10 October, 2008

Review: The Mutant Chronicles

Tom Jane must save a dreary future Earth from zombies with pointy arms. Hmm.

Films based on computer games are largely poor (viz Street Fighter, Super Mario Brothers, Dead Or Alive). Sometimes the games themselves are poor, but more often they are simply unsuited to adaptation. Genre films demand strong narratives (and hence strong characters), which are not the strengths of the fighting games and shoot-em-ups that more often make it to the cinema.

The Mutant Chronicles (or MuChron, as I prefer to call it), starts from the further disadvantage of being based on a tabletop wargame of the same name.

Set in the 28th century, MuChron concerns the recruitment, by Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman) of cynical soldier Mitch Hunter (Tom Jane) to lead a mission to destroy an ancient alien machine which turns the dead from Earth’s interminable wars into mutant zombies.

Despite a labourious exposition of its dreary steampunk setting, in which four corporations based on racial stereotypes duke it out for control of the Earth’s natural resources, the whys and wherefores of this world are considered irrelevant to the movie (which, after all is about killing zombies).

Nothing could be further from the truth however. Science Fiction set in distant futures, pasts or worlds demands greater explication of its workings, than does fiction set in a familiar contemporary world which we know intuitively. It is never explained why, for example, 700 years into the future, culture, technology and warfare have stalled in the 1940s, except for the steam-powered spaceships.

Despite the absurdity of its premise and its claim to be an Action-Adventure film, MuChron is a particularly grave affair, high in grime and stoicism, short on round-house kicks, impaling, explosions and witty one-liners (not even an anachronistic knees-up ‘round the old Joanna). Indeed it is pretty short on zombies too.

However, if MuChron lacks in plentiful zombies, it compensates by having Brother Samuel bang on about how Faith is great and how Mitch ought to have some, to which Mitch replies: ‘I’m not paid to have Faith. I’m paid to fuck shit up.’ Quite.

To paraphrase another review I once read, the distasteful result is a feeling of having been robbed of precious time and a lingering and humiliating sense of having misunderstood a not very funny joke.