Science fiction and fantasy

Mutant Chronicles

directed by Simon Hunter

Mutant Chronicles 
Mutant Chronicles is based on a role-playing game, which spawned a series of books written by a number of different authors. Such franchised fiction can be a little stagnant, because the main characters and the setting aren't allowed to change a great deal. That doesn't exactly bode well for this movie. It could so easily get bogged down, either due to the lack of a single creative vision or because there's not enough movement during the course of the film.

Yet as it turns out, being part of a franchise doesn't have a noticeably negative effect on this movie. Instead its problems lie elsewhere.

The story begins in the deep and distant past, with a machine that falls from the sky. After the threat is dealt with by our ancestors, the machine is sealed in the earth. The knowledge of it is passed down by a small religious sect. Long after the rest of the population have forgotten about it, they have a book that contains details of a prophecy that concerns this device.

In the early 28th century the world is divided between four giant corporations. In Europe, Capitol and Bauhaus are waging war against each other. But never mind futuristic visions of high-tech destruction: this is fierce trench warfare that looks an awful lot like the battles of the First World War. It's grim, gritty, and desperate, and everyone seems to smoke. In the course of a battle the seal of the ancient machine is broken, and the fury of bloodthirsty mutants is unleashed on the troops of both sides.

In the confusion that ensues, both sides blame each other for releasing the mutants. Captain Steiner (Benno Fürmann) even accuses his counterpart on the other side of being a murderer, which seems a somewhat rich thing to say in the middle of a raging war.

Mutant Chronicles is certainly highly stylised. It's a look that fuses steampunk with gothic, all presented in oppressive desaturated tones with highlighted reds that make the blood stand out. There's lots of the red stuff. In some ways this is a very attractive film. It's been richly imagined in dark and gritty retro splendour. But it's a look that borrows heavily from a number of other films, rather than a completely new style.

Samuel (Ron Perlman) is the hooded and solemn religious leader who pleads with the world's rulers for help in defeating mankind's new mutant enemy. But the rulers are more intent on evacuating the planet. Only Constantine (John Malkovich) offers any help, allowing Samuel to recruit a small group of soldiers. Their mission is to destroy the machine that makes the mutants, and therefore to save the planet.

Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane) is amongst this team. He's a faithless soldier, the polar opposite of Samuel and his disciples. Hunter has a large collection of dog tags from all of his fallen comrades, and in spite of his cynical demeanour he's altogether too brave for his own good, and predictably heroic at all times.

However, Hunter isn't the only one. The plot is littered with melodramatic last stands, and acts of noble self-sacrifice for the greater good. Once would be enough for any film, but in this one it happens often enough to become repetitive. The story has a serious case of testosterone overload. Although it's tense and action-packed, the plot of Mutant Chronicles is basically just an excuse for a huge dust-up. The mutants themselves are essentially zombies, without much speech and even less reason. So although the plot does go somewhere, it's an overwhelmingly martial story that's dominated by hack-and-slash violence and the spectacle of huge and intricate engines, rather than anything deeper. The main thing this film has going for itself is the way it looks, but even in this aspect it's quite derivative.

Film Details

Year of release: 2008

Categories: Films
Science fiction

Classification: 18

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2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson