Operation Seawolf (2022) Review
Operation Seawolf is yet another film revolving around a last-ditch effort by the Germans to, if not change the course of the war, at least take one last spiteful swipe at the Allies. In this case, an attack on New York City using submarine-launched rockets.
Captain Hans Kessler (Dolph Lundgren, Section 8, Dead Trigger) is a veteran of both World Wars and knows this one is already lost. He just wants to stay drunk and bang hookers until the Allies show up. Instead, he’s tasked with leading the ten submarines that make up Operation Seawolf. That’s not made any easier by the fact his crew consists mostly of boys and old men and his second in command Lt. Reinhart (Andrew Stecker, Gunn, Black Wood) was the sub’s commander until he was demoted to let Kessler take over.
On the American side, Cmdr. Race Ingram (Frank Grillo, Paradise Highway, The Gateway) knows about the attack, but there’s a lot of ocean for the subs to hide in. Caught in the middle is Capt. Samuel L Gravely Jr. (Hiram A. Murray, The Last Son, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and his crew. And, before anyone scoffs at a Naval ship of that era with an African American crew, it is based, at least partially, on fact.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing in Operation Seawolf that’s out of the ordinary for a World War II naval film of this kind. An attack on a convoy, an attack on the sub by American planes, a depth charge attack, we’ve seen it all before. We even get Reinhart gleefully ordering the crew to machine gun lifeboats. The film makes it clear Kessler isn’t a Nazi, he gives a traditional salute while everyone else gives a Nazi one, for instance. But since he’s still willing to fight for them, there’s no real difference, and they may as well have skipped that cliché entirely.
For his part, Grillo never leaves dry land and spends most of the movie in the war room looking at maps and barking orders. It’s a nothing role that anyone could have played and wastes his talents. But for probably two days’ worth of shooting, they got a name to put on the poster. Murray has much the same problem, he’s given little to do except stand on the bridge and give orders.
Writer/director Steven Luke (Battle of the Bulge: Winter War, The Great War) seems content to recycle the genre’s well-worn tropes with no real flair or inventiveness. Operation Seawolf’s characters are all one-dimensional, and he fails at one of the basic tasks in directing a film like this, making the sub’s interior feel cramped and claustrophobic. That feeling of being trapped in a small craft under the sea is where much of the tension in a film like this comes from.
Luke does give the plot a twist going into the final act that I thought might lead to something interesting. But the film just bumbles along on its way to an ending that’s supposed to be poignant but fails utterly.
Operation Seawolf also suffers from substandard CGI throughout its length. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but much of it is primitive and obviously animation. And that’s even keeping costs down by having us learn the fates of the rest of the fleet via dialogue rather than seeing the battles.
Films like Operation Seawolf are hard to pull off because anyone who took a few history classes knows how it ends. Therefore, it falls on the filmmakers to find other ways to make the story compelling, unfortunately, Steven Luke doesn’t even try. If you want a U-boat film that works, try Torpedo: U-235 instead.
Operation Seawolf opens today, October 7th, in movie theatres and On Demand via Shout! Studios. It comes to Blu-ray and DVD on December 6th. If you want some other suggestions for similar films, FilmTagger has them.