Synopsis – During the Cold War, an organization called “Patriot” created a super-hero squad, which includes members of multiple soviet republics. For years, the heroes had to hide their identities, but in hard times they must show themselves again.
My Take – Due to the massive success of the Marvel Studios & Warner Brother’s DC Cinematic Universe (at least financially), there is no doubt that we are in dawn of superhero films. But last summer, a trailer began to circulate around the internet for a non American superhero film, not a common phenomenon, mainly as India’s Bollywood has tried their hand in this territory in the form of Ra One & Krissh to name a few, Hong Kong has Black Mask and some more, but the clip in question gained headlines in part because of its country of origin – Russia. Mainly due to the usual portrayal of their negative identity, it’s hard to decide whether to fear them or laugh at them, just like the 80s when Soviet villains in Hollywood flicks were alternately sinister and goofy. But somehow, the idea made an impact, as mainstream western press such as The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and many others have ceased the thinly veiled scoffing that met the first trailer, and begun to see this as a serious contender to the US film industry. With a sequel already in development before release, with plans to combine the lead characters from this film with native Chinese superheroes to form a Communist super team. Plus not to forget that this Sarik Andreasyan directed film was made for a fraction of the cost (5 million dollars) of its American counterparts and managed to retain the visual elements of a general cutting-edge big budget film, while offering different thematic motivations seemed like this Russian language film was marking the arrival of a new kind of blockbuster. Personally, I couldn’t get past the fact this film had a bear man hybrid with a chain gun, like how cool is that? While the film succeeds in providing hope for more diverse competition in an already crowded market, this Russian actioner does nothing more than introducing a handful of new ideas and providing an unexpected visual slice, while failing in every other department. Yes! Josh Trank’s Fant4stic (2015) has a new compadre as the worst superhero film ever made.
The story follows Major. Elena Larina (Valeriya Shkirando), who is tasked by the Russian government to find four subjects of a military genetic engineering experiment, who during the Cold War, were turned into superhuman warriors to work under the Soviet government agency named ‘Patriot’. The team includes Lernik/Ler (Sebastien Sisak), whose geokinesis and terrakinesis gives him power over earth and rocks; Arseniy/Arsus (Anton Pampushnyy), a were-bear; Temirkhan/Khan (Sanzhar Madiyev), an enigmatic teleporting swordsman; and Ksenia (Alina Lanina), who can turn invisible and transform her body into water. Since, it has been two decades since the war ended, the four continue to stay low, but are forced out of retirement by Larina upon the arrival of August Kuratov (Stanislav Shirin), a mad scientist who worked for Patriot. Kuratov was a scientist recruited, with several other scientists, during the war to experiment on Animals and Humans to make super-weapons. Fueled by jealousy and rage as his efforts continued to fail while his fellow scientists continued to receive applause, Kuratov sets up a secret lab to do illegal experiments on humans, however, when the government tries to shut it down Kuratov blows up the labs with him inside turning him into an unstoppable monster with control of over all forms of electronic equipment, allowing him to turn the military’s resources against the government. With all odds stacked up against them, the Guardians must rediscover what it means to be heroes, as not just Russia but the whole world is threatened by Kuratov’s dastardly scheme. Directed by Armenian filmmaker Sarik Andreasyan (American Heist) fails in a lot of avenues. Meeting the initial team is pretty wonderful at first and half-way through, Patriot gives Khan a harpoon backpack, grants him the ability to wield an electric rock-whip, gives Xenia a suit that allows her to make objects disappear, and fits Arsus with a telepathically controlled machine gun! These are such awesome ideas! That’s all they are though. Just ideas! Everything I described has the makings of an instant cult classic, but the film commits the one cardinal sin for this kind of film, despite everything I mentioned, it’s incredibly, incredibly clichéd. The main motivation for these awesome warriors is nothing more than just tracking down their former creator and exacting their revenge, which doesn’t make much sense, as they were all willing participants in his experiments and there’s no context for why they might want him dead, though I suppose “is evil” and “wants to take over the world” is reason enough in this scenario. While those obstacles are well realized visually, everything else about the film doesn’t quite hold together. While the Guardians themselves look good, the same attention that went into their design clearly didn’t extend to their characters. Near the end of the film there’s a line about them all being friends but nothing in the film leads you to believe this. Everything the audience learns about them, and that they learn about each other, comes from ham-fisted exposition dumps with Major Larina. Plus one minor character seems to be left dying on a floor for a number of long scenes before being returned to, while later on the heroes engage in the expected training montage but do so while there is absolutely nothing stopping Kuratov from completing his plan.
It may look cool but it makes absolutely no sense. If Kuratov had pushed himself a bit harder he might have been able to take over the world while our leads were still posing in their new outfits. As for the villain, Kuratov looks incredibly weird and misshapen, all fake latex muscles and metal attachments. The poor actor appears to be quite uncomfortable inside his suit and is more reminiscent of some kind of overgrown baby than an imposing villain. Plus it remains a mystery as to why he waited about 40 years after he conducted those illegal experiments and which lead to his mutation. And as he has chosen to resurface now, Maj. Elena Larina, who we never get to know beyond her pout, needs to seek out these Patriots and enlist their aid. The obviousness of the script means that she actually says this out loud; “I have 2 weeks to search all of the former Soviet Union for the super-humans that can stop a super-villain?” The special effects look decent for the most part, but the story they’re telling is unexciting, the characters tedious and the pacing odd, it also feels like the film may have been recut for this English version as some scenes play out in a way that seems to defy logic. While the cinematography is darkly foreboding the tempo is a little too ponderous and the background score- too hyphenating. The narrative fails to drum up any energy en route to the final act which involves the eventual vanquishing of Kuratov and the hinting at of a sequel to come. There’s no adrenaline rush to be had here either. Where the action sequences are concerned, at least Andreasyan is aiming for some level of ambition. He’s obviously gunning for a degree of spectacle possessed by films of a much larger budget, and it’s a slightest bit admirable that the effort is evident. The computer-generated visual effects are of a higher standard than those in contemporaneous Chinese films, but that doesn’t make them convincing. The helicopters, spider-like drones and crumbling buildings all look passable, but Arsus himself is hilarious. We had to resist humming The Bare Necessities when he takes on his final form, realizing that would be a grave insult to the infinitely superior visual effects work in the recent remake of The Jungle Book. While the writer has taken pains to create unique powers for the individual guardians, they just don’t come across as interesting enough nor do they have the enthusiasm to fight with gusto. This film just doesn’t have what it takes to keep you entertained. The cast comprising of Sebastien Sisak, Anton Pampushnyy, Sanzhar Madiyev, Alina Lanina, Valeriya Shkirando and Stanislav Shirin are alright in their parts & may have rose to the occasion provided the script would have supported them. On the whole, ‘Guardians’ aka ‘Zaschitniki’ is an uninteresting and tiresome watch despite some reasonable special effects and decent action sequences. #Guardians, #Zaschitniki
Directed – Sarik Andreasyan
Rated – PG
Run Time – 100 minutes