Battle of the Damned
Science fiction has move beyond a mere genre to a platform to support a plethora of other types of stories. One that naturally has become extremely popular is folding in the action flick. This has been particularly the case since special effects has found itself brought to an unimaginable heights by something that not that long ago was Sci-Fi, computers. No matter what CGI mastery is heaped upon such an offering what many fans truly crave is the powerful action hero smashing his way through impossible opposition to save the day/girl/world, any can apply. I have to admit that when I first received ‘Battle of the Damned’ for preview I immediately mentally categorized it as a run of the mill military combat flick. This was reinforced by the image of its star, Dolph Lundgren, prominently displayed on the cover. Ever since he broke into the consciousness has the unbeatable adversary in ‘Rocky III’, much of his career has been built on such fair. Dutifully I began to watch ant to my pleasant surprise found my initial reaction proved incorrect. It is a well-crafted fusion of science fiction, horror and, of course, high adrenaline action. In order to achieve this mélange the filmmaker dipped liberally into one of the most utilized plot devices in television and films today, zombies. This piqued my interested as I continued on. Mostly I wanted to see just how well this movie was able to distinguish itself amidst the myriad of variants out there. The bottom line was rather well.
The film begins in medias res with title cards succinctly setting the stage. They explain that a virus developed in an unregulated Bio-tech research facility located in South East Asia has gotten free from its containment. The virus is a deadly pathogen that transforms its victims into zombie esque carries that came to be known as ‘Biters’ due to the dominant mode of infection. Once in an urban environment the virus sweeps quickly through the unsuspecting population forcing the city to be quarantined; enforced by a military cordon. Maj. Max Gatling (Dolph Lundgren) commands a highly trained group of mercenaries hired for a rescue mission. A man of exceptional wealth and influence hired the squad to rescue his daughter Jude (Melanie Zanetti) from the overrun city. The first sight of the team shown is them running, weapons at the ready. Flashbacks to the meeting between Gatling and his employer fill in the necessary exposition. These are not your traditional Romero zombies, they are quick, readily moving in packs. The first thing that a member of the audience has to determine in most movies featuring the undead is what are the rules and once again to his credit the writer/director, Christopher Hatton presents this tidbit of information right up front. Within the first ten minutes you pretty much have the gist of the story neatly packaged and delivered. Under different circumstances you might the details of a story introduced gradually throughout the film. In the case of an action film the story is rarely of paramount importance. That’s perfectly alright though, what matters is the amount of action and the sheer intensity of the battles. In this regard this movie succeeds.
Fast moving zombies are particularly suited for a militaristic action film. A highly trained team of mercenaries would hardly be challenged by some lumbering mob of creatures that have to bite to infect. Between their reflexes, massive armament and body armor the stumbling dead would be utterly outmatched. By quicken their pace the filmmaker at least evens the odds to a sufficiently realistic degree. Gatling and his team hack, shoot and fight their way through several hordes on their way to locating their objective, Jude. Before allowing them to whisk her out of the afflicted city she brings them to a group of survivors demanding they come along. Among the still living is the leader of the survivors, Duke (David Field) and the rest; Reese (Matt Doran), Elvis (Jen Sung), Lynn (Lydia Look), and Anna (Oda Maria). The reason for Jude’s insistence of their inclusion in the rescue plans is not just a result of humanitarian concern; she is romantically involved with Duke and is pregnant with his child. Again that’s consistent with the underlying genre; the action hero need not be the romantic leads.
Usually a zombie plague is sufficient but the filmmaker matters to novel level by introducing are unexpected twist. Gatling et al happen upon a number of robots that fortunately were devoid of specific instructions. Gatling is able to program them into an anti-zombie task force to help clear the road to safety. This movie surprises me, not so much in the choice of inevitable plot contrivances but in the fact that through some incarnation of synergy I found myself enjoying the movie. There are more than enough plot holes here fly a cargo plane through but I ultimately didn’t find myself overly concerned. I can accept the major as an expert in combat training but reprogramming a complex, combat adaptable robot the encounter is incredulous. Not only doesn’t an action movie require a strong story line but when it comes to believability such concerns can be overlooked for the sake of a good beer and pizza flick. Most of the major tropes of action film are upheld nicely. This includes a suitably macho name for the protagonist; Gatling is, of course a reference to one of the first multiple barrel machine gun. It was known for its ability to mow down a large force of opposing troops.
Mr. Hatton demonstrates a playful disregard for the standard playbook for the contributing genres. After viewing the film I thought back I couldn’t readily recall any zombie flick employing robots. A moment of consideration would yield the conclusion that such automatons would prove ideal in a zombie apocalypse scenario. They are lethal, programmable to focus on brain destruction and are not subject to the zombie’s primary attack, the infectious bite. Most probably the reason for their general exclusion is their intrinsic nature as Deus ex machine, literally. Removing the potential for friend turning foe or a normally non-lethal bite changing a human combatant a significant portion of the sense of danger is removed. Mr. Hatton expertly delayed the insertion of robotic warriors until later in the story. This permitted him to play the traditional infection card and still leave a twist to unfold. With the juxtaposition of such commonly exploited plot points as the daughter rescue the filmmaker leads the audience into expecting another ‘Commando’ variation while providing enough of a novel execution to retain the interest of the viewers. Overall I found myself entertain and nicely engaged even though this type of film is not something I would personally seek out. Ultimately that is the greatest strength of the film; it has a broader scope of appeal than you might think.