Terence StampJohn HurtSean PertweeDonald Sumpter
Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie
Medium: film
Year: 2010
Director: Martyn Pick
Writer: Dan Abnett
Keywords: SF
Country: UK
Actor: Terence Stamp, John Hurt, Sean Pertwee, Steven Waddington, Donald Sumpter, Johnny Harris, Ben Bishop, Christopher Finney, Gary Martin
Format: 76 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1679332/
Website category: SF
Review date: 4 March 2013
How had I not known about this? (Answer: because I haven't bought any Games Workshop products in more than twenty years.) There's a WH40k CGI movie. It stars Space Marines. I wasn't expecting it to be any good, especially as it's written by Dan Abnett (eh?), but it clearly had to be watched anyway.
Caveat: I'm way out of date in my WH40k experience. My version was Rogue Trader, the original first edition hardback from 1987, with the cheap binding that made all the pages fall out of the book. They're now up to sixth edition.
Anyway, this movie. It's grim, humourless and a black hole of anti-fun. Our protagonists are a squad of Ultramarines, whose idea of a hobby is writing "kill the heretic" on their bullet casings. It's the 41st millennium and mankind is at total war with the universe. We're an Imperium ruled by an Emperor, who's an immortal psychic absolute dictator who requires the daily sacrifice of millions of lives to keep his rotting cadaver alive and who sends his entire species into battle to exterminate his enemies. We're the Empire in Star Wars, basically, but a thousand times worse.
Oh, and our enemies are even more horrific.
This film is from the viewpoint of its Space Marines, who worship the Emperor, fly through space in a cathedral and have titles like Chaplain, Brother and Apothecary. They're warrior monks. They live for war and glory, they're disturbingly devoted to the cause of killing and they'd probably cut off their own manhoods rather than enjoy intimacy with another human being. I understand Ian Watson tried to insert homosexual elements when writing for Black Library and got them vetoed by Games Workshop for his pains. This is a shame. Some movies merely don't have female characters. This one is so fundamentalist and macho that it seems hard to believe that female characters could even exist in its universe.
However that said, like Batman, these Space Marines don't appear to have sexuality. They'd be psychologically healthier if they were giving each other blow jobs. "Permission to extract the geneseed" doesn't mean what you might be sniggering about, although it would be funnier if it did.
The problem is that we're stuck with these religious maniacs throughout the film. In fairness, you can't say they lack characterisation. They've got lots of that. Unfortunately it's the same for all of them, except for a minor variation with the grizzled veteran whose armour's white instead of blue. (He's not a hothead and says things like, "War is not about glory; war is about victory.") Otherwise they're identical. We're following the adventures of twelve one-dimensional cut-and-paste warmongers with identical reactions to everything. They live to kill. They worship the Emperor. They know no fear. They're kind of wearing and it's pointless even trying to tell which lines belong to which character, because they all think and talk the same anyway.
This doesn't make for a film of any subtlety whatsoever. We go to fight! We fight! There are enemies! We die and kill! The movie ends! For glory!
Did I enjoy the film? Well, sort of. I got a small amount of interest from seeing Space Marines in a movie. They're Space Marines! I used to have lead figures of these guys! They look much more authentic than I'd been expecting, while the CGI's perfectly reasonable. The jumping across the canyons lacks weight, looking as it does like animated lead figures rather than actual people doing insane death-defying leaps, but otherwise it's WH40k brought to surprisingly vivid life.
However on the downside, it's dour and it looks a bit cheap. The WH40k universe is full of exotic colour, albeit ultra-violent and insanely dark. This is one small mission for one small group of Ultramarines on one drab-looking planet with no life and lots of cliffs. The enemy is Chaos. No Orks (which would have been funny), no Eldar, no Tyranids (fortunately, given Abnett's hard-on for Aliens), etc. I can live with that, but even Chaos could have been more fun to look at than this. They don't go to town with all the mutations, while in addition the first Daemon attack is too dark to see anything.
As with Judge Dredd, you could pop people's eyes in their sockets if you did all the freakiest bits of the WH40k universe. What's more, as a CGI animated movie, this would have been an option.
The cast is surprisingly good, e.g. Terence Stamp, Sean Pertwee, John Hurt. Their dialogue is wearyingly macho and one-note, but at least they're committing to it.
Is this a good film? No. It's dull and exhausting. However it's doing exactly the job it was meant to do and I imagine the WH40k fanboys liked it. Space Marine battles! Chaos demons! Macho gun-toting protagonists who make Batman look like Liberace! It would have been more watchable had there been a Ripley figure, but that would have diluted the scary testosterone. There's a continuity goof in that Space Marines shouldn't need torches as they're genetically modified to be able to see in complete darkness, but it's not hard to see why the filmmakers chose to ignore that one. It's also interesting in a theological way, being about a religious order going up against the demons of hell and their temptations. Suicide bombers might like this film, I think.
Being a former WH40k player and avid reader of White Dwarf back in the days when it was good, I found this nostalgic. However if they make another, could it be an ultra-violent comedy with Orks that's taking the piss out of the po-faced Space Marines, please?