Renaissance is the kind of movie you instinctively want to be good. Stylized, heavily shadowed, and soaked in detail it's a piece of moving art. I can't even begin to fathom the hours, days, and weeks that must have gone into carefully conceiving and setting up every single shot. But if sheer effort were an easy indicator of quality, then Cinema Blend would have long ago been acknowledged as the greatest movie site on the internet.
A lot of hard work went into Renaissance, but that's not enough. Visually it's incredibly creative, using live action motion capture, animated in 3D and then rendered with dialed up contrast to create its own take on the graphic-novel come to life look. Think of it like a fully animated version of Sin City, but with the contrast levels all out of whack. But the story is missing emotion, and the film's complicated film noir plot doesn't always lay flat. It's a confusing mess of lumpy ideas, and some of its conclusions just don't make much sense.
The plot takes a lot of cues directly from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. A futuristic world, a hard-boiled detective assigned to solve a case that's a little over his head, an attempt at grand themes about human nature and what it all means. It starts in 2054 Paris with Ilona Tasuiev and her sister Bislane. It's a French film, so all the characters were originally voiced by French actors. But in the American point you and I will be able to watch, the voices have been redone by Amreicans. Ilona is voiced by Romola Garai and Bislane by Catherine McCormack.
Ilona disappears after an argument with her sister and Avalon, the all-powerful corporate monolith we all know will be running things in the future, charges a gritty police detective named Karas (voiced by Daniel Craig) with finding her. Karas begins his investigation, winding his way through the labyrinthian underbelly of a future where we still don't have flying cars. The world is one where every move is monitored, and Avalon has insinuated itself into every aspect of life. Karas soon finds himself deep in a problem much bigger than Ilona Tasuiev. As the truth is uncovered, he becomes less and less certain that he wants Ilona Tasuiev found.
Renaissance desperately wants its future world to look bleak, but as corporate controlled evil futures go, this one doesn't seem so bad. Karas ends up fighting against a system that we haven't been adequately convinced needs fighting against, and so his certainty ends up making less than the usual amount of sense. The threads he follows to unravel his mystery often unravel before he gets to the end, but in its rush to get to the next chase scene the movie sometimes glosses right over missing puzzle pieces.
Thank god for the rush really, because even though Renaissance is only 105 minutes it feels nearly twice as long as that. Maybe all the black and white contrast is to blame, sure it's cool and interesting and all of that; but after awhile it all starts to run together. The pic never quite seems to spring to life. It's too precise and much of the time it feels like it's simply going through the motions of being an actual film. It might have been better off as a short. As a brief curiosity it's exciting, as a full-length movie it's kind of a bore.
That's not to say Renaissance is a waste. Director Christian Volckman truly pushes the limits of the style he's locked in, shooting reflections through windows and rain soaked streets to set up a visual feast of detail and dark shadowy noir. Sure, it's an animated film, but this is no ordinary animation. It's a completely unique moviegoing experience. Flawed perhaps, but not without strange, black and white pleasures. If the thought of combining the monochrome comic pages of a black and white graphic novel with the sweeping cityscapes of Bladerunner appeals to you, then Renaissance is something to check out on a whim. Just don't expect too much from its convoluted script.