the body of the Queen he tells Picard that he was tempted by her offer for a whole 0.68 seconds, a long time for an android. Picard helps him up and the two head for the bridge to begin the recovery of the escape pods.
Meanwhile the phoenix jumps to warp speed successfully, and makes a flight of a minute or so before throttling back - more than enough for the passing Vulcans to detect them. Cochrane is amazed at how small the Earth looks in the distance, and we get a sense that his priorities may be beginning to change a little.
Back on the planet the next day, a crowd gathers to watch the Vulcan ship land. Cochrane steps forward and makes the first exchange ever between Humans and Vulcans - "Live long and prosper" - "Thanks", as Picard and his officers watch their past played out from a discrete distance. Picard says an emotional goodbye to Lily - she envious of the world he is returning to, he envious of her participation in the founding of that future. As Cochrane begins the process of getting to know the Vulcans, the Enterprise recreates the time rift and heads back to its proper time.
But by far the largest nit in the film is the Borg Queen. Her presence is part of an issue that goes to the very heart of the Borg; as originally described by Q, the Borg have no real reason to ever talk to anybody. They analyse you; if you have something they want, they assimilate you. If not, they totally ignore you. They have no reason to bully, threaten, negotiate, or anything else beyond these two courses of action. That's a large part of what made the Borg so alien and threatening in the first place - they're completely impersonal. As such, the Borg should be treated almost like a natural disaster; when the volcano erupts you don't negotiate with it, you simply fight as hard as you can to stem the flow or get out of the way!
Unfortunately, the writers can't seem to get their heads around such an impersonal threat. So, since the very first episode involving the Borg we have seen their nature compromised. In "Q Who" we had threats issued to the Enterprise via the comm channels. In "Best of Both Worlds" we had the same, then we had a Borgified Picard who walked around threatening everybody with assimilation. Then in First Contact, and later in Voyagers "Dark Frontier" we get the Borg Queen. She is the utter opposite of everything the Borg are supposed to be; a strong individual character who spends hours getting to know some of her victims, assimilating or releasing them according to whim. Her existence has turned the Borg from the near-unstoppable species intent on assimilating anything they deem useful, into just another 'evil' bunch of bad guys led by a megalomaniac.
Given this, it's almost an afterthought that the Borg Queen was never shown as being present during Picards assimilation, and that she has a rather surprising habit of coming back alive after she has been killed.
Plenty of explanations have been thrown around for the Borg Queen. My favourite is that she is a personification of the collective - a spokesperson, if you will. I don't see her as being in command of the Borg, any more than Picard as Locutus was in charge of them. The Queens personality would therefore be a part of the collective whole, and as such when one Queen body dies another can be prepared and her personality downloaded into it. This works reasonably well, but her existence even as a spokesperson still detracts from the original concept of the Borg.
Having said all that, I must admit that once you get over the fact that the Queen exists at all her interplay with Data does add to the film considerably. For that we have both good writing and Alice Kridge to thank; she does a superb job as the Queen. But then the performances are good all around. Of the regulars, the main honours go to Stewart, Spiner and Dorn. Spiner does his usual excellent job as Data - he actually managed to convince me that Data had switched allegiance towards the end. Stewart plays Picards obsession with the Borg well, culminating in his "the line must be drawn here!" scene with Lily. That raised one minor question for me - is Guinan aboard the Enterprise-E? Making Picard face up to things like this is exactly the kind of thing Guinans character is for, yet in "First Contact" we have an outsider fill the role. However, I don't mind this much - given the general publics unfamiliarity with the Borg at this time the film needed an outside viewpoint so that things could be explained to the audience more fully, and in the apparent absense of Guinan Lily is the logical choice to argue with picard. Dorn is as convincing as ever as Worf, and gets several classic Worf lines - "If you were any other man, I would kill you where you stand!".
In Trek the ships have always been almost a character in their own right, and the Enterprise E continues the trend. Personally, I wish she'd been bigger - the recent trend to ever smaller ships is not one I like, and I was looking forward to a super-Galaxy class. But the E is absolutely gorgeous, and she looks stunning in this film.
Many fans - mostly those who are big on TOS - were outraged by the protrail of Zefram Cochrane in this film. In case you don't know, Cochrane pops up in the TOS episode "Metamorphosis", and in that episode he was neither drunk nor greedy - he was in fact a fairly typical Trek idealist. It's hard to reconcile the two images, but I tend to be fairly forgiving on this one. The film makes the point over and over again that the Cochrane who makes the warp flight is a very different person from the Cochrane in the history books, and for for me part of the point here is that we are seeing the events which will lead to the characters eventual growth into that person. We get an inkling of it when Cochrane sees the Earth lying far behind him, and a little more when we see his reaction to the Vulcans arriving. I am firmly convinced that it is Cochrane's role in these events, together with whatever part he plays in the subsequent rebuilding of Earth, that turns him into the man he will eventually become.
Overall then, a somewhat flawed film but still one of the better ones despite it.