For a direct-to-video feature, Mutant Chronicles isn’t all that bad. It’s got some pretty impressive production values, a somewhat interesting alternate reality to build off from, and a cast that includes such names as Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman and John Malkovich. Its B-movie roots are still clear, though, and that should probably keep most people away. If you're the kind of person who does enjoy the occasional monster romp, there are much worse ways to spend your time.
Years ago, an invading force came from space with the intention of turning every inhabitant on Earth into a mutant. Humans were able to repel them and seal them off from the world. Now, in the future, where corporate-ruled territories wage war against each other, the seals to the invaders’ prison have been broken, and they have emerged once again threatening to obliterate the human race. As the inhabitants of the planet make a mass exodus to another world, Brother Samuel, leader of a brotherhood committed to containing this threat, enlists the help of a group of soldiers to go on a suicide mission into the heart of enemy territory in order to save the all-but-abandoned Earth.
There aren’t very many surprises in terms of plot. The film has a lot of exposition to get out of the way, and the script is more than willing to gloss over things like character development in order to get the story to where it needs to be. As a result, what we get is almost an eighties-style action flick, complete with gritty hero, hot chicks with weapons, hordes of faceless, nameless enemies, tons of gunfire and a cast of disposable characters who are only there to get blown to pieces. It isn’t masterful cinema by any means, but it’s the kind of thing that people get nostalgic for. It’s a B-movie at its core, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what kind of person you are.
The film sports some impressive visuals. It isn’t anything revolutionary, but considering the limitations of the production, it’s kind of remarkable. It does look a little video-gamey, and the monster designs are a little hokey, but that actually adds to the B-movie kitschy effect that people might be looking for. The filmmaking is quite decent. You’re not going to be wowed by any of the character scenes in the film, but some of the action sequences are quite fun. And when the film verges into horror territory, they actually manage to build some atmosphere, which is more than we’ve come to expect.
Thomas Jane is a pretty underrated actor. His turn as the Punisher wasn’t all that impressive, but that certainly wasn’t because of him. Jane’s got the tortured, reluctant hero with a heart of gold down. He’s just extremely watchable in this role, as the script just plays to his strengths. You sympathize with him all the way through. Ron Perlman is always fun to watch, and though he’s not great in this role, you’ll probably still cheer for him. John Malkovich doesn’t get all that much to do, so he resorts to playing himself. Sean Pertwee is someone who needs to get noticed more. Devon Aoki is someone who needs to get noticed less.
Mutant Chronicles is perhaps the only recent direct-to-video feature I’ve seen that might actually deserve a place in our cinemas. It’s still easy to see why it went the direct-to-video route, but as action flicks go, it’s not that bad. It’s definitely cheesy, and more than a little ridiculous in the scripting department, but it might just have enough bravado (and explosions) to win you over. If B-movies are your thing, then it’s a no-brainer. Everyone else goes in at their own peril.