"At the end of the ice age, a machine came. It came from outside. It came from space. It came with one purpose -- to change man into mutants..."
Those are very much the first lines of Mutant Chronicles, and it's a fair indication as to just how seriously our filmmakers are going to take their silly story. "Have faith" is a recurring mantra (hell, it's even the tagline), but speaking as someone who could get behind the genre-blending likes of Doomsday and Outlander, it's keeping the faith that the ambition of Chronicles may defeat its limited budget that proves a struggle mightier than that which our heroes face. The above-mentioned ice age is one yet to come, and the times that follow aren't easy. Countries have been replaced by corporations -- four, to be exact -- and amidst their constant warring, the above-mentioned machine has been unwittingly uncovered, unleashing claw-fisted mutant after claw-fisted mutant upon the troops and the cities they defend. Naturally, a monk (Ron Perlman) knew this day would come, and with the support of at least one corporate leader (John Malkovich, barely there in most every sense), he recruits a rag-tag and conveniently multi-cultural ensemble of soldiers -- including über-gruff Mitch Hunter (Thomas Jane) -- to go behind enemy lines and disable the machine before humans are rendered extinct.
It's dystopian, it's steampunk, it's based on a role-playing game and looks like a comic-book movie, working with a mostly monochromatic palate save for flashes of red (yes, it's exactly like Schindler's List). It's a murky film, in terms of both plot (overcooked) and visuals (underlit), proudly artificial and yet burdened with a severe pulp deficiency. Director Simon Hunter (no relation to our hero) and writer Philip Eisner seem to think they're making no less than Saving Private Ryan with claw-fisted mutants in the future than a genre hodge-podge that could use a wink here and a nudge there to make things seem a bit brighter (well, maybe not literally), and as the obstacles of the mission unfold, it becomes apparent that the story arc is less indebted to Joseph Campbell and maybe a bit more PlayStation 2.
I say PlayStation 2 and not something a bit more advanced because, while all the polished effects in the world can't compensate for a lack of consistent tone or sense of character (see: Transformers), what Hunter has at his disposal are clearly not the most polished effects in the world. With a combined resume that includes Sin City, Speed Racer, the Hellboy films, and The Mist, at least this cast was already experienced with the art of wielding weapons toward heavily made-up foes and against green-screen backdrops, because there's certainly no shortage of that. Jane appears to quietly relish the opportunity to do the gruff guy routine that The Punisher allowed him to take up for a bit, and Perlman seems to bring gravitas to his role of solemn badass by default.
It's a fine line between 'abandon all hope' and 'lower all expectations,' but when the best comparison a film can merit is to the works of Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Equilibrium) -- and when you manage to make the sight of a punctured skull lose its novelty within the first fifteen minutes -- you're in trouble. In Mutant Chronicles, the greatest enemy is not the machine that breeds monsters, but rather the familiarity that breeds contempt.
(If not in NY/LA, Mutant Chronicles is currently available on-demand.)