Monday, November 5, 2012

Movie Review: Age of Heroes (2011)

I think I've mentioned a couple of times how it appears WW2 era "action stories" appear to be making a comeback, at least in the UK. This is not only evidenced by my sales of Operation Arrowhead, which are beating out US sales over 3 to 1, but by the number of authors in the UK who have started to write adventure novels set in the early war period, with a clear intention of carrying through over the course of the war.

So it isn't surprising that someone would decide to make a movie about this theme, and it looks like last year, someone did just that. The film "Age of Heroes" is a UK production, and although there are times where it is clear the film suffers from a UK-sized, non-Hollywood budget, overall the production values for the film are acceptable. Everyone's kit looks good, or good enough to please most people, and the weapons / equipment everyone's got also appear generally accurate.

To keep it really simple, a band of Commandos is sent into Norway to find and steal research materials the Germans have developed for their advanced radar arrays. The team is supposed to blow up a research station and cause general havoc as a smokescreen for their "smash and grab" raid, and it is clear that the intention is for the team to be the first of a series of raids launched by the Allies for just such a purpose.

The film has some basis in fact; the Commando unit is never mentioned, but it is supposed to be Ian Fleming's (James Bond's author) 30 Commando, an Allied unit whose main purpose was to find and steal German research, often right before Allied units steamrolled over the Germans or the Germans wiped it out during "scorched earth" retreats. One of the characters in the film is actually supposed to be "Commander Fleming".

In theory, this isn't a bad premise for a movie. However, my biggest problem is that Age of Heroes muddies the waters terribly with a bunch of completely unnecessary drama. Aside from Sean Bean, who is of course your typical badass Commando officer (but of course, has a wife about to give birth...), the other main character is this smarthmouthed wiseass footslogger who was arrested and sent off for disciplinary detention for - get this - striking an officer and refusing orders during the retreat to Dunkirk. Now, we see the reasons for this, and they are somewhat understandable, but anyone who does cursory research into the Commando units knows they didn't take in guys who were going to be trouble, and anyone with a bad attitude was RTU (returned to unit) pretty quickly. This doesn't mean they didn't have some rowdy fellows, but no one would EVER be taken in who'd been arrested for attempted desertion, disobeying orders, and striking an officer.

So what we wind up with is an annoying character conflict where one of our Main Characters is your classic "I break the rules because the rules are dumb" troublemaker, who has to shape up or ship out and gets "just one more bloody chance, boyo..." to join the Commando unit, and of course, he does. Then there's the drama around the Air Force nerd, who's sent along to examine the German technology. Of course, he can't be allowed to get captured, so we assign - who else - the screwup to kill the RAF nerd if it looks like he'll get put in the bag. And then there's a Norwegian-American tagging along who "knows the area", and he's having an affair with Commander Fleming's aide.

Overall, this pile of drama just sucks precious minutes from a movie that's already fairly short - the movie's only 90 minutes long. Ultimately this means the actual raid, and everything that takes place after it, seems annoyingly short. There could have been plenty of room for a bunch of cat-and-mouse drama between the Commando team and the Germans, as the Brits race to their rendezvous point and the Germans slowly close in, the Brits running out of ammunition, taking casualties, and being worn down, so on and so forth. There is some of this, of course, but it is at such a break-neck pace that I don't really feel the tension.

Overall, I think this is a fair attempt at a classic WW2 "commando raid" story, but burdened by too much Studio backseat driving, demanding "character conflicts" and "dramatic backstories" that only serve to waste resources and suck down time. I think a lot of people forget that it's not hard to come up with interesting characters that we care about if they are, you know, well written and well acted.

I typically don't do "ratings" for books or movies. For this, I'd probably give it a 3 out of 5. Not a bad attempt, but lacking the sort of oomph needed to make this a really solid action-adventure war story.

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