Judge Patrick Bromley is a master of the universe.
He didn't come here to be a hero, but things change.
I guess it was only a matter of time until the snake started eating its own tale. The cult success of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead series begets the comic book and subsequent AMC TV series The Walking Dead, which becomes the biggest success story on television and, in turn, begets its own knock-off movies. Battle of the Damned is such a movie.
The great Dolph Lundgren plays the incredibly-named Max Gatling (a name that deserves better than this movie), survivor of a recent virus outbreak that has turned most of the world in snarling, infected zombie-like things that live only to kill and eat the living. He's hired to rescue Jude (Melanie Zanetti, Tracks), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Trouble is, Jude won't go anywhere without the other survivors with whom she's partnered up—including her boyfriend Reese (Matt Doran, The Matrix) and Duke (David Field, Chopper), the self-appointed group leader. The bad news is that there are zombies everywhere and the good guys' numbers are dwindling. On the plus side, Max and the other survivors come across a small army of robots they're able to reprogram to fight the zombies.
Boy, on paper a movie with Dolph Lundgren and robots fighting zombies sounds like my new favorite thing. In practice, it's a different story. While Battle of the Damned isn't anywhere near Against the Dark territory—a similar DVD-action-star-versus-monsters effort that pits Steven Seagal against vampires and one of the dullest, most inept action movies you're likely to see—it's also nowhere near as good as its simple premise would suggest. The characters are barely sketched; the plotting almost nonexistent. Though some of the action is well-staged, it amounts mostly to a small cast and some extras running around the empty streets of an Eastern European country. There isn't any particularly good zombie gore, either. The infected are dispatched by being shot, and their human victims are always obscured by a swarm of zombies or eaten off camera. There is no impact to any of the deaths, human or otherwise.
Besides Lundgren—who isn't really given a character to play, just a cool sounding name and his usual larger-than-life stature—no one in the movie registers. That may not be important in most action movies, but it does in one like this. When a film is focused on a small band of survivors, it's important to know who they are and how they relate to one another. Even broad sketches would go a long way towards getting us to invest in the film, because neither the action nor the horror elements are doing the job. The least we can do is care about someone, but Battle of the Damned doesn't pull that off. I guess the filmmakers hope if they throw enough robots into the mix, we'll overlook the rest of the flaws. And you know what? For a little while, that works.
Anchor Bay's Battle of the Damned (Blu-ray) delivers about what you would expect: the 1080p transfer looks very good, despite the film's washed-out, shot-on-digital appearance. Detail is present throughout, and while the HD transfer is slightly less forgiving of some of the CG robot effects, the film generally looks more expensive than its small budget would suggest. The TrueHD 5.1 audio track is also impressive, seeing as its tasked more with providing action effects and score than with dialogue, as the movie is light on conversation. Sadly, the only bonus feature included is some behind-the-scenes footage, barely cut together in any presentable way.
The DTV action market is so overcrowded with generic, hit-or-miss fare that something even remotely ambitious like Battle of the Damned falls just this side of "ok." Some decent special effects and the presence of Dolph Lundgren make it watchable, though it's mostly for non-discerning genre fans. Horror fans looking for a zombie movie fix will be disappointed. All that's left is us DTV action fans who have seen enough garbage to find this one enough of a change of pace to be passable. Yes, it rips off The Walking Dead. But The Walking Dead doesn't have Dolph Lundgren. Or robots.
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