Judge David Johnson visited the Warp once. He got a cool t-shirt.
War is not about glory. War is about victory.
The first ever feature-length film based in the wildly popular Warhammer 40K universe is here. Will it appeal to that most discerning of critics: the dude with the rough haircut and the bulbous blue plastic faux-armor?
Facts of the Case
In the 41st millennium, mankind is in a perpetual state of war. With demon hordes closing in, humanity's best hope for survival is the deployment of their elite fighting forces, the Space Marines. And the elite of the elite: the Ultramarine. Ultramarines tells the story of a detachment of these bad-asses, responding to a distress beacon on a far-flung planet. Their investigation leads them to a sacred relic that holds the power to open the doors to the dreaded Warp and usher in all manner of diabolical foe. Gunfire ensues.
I had my first true exposure to the sprawling world of Warhammer 40K through the Xbox 360 game Space Marine (that game rules by the way). I was taken with the fiction and did some research on the mythology, which is rich, complex, and pretty damn cool. So my expectations going into this feature film were relatively lofty. I was expecting a deeper dive into the 40K universe with a hefty dose of chunky chainsword slaughtering and automatic weaponry.
The good news: We do get that. Scumbag Chaos Marines get carved up and Warp daemons get ventilated. The not-so-good news: For a film that clocks in at a paltry 77 minutes, Ultramarines takes an uncomfortably long time to get rolling. I counted 30 minutes before the first gun was fired in the general direction of an antagonist. That's not okay.
What takes up all this precious runtime? Lots and lots and lots of walking through the desert. Honestly, I do not get what the filmmakers were going for here. The production kicks off nicely enough, as a crop of new Ultramarine recruits are introduced and prepped for battle. We meet our characters, including the stereotypical hothead rookie who may or may not (SPOILER: May!) grow up right before our eyes and turn into badass with noticeable leadership qualities. Once they roll out and land on the mystery planet, we're looking at a sustained walk-about that does not end. I can understand the desire to generate atmosphere and set tone, but this tactic is hampered by lethargic pacing and dull set design. Sand and fog and walking; that's essentially the first half of the film.
Thankfully, things pick up a bit once the Ultramarines reach their objective. Following some muddy exposition, we discover the MacGuffin, the action sets in, and I like where it went for the finale. Ultramarines is a more intimate, character-focused Warhammer experience, devoid of a full-scale assault. It would have been nice to get all-out war at some point, but this Band of Brothers-lite approach has its pluses and makes for a cool finale. If there's another Ultramarines film—despite my scattered disappointment, I hope there is—I want more mythology and total war. This tale just scratches the surface.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray isn't bad and the 1.78:1/1080p high def transfer is clean, but the visuals are held back by stiff middling CG animation. The TrueHD 5.1 Surround track fares better, delivering the sharp ambient war-beat score along with loud, enveloping sound effects. A decent amount of extras accompany the movie, including a thirty-minute making-of documentary, a featurette about the Space Marine mythology, a look at how the big-bad was created, and an animated graphic novel.
Not bad. Could have been a lot better.
The Emperor will spare you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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