Usually when I hear that a sci-f action movie has been directed by an ex-CGI artist, I tend to gird my loins in preparation for the worst. It’s not that I have anything against anyone climbing the ladder in the world of filmmaking, but the memory of Mark A.Z. Dippé’s Spawn still ricochets around the inside of my skull like a bullet made of pure, unrefined suckium and I’m naturally cautious after being hurt.
So you can imagine my trepidation when settling down to watch the awkwardly titled Warriors Of Future, the film that’s taken China by storm which is directed by former pixel manipulater Ng Yuen-fai that’s recently taken a bow on Netflix. Putting a vast amount of heft behind its muscular visuals of yet another rain lashed dystopian wasteland as it tells its video game cut scene plot about a rag tag gang of soldiers as they punch their way through an assortment of alien bugs, murderous robots and killer plants in order to save the world.
Making the first couple of years of the 2020s look like a frickin’ cake walk by comparison, by 2055, earth has been ravaged by numerous wars due to the rise of robots being used in open combat and as a result, the atmosphere is on the verge of being more toxic than an online gamer. In an attempt to halt the rising deaths and birth defects, domes named Skynets are being erected over the surviving cities but you know what they say – when it rains, it pours and without warning, a meteorite crashes in the futuristic Hong Kong that disgorges a huge alien plant that causes immense destruction as it takes root.
Still, every cloud has its silver lining, I guess, and even though the exterrestial fauna, codenamed Pandora, is actually cleaning up the pollution in the atmosphere, it also grows violently in rainfall and if left unchecked, will eventually roll right over the long suffering humans – but if the scientific boffins can figure out a way to halt its growth, the Earth may be saved.
Enter, grizzled soldier Tyler who have been tasked leading a mission to locate Pandora’s pistil and introduce a virus to it to cause said growing, but minutes into the multi-stage mission, disaster strikes causing their aircraft to crash and wiping out all but three of the team. As they forge ahead through waves of spikey, man-sized bugs that seemingly have emerged from Pandora, backup in the form of Tyler’s best friend Cheng and the notoriously unreliable Skunk, a former team mate, hurtles toward their location.
However, fanged insects will only prove to be the tip of the iceberg as this ragtag group will also have a lost little girl, collapsing buildings, an alternative nuclear method and robots programmed by a mystery villain to kill them to give them further obstacles before an incoming rain storm his and causes Pandora’s growth rate to go absolutely fucking mental.
Ambitious almost to a fault, I was fully prepared to hate the ever loving shit out of Warriors Of Future after only the first five minutes due to the fact that it may well be one of the most derivative movies I have ever seen – and bare in mind I watch 80’s Italian exploitation films for fun, so you best believe I know a blatant ripoff when I see one. However, whether it’s because I’m getting old, or I’m simply just a shit reviewer (both are extremely likely, to be fair), after the movie got its hefty set up out the way and got down to the business of letting its action and visuals take the brunt of the story, I found myself really enjoying the thing, despite it being cobbled out of more different parts than Frankenstein’s Monster. Maybe the fact that it was a foreign movie was the reason I wasn’t overwhelmingly insulted by its lack of originality (I had a similar experience with Roar Uthaug’s Troll a couple of weeks earlier) and instead found myself greatly amused by the rampant action that breathlessly references James Cameron, Michael Bay and Neill Blomkamp often in the same shot.
I know I should be disgruntled, but the truth is that Warriors Of Future contains such relentless, youthful energy it all but wins you over by the weirdly pure efforts it tirelessly puts in, all in its endearing childlike desire to be cool as fuck. Yes, this also means that the movie references almost every science fiction action flick released in the last 40 years (I’m not kidding, even G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is in there somewhere) but once my brain caught up, it sort of made a game out of it.
That being said, action purists will no doubt be horrified at the extensive CG, decrying it nothing more than a glorified video game demo and to give the devil it’s due, they’re technically not wrong, but while some of the visuals simply can’t cope with the energetic virtual camera work Ng Yuen-fai forces it to try and render, the detail and weight it boasts will make you impressed that Chinese visual effects have come so far as to measure up to Hollywood’s standards. Plus it also helps that the action is weighty as Hell, even though our protagonists are usually encased in bitchin’ battle armour that look like the Neill Blomkamp’s design team tried to “Pimp My Ride” Iron Man’s Starktech. In fact, an extended car chase that takes the best bits from Transformers, Aliens and Elysium and sees our heroes knife fighting robots on top of a speeding vehicle that’s being cased by a galloping, four legged tank, may be one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year.
Unsurprisingly, being surrounded by so much green screen they probably didn’t know what day it was means that the characters end up being as overfamilar as some of the concepts; but while the flick is content to churn out the usual stock tropes (grizzled soldier wounded from a personal loss, loyal best friend, terrified rookie, shouty redemption-hungry wildcard, cute orphan), the action makes it sing despite a few aspects of the story being lost a little in translation. As the film seems to boast strong themes concerning bravery, should we be reading anything into the fact that the child characters names are Sissy and Pansy? Probably not, but it is weird, no?
Original characters, a nuanced story and never-seen-before world building is obviously a huge plus in the world of sci-fi cinema, but sometimes it’s fun to let all that go just to watch a guy fist fight a robot while a giant plant vine-fucks a building.
Devoid of anything even vaguely approaching any semblance of originality, Warriors Of Future nevertheless turns out to be a legitimately exciting action head banger that giddily hurls everything but the kitchen sink at the screen in order to be unbelievably awesome.
It’s certanly big, it’s definitely not clever but it’s fun dang blast it and sometimes that’s all you need. For God’s sake, someone get Ng Yuen-fai a Transformers movie, stat!