The first rule of filmmaking is to live within your means. If all you have is a man, a bike and a road, make a movie about a man on the road with his bike, not a gang battling mutants on a post-apocalyptic world, no matter how much more appealing the second option may be to your sensibilities. Mutant Chronicles suffers from this exact problem. While it's hard to fault director Simon Hunter for his ambition, the harsh truth is that his pockets weren’t deep enough to pull off the story he wanted to tell. That the movie has languished on a shelf for two years before being released indicates many people involved in the project must have realized this too.
The movie opens with a Lord of the Rings style narration from cultish religious leader Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman sporting the worst Scottish accent since Harrison Ford in Last Crusade) setting the scene for things to come. At some point in the future an alien machine crashed on earth and started spitting out a seemingly endless supply of almost indestructible bloodthirsty mutants who ravaged the planet and its population. Presumably the Bush family doesn't hold power in the future, as rather than simply nuke the machine a bunch of supermonks single-handedly stop the attack by dropping a giant stone Pog on top of the crater created by the machine. As soon as the alien threat is removed, the people on Earth promptly resumed killing each other in a bloody war between rival corporations. Perhaps predictably, after many years one of these battles (conducted, in a neo-WWI style with trenches, tin hats and bloody big canons) results in the big Pog getting broken and a new wave of murderous mutants immediately pour out. With the corporations pussying out and high-tailing it to Mars, Brother Samuel take it upon himself, guided by a religious text written by the first band of monks, to assemble his own rag-tag group of warriors to travel to and into the machine where they’ll attempt to stop it once and for all.
Hunter tries to bring all of this to life on a grand scale and this is where Mutant Chronicles sadly falls flat on its face. He tries to show us everything from crumbling decadent cityscapes, to big war-torn battle scenes, to cavernous underground cities, to giant mutant factories. All well and good if you can command the budget of a summer blockbuster, but when you are a small independent sci-fi movie filming in a British basement with a budget consisting mainly of food stamps, the results are something far less than satisfactory. Almost the entire movie appears to have been filmed on green screen soundstages with cut price CGI filling in for sets. The quality of the rendering varies wildly from passable to something you'd expect from a cheap Sci-Fi channel TV movie and the fact that more often than not than not the green screen work is painfully obvious, constantly pulls you out of the movie.
The cast again is something that’s inconsistent. A few characters established in the opening scenes are hastily thrown together with a few more quickly introduced but faceless drones from the school of expendable characters, to form a group of warriors. Thomas Jane manfully and competently growls his way through a leading role Jason Statham was clearly meant to play before he became too famous. John Malkovich turns up in a cameo, predictably sporting more tics than a stray dog and Devon Aoki appears in yet another part to remind everyone she's a really a model not an actress. While most of the cast hold their own through the occasionally clunky dialogue, Aoki and Shauna MacDonald (as Sean Pertwee's character's wife) are just plain awful. As an aside, try and work out just exactly what purpose Pertwee's character serves in the movie. I couldn't.
The bulk of the film is pure genre stuff. A group of badasses of various skills and ethnicities battling unlikely odds to complete their mission while being picked off by their overwhelming enemy (Sticking so firmly to the rules that, yes, predictably the black guy dies first). Hunter doesn't skimp on the red stuff though, adding lots of gory impalements and shredded limps to the close quarters attacks of the mutants, again only hampered by the occurrence of cheap CGI exploding heads.
Part of me wanted Mutant Chronicles to succeed in spite of itself, and depending on how forgiving you’re feeling it's not totally impossible to watch the movie and get some enjoyment out of it. I just can't help feeling though, that had the script been retooled to better suit its budgetary constraints there could have been a much more tightly focused, visually impressive movie somewhere in here. As it is, whether Mutant Chronicles deserves to have all the flaws of its over-ambition exposed on a massive screen is another matter. The film plays out more like a Friday night beer'n'chips B-movie than a true theatrical feature, and perhaps that's where it deserves to be seen.
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