Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Anna Walton, Devon Aoki, Sean Pertwee, Pras, John Malkovich
Directed by Simon Hunter
Distributed by Magnet Releasing
Derivative, disappointing, and often dull, I strongly suspect fans of The Mutant Chronicles role-playing game on which this film is loosely based are going to be sorely disappointed. When I say loosely based, I looked the game up on Wikipedia after watching the movie, read a synopsis as to what it was all about, and quickly realized that what I just watched had very little in common with its source material. I also strongly suspect that Mutant Chronicles will sorely disappoint even those unfamiliar with the RPG like me because entertainment-wise, this movie fails its save throw.
A machine from outer space landed on earth after the ice age intent on transforming mankind into mutants. A warrior united various tribes to ditch the machine underground. All of this is only known to an order of monks (sort of like less battle-ready Jedi) descended from that warrior thanks to an ancient text they keep called “The Chronicles” that’s mostly a collection of Da Vinci-esque drawings.
Jump forward to the steam punk-inspired future of 2702 as Earth is now ruled over by four corporations that each control a particular section of the globe: Capitol (North and South America and a bit of Europe), Bauhaus (Eastern Europe and North Africa), Imperial (South Africa and Australia), and Mishima (Asia). These corporations fight each other over what remains of Earth’s resources and such with their own private armies who dress like WW1 soldiers. The quality of life on Earth has deteriorated to the point that many have taken to evacuating to off-world colonies.
A skirmish between the opposing forces of Capitol and Bauhaus inadvertently opens the seal to the pit wherein rests the infernal machine. The first mutants are unleashed, proceed to slaughter everyone in sight, and then drag the bodies of the dead and dying back down below so that the machine can turn them into mutants to continue the cycle.
Ron Perlman trades in his red Hellboy make-up for a shiny red robe that would absolutely make Obi Wan Kenobi green with envy. He’s Brother Samuel, the head monk of the order, who sets out to warn the various corporations about the impending mutant apocalypse that has already begun. As the head of one such corporation, John Malkovich sleepwalks his way through his three-minute appearance in a manner not seen since Ben Kingsley in BloodRayne.
The eventual plan is to assemble a Dirty Dozen-style team of the best (and blandest) soldiers to head down into the underworld to blow up the machine using a bomb specially designed to blow up the machine even though they’re not entirely sure it is a bomb or how exactly to detonate it. Leading the mission is Thomas Jane in a role as a soldier that gives him little to do except go back and forth between channeling Steve McQueen’s toughness and Christopher Lambert’s, ummm, Lambert-ness.
I’ll go on the record right here and declare that if Mutant Chronicles had been made about 15-years ago I can almost guarantee you it would have starred Christopher Lambert. The whole production just has that medium range budgeted, independently-produced, B-movie vibe emanating from it that so many Christopher Lambert movies possessed in spades.
Virtually all of Mutant Chronicles‘ problems emanate from the script by Philip Eisner (Event Horizon, Firestarter: Rekindled) that’s too drab to be much fun and too derivative to be riveting. The script has little interest in exploring the religious stuff or the warring corporations stuff or any of the sci-fi/steampunk stuff or even the nature of the mutants or the machine that makes them, only begrudgingly doing so when it absolutely has to. It’s more interested in being a routine, humorless, low energy, sci-fi action flick about roughneck soldiers (including a laughably unconvincing Devon Aoki as a lady samurai) trying to save the already apocalyptic world from mostly mindless mutant marauders. The sort of movie where I was already predicting early in that the finale would involve Thomas Jane having to fight a fallen ally turned into a mutant and sure enough…
On those rare occasions when the script feels at all interested in exploring the quasi-religious subtext of the material it hints that the mutants might be somewhat demonic and the machine might have an origin that’s as unholy as it is intergalactic, yet little of anything comes of this. It’s just an evil machine from outer space that uglies up peoples’ faces, mutates their right arm into a blade-like appendage, and then sends them out to hack and slash humans. Might as well just call it the deus ex machina since it exists only to give the movie a reason to exist.
There are some bright spots amid the perfunctory action scenes, multiple scenes of characters repelling from great heights, and mountains of droning exposition that bog down the proceedings. A goofy parachuting crash landing sequence is fun; there’s a decent battle between a Japanese soldier and a mutant in an elevator, and it was fun hearing Thomas Jane finally cut loose during the climax that for some strange reason put me in the mood to go dig out my old VHS copy of Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.
The Blu-ray of the disc looks absolutely incredible and the vast amount of content (listed below) included with the special features make this one earn its keep price-wise. If you’re planning on watching only a bit of the content let it be the excellent making-of documentary. It’s better than the film itself.
Director Simon Hunter gives his film a distinct and ambitious visual style with tons of matte paintings and green screen – some painfully obvious in their one-dimensionality. For my taste the combination of monochrome and murkier colors gave the movie the appearance of a cheaper, drearier Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow. I can’t say he’s much for staging action scenes, though.
Unfortunately, as much as the director tries, the aspects of the story that could have made his film unique are underdeveloped, the plot as presented is woefully lifeless, there just isn’t a single damn thing in Mutant Chronicles that you haven’t already seen in better films.
2 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5
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