The concept of other Kaiju movies that exist outside Japan isn’t exactly a new one – in fact, not only does The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms predate the original Godzilla, but one of the driving ideas behind Cloverfield was to give other nationalities a chance at having their very own building-sized beastie. If fact, if you look hard enough, you’ll see that global Kaiju isn’t an new thing at all with the English getting in on the act back in ’61 with Gorgo and Norway pitching in with André Øvredal’s magnificent Troll Hunter.
It’s this last movie that instantly springs to mind when settling down to watch Troll, the latest offering from Netflix that delivers plenty of sprited, if wholly unoriginal, monster sized thrills as a bunch of typically mismatched oddballs delve into Nordic folklore in order to figure out how to stop this rock headed titan before it does some real damage.
After workers blow one too many holes in the Dovre mountains in order to facilitate the path of a new road, a very angry and very large troll erupts out of the ground in order to stomp its way around the local countryside and cause general havoc. The government are understandably baffled at reports of a gargantuan rock beast casually strolling through people’s houses and generally causing an uproar so they get geeky Prime Minister’s advisor Andreas Isaksen and no nonsense Captain Kristoffer Holm to snag local boffin, Nora Tidemann, from her archeological dig in order to see if she can work out what’s leaving paddling pool sized footprints all over the place.
Coming to the unbelievable conclusion that a creature from Nordic legend not only exists but is at large (large being the operative word) in the modern world, she goes to the only source she can think off, her estranged father, Tobias, a former professor of folklore who now has gone off the reservation with his paranoid theories concerning government cover ups and mythical creatures.
While the two bicker about their broken relationship, they accidentally stumble upon the Troll (don’t be too hard on them, spotting a twenty storey rock monster in the mountains is harder than you’d think) who proves to be every bit as angry and imposing as you’d expect and an initial assault on the creature proves to be as effective as flinging a bit of dog shit at a tank.
As the rampage continues, Nora resorts to myth to try and find away to halt the path of stompy destruction but when daylight and the clanging of bells also prove as useless as bullets and bombs, it seems that the military will have no option but to level the entire city. Can Nora and her misshapen band of heroes unlock a Troll conspiracy, defy their government and figure out a way to roll this Troll before all is lost?
As a fan of the Kaiju genre, I genuinely find myself unsure of how to feel about Troll, which styles itself as a big-hearted love letter to giant monster movies courtesy of the aptly named Roar Uthaug, but I found that a lot of its homages simply riffs hard off other, existing movies meaning that as fun as it is, it’s also monstrously derivative.
It’s a shame because the teaser poster hinted at such sights as mountain climbers scaling the actual face of the creature like something out of that old video game, Shadow Of The Colossus and I was totally here for something like that. However, what we get is countless scenes that ape other movies; the Troll bats helicopters out of the sky like Kong: Skull Island, Bryan Cranston’s obsessive expert from Gareth Edward’s Godzilla is present in the form of Nora’s shaggy father, the film goes deep on mimicking the final moments of Troll Hunter and, most weirdly of all, the filmmakers borrow massive chunks from that most maligned modern Kaiju movie of all, the 1998 Godzilla. Starting with its rag tag leads following a trail of destruction and foot prints throughout it’s big, final set piece involves the panicking heroes trying to get the troll to follow them as they screech through the city streets (in a yellow vehicle, no less) as they try and lead him into a trap. Hell, even the final shots copy Matthew Broderick staring regretfully into the Kaiju’s eyes as it slowly succumbs – although you could argue that it’s simultaneously referencing the 1976 Kong remake also…
It’s frustrating because the film in general has quite a fun, knockabout feel that seems very akin to movies like Tremors or even Jon Wright’s Grabbers – both essentially a how-to guide to make a fun, self-referential monster movie, but to give it it’s due, for a movie that shamelessly steals from Roland Emmerich’s notoriously jumpy lizard, it’s a far better experience. It also has a motley crew of kooky underdogs diligently trying to respectfully halt the devastation while being constantly thwarted by annoying politicians, but it’s far more respectful to its roots, digging into the deep lore of its Norwegian roots.
Still, for all of it’s over familiarity, Troll boasts some nicely effective CGI and some well staged action, even if it’s suspiciously familiar. A small child goggles in shock as the creature looms over a troll-themed theme park; a Christian gives away his position by praying (trolls can sniff out Christian blood apparently) and the movie goes full monster movie as the movie finds the budget to have the rampage continue throughout the city of Oslo and it’s well shot and excitingly edited.
However, what counteracts the furious recycling is the Norwegian tone that’s carried out through the crisp characterizations with Ine Marie Wilmann’s Nora providing an endearing “straight man” for Mads Sjøgärd Peterson super serious soldier and Kim Falck’s fantasy obsessed advisor (a running joke sees him constantly enthuse to everyone he meets about a character he’s created who can throw its head at people). The sputtering relationship between her and her mythology obsessed father (Gard B. Eidsvold) is also nicely handled even if (again) it traces the lines of the 2014 Godzilla far too closely…
As a Kaiju fan, Troll really does put me in something of an odd conundrum as it’s undeniably as well crafted a monster movie as a lot of glowing reviews suggest; however, all the relentless homaging means it’s hardly an original watch even if Troll turns out to be better than some of the movies it’s ripping off – it’s certainly better than the 90’s Godzilla.
So which way to I turn? Commend the enthusiasm or condemn the furious copying of someone else’s homework? Well, as I’m an old softie, I’m going to go with the former, as it makes a nice double-bill to the vastly superior Troll Hunter, it has a heart the size of Kong’s prostate and the world can always use more lovingly crafted Kaiju flicks – but it really could have used a few more ideas that stepped a gigantic foot outside the box.
Flawed but fun – no trolling.