28 March 2012

Age of Heroes

Age of Heroes An Entertaining War Espionage
By Kristin Battestella

You may have noticed I haven’t been able to see a lot of the latest Sean Bean movies here in the states, but finally the World War II Ian Fleming spy thriller Age of Heroes has arrived- and this is a good one!

Major Jones (Bean!) puts the training intensity to Corporal Rains (Danny Dyer) as his new 30 Assault Commando Unit under Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming (James D’Arcy) readies for their next mission. The objective of this dangerous incursion into snowy, occupied Norway: make contact with the mysterious ally codenamed Beowulf (Izabella Miko), steal the Nazis’ latest radar and RDF technology, and get out of there safe and sound.  But of course, this secret winter stroll isn’t as easy as Intelligence thought it would be. Extraction to Sweden or death is the only way out- capture is not an option.

Writer and Director Adrian Vitoria (The Crew) jumps right into 1940 France before Dunkirk with a grainy, realistic palette and frenetic camera work. The opening battles and 1942 Operation Grendel finale aren’t in your face jagged filming as per the usual today, but rather finely paced photography and action. Though a serious, heavy picture, Age of Heroes may seem simple to modern audiences.  After all, it’s just a story about dibs on the use of radar early in the war, right?  Yes, the plot looses some steam as the training montages and right stuff attitudes take over.  When the groundwork of the mission is laid out, however, things get damn intense- with RDF secrets, air raids, and men trapped behind frozen enemy lines.  This entire setting is great, too. Despite all our World War II attention, Age of Heroes offers a fairly unexplored angle, and the touches of Ian Fleming, the future Secret Services, and his 007 as we know it add an extra interest.  This swift, modern story telling balances the war secrets, though sometimes the contemporary accents are a bit obvious- would they really use the word ‘terrorist’ back then? At only 93 minutes, Age of Heroes also moves a bit too quickly over material that would really make for a fine mini series. The confusing conclusion could have been better as well. Everything ends a bit too abruptly- hampering an otherwise decent little picture.

Though the World War II military designs, period gear and weapons look good, the gore here is not gruesome for the slasher sake.  The war action and bloody cruelty set the danger perfectly, and crisp snowy locations accent the disruptive violence.  I love the classic cars and sweet uniforms styles, however a certain knowledge of forties British military terms is helpful for the viewer. There’s language, too, but the accents aren’t bad at all. Any quibbles one might have there are easily forgiven thanks to great aviation scenes and a befittingly robust and heroic score. Touches of black and white film work and old-fashioned clicking film reels also set off the period mood.  Some night footage is a little dark and, granted, big special effects aren’t as big as they could be. However, I must say there is something bemusing about evil white clad schnapps drinking SS Nazis on skis!

Top billed Sean Bean (Sharpe, Game of Thrones) enters Age of Heroes ten minutes in, and I must say, he looks sweet in a forties uniform!  He’s a little tan and drawn, with a scar or cut on his nose that rather bugs me, but I like the period short, slightly darker hair and old RP delivery.  Major Jones is a loyal higher up, a decent officer who knows his shit and isn’t afraid to be wicked and discipline his men if it will help them be superior soldiers.  Damn, after all these years of seeing Bean in assorted soldiering and war pictures, you’d never know he wasn’t actually in the military!  Unfortunately, his casting in Age of Heroes does create obvious parallels to 1999’s Bravo 2 Zero- SAS trapped behind enemy lines and such.  Even so, the style here is higher end and complex, even pretty in its cinematography where Bravo 2 Zero was meant to be a dirty little capture film.  There’s perhaps less Bean in Age of Heroes, but he’d damn the man and yeah, you’d want him on your side when the Nazis open fire!  Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the uncredited most recent ex-Mrs. Bean Georgina Sutcliffe (The Song of Lunch) as Major Jones’ wife.  It’s ironic. The former couple argues so well on camera in her only scene, and yet this little farewell is also incredibly similar to the family adieu in Bravo 2 Zero.  

I’m not much of a Danny Dyer (Outlaw also with Bean) fan either, but he’s half-decent as Age of Heroes’ relatable Corporal hoping he’s up to snuff.  Rains is like every other soldier then and now. He’s just trying to get home alive without all the bureaucratic bull of war or snotty officers making him a dead man walking. Still, Dyer does have his usual angry asshole moments. He says ‘and all that’ at least three times-again seeping Age of Heroes into modern trappings. It’s also somewhat weird to see such a supposedly off screen badass learning to actually be badass.  Fortunately, Rains does learn a thing or two, even if some of his back-story is a bit of a side step before the mission proper in Age of Heroes. Likewise, Izabella Miko (Coyote Ugly) is slightly obvious as the Norwegian contact with a twist, but there had to be some ladies, I suppose. Fortunately, secretary Rosie Fellner’s (Boogie Woogie) scenes with James D’Arcy (W.E.) as Ian Fleming are fun and nostalgic, if a bit ‘Bond visiting M and Moneypenny for the scoop.’  The other men, including William Houston (Casualty 1909) as Sergeant Mac and John Dagleish (Beaver Falls) as nerdy technician needing protection Rollright are a bit typical, too, but enjoyable.  If only we had more time to know them.  Again, Age of Heroes could have been a nice little short series- suave Lieutenant Commander Fleming briefing his rag tag special recruits for another dangerous mission! 

Yes, you would think Age of Heroes’ intriguing historical premise would make for a wealth of DVD features, but alas, more effort was spent on strategically placed war and Nazi trailers. I didn’t realize somebody was making so many horror movies about Hitler! Fortunately, there is about 22 minutes of behind the scenes conversations, documentaries, and interviews. The 6 minutes of deleted scenes do much for character development- including a few more minutes with the faux pregnant Georgina Sutcliffe.  She and D’Arcy have some fun flubs on the blooper reel, too. It’s all nice stuff, but there could have been more- Fleming biographies or history reflections perhaps. While the video presentation may seem lacking, at least Age of Heroes looks top of the line for a stateside direct release. It does not look low budget Brit print- its paltry few million-dollar budget appears high class and more than its sum. Compared to some of the expensive derivative drivel that does make it into American cinemas, Age of Heroes is a refreshing little tale.

It’s probably a guy’s film, but Age of Heroes is very good at its wartime action and suspense for any fan of World War II programs, military intelligence, and period espionage thrillers. Perhaps a more fleshed out treatment or longer focus on some of the deeper character aspects could have been explored, but I don’t think that was this film’s intention- and potential plans for sequels with more proto spy action are supposedly in the works.  Audiences looking for complex Hollywood well knowns or massive American spectacles like Saving Private Ryan won’t find that scale or weight here, but nonetheless, Age of Heroes is an entertaining war ride for fans of the period and the cast.

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