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Age of Heroes (2011) Review

Age of Heroes was directed by Adrian Vitoria (The Crew, Capital Punishment), written by Vitoria and Ed Scates, and stars Sean Bean (Soldiers of Fortune, Any Day), Danny Dyer (EastEnders, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), Aksel Hennie (The Doorman, The Cloverfield Paradox), Izabella Miko (Clash of the Titans, The Rake), Stephen Walters (Slow Horses, Plunkett & Macleane), William Houston (Horizon Zero Dawn, Blunt Movie), John Dagleish (Lark Rise to Candleford, Snow in Paradise), and James D’Arcy (LX 2048, The Trench). It’s about Britain’s first special operation in World War Two, conducted in Norway and coordinated by one Ian Fleming.

The Plot: Completing the objective without fuss or flair may be the ethos of special operations groups, but their retelling on-screen shouldn’t feel perfunctory. Vitoria and Scates had the chance to give gravitas to an important mission, but Age of Heroes’ plot is as generic as war films get.

Discretion is the better part of valour and Cpl. Rains (Dyer) abides during his retreat from a no-win situation in 1940 France, which puts him under arrest until, alongside fellow prisoner Brightling (Walters), falling in with Maj. Jones (Bean), who’s preparing for a covert mission in Norway to capture and tabulate a new kind of German radar technology at the behest of supervisor Fleming (D’Arcy). This training is covered relatively quickly, and some material appears to be missing, as the way Rains joins is clunky at best, and a few reprimands come out of nowhere.

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Part of the reason why Age of Heroes doesn’t impress with the plot is because of the decades of war movies that were inspired by its source, effectively stealing its thunder. Having Jones and his men, which also includes Steinar (Hennie), Rollright (Dagleish), and Mac (Houston), parachute into Norway to meet with local intelligence source Jensen (Miko) is all textbook material that doesn’t dare get interesting.

Because this story is being told it’s not hard to predict that the technology is obtained and exported at a human cost, which is fine, but it does tie into the other reason the story is ineffective. That being the failure to make the home front subplot with Fleming essential to the movie. It’s there but only sucks up screen time without illuminating the figure’s involvement.

All of this is to say that Age of Heroes covers its basics and the men are indeed on a mission, but only just, and unremarkably so.

The Characters: Once the premise and full ensemble are revealed, the script rolls out baseline attitudes and positions for most of the principal characters, but any development is restricted to melodrama and spurious sacrifice.

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Leadership is twofold, both written and de facto, split between Jones and Rains. The former is weaker as a character, receiving the treatment that most old soldiers do. Jones agreed to train new recruits for whatever missions those above him wish to execute, and he’s happy to stick to that since it means he stays in the UK with his pregnant wife. Of course, his destination changes and so does his demeanour to that of a hardened officer, as is expected.

Rains is likeably hardheaded and skilled in combat, even if his proficiency doesn’t show in a way appreciated by his superiors. An eternal knucklehead, he’s made his own way through both civilian and military life by getting everything reasonably asked of him done in a fashion that endears those low-level men by his side to him. There’s nothing to him that hasn’t been done before, but Dyer’s unexpectedly solid performance in a military role suits Age of Heroes well.

A handful of other commandos litter the film, but the only other character who stands out isn’t one of them; Jensen still isn’t unique even within her archetype, but at least she breaks up the blandness of the characters’ descriptions. All of the actors do well, but the script let them down.

The Adventure: It goes without saying that covert ops aren’t supposed to get very loud, and because of the movie’s structure, Vitoria didn’t have to match the bombast level with something higher profile. In response, the film focuses on adventure rather than action.

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Opening with Rains’ fleet-footed escape from an overwhelming enemy force is a wise decision, as it engrains the idea that Age of Heroes will chart the movements of the protagonists. However, it never captures any of its destinations in full detail, especially in the first half hour. Little time is spent in military prison with Rains and Brightling, leaving room for countryside training. The scenery during this chunk of the film is nice, but all of the beats are too obvious and thin, which saps the enjoyment from the reshaping of the unit.

Watching the group trek through Norwegian terrain is a mite more engaging, as they lose men and gain followers; all of which is still drab, but at least has a sense of danger throughout the journey. Requisite scenes are present, such as the pursuing Nazi threat executing a civilian family and the redirection of a few allies towards extraction, but again, are more palatable in the face of familiarity. After these are out of the way, Vitoria gets back to the plot for the third act.

Said third act contains the action one might initially expect, but Age of Heroes stays in flight rather than fight mode. The group reaches the town where the German radar has been set up, but getting in proves to be an issue, finally making for a genuine sense of exploration and tension when Jones orders it be disrupted. Length isn’t present, and the rest of the film follows the remaining heroes as they run for extraction, but it’s a more involved process than anything that has been delivered thus far. It may be the end, but at least it’s a high note to go on.

The Technics: War films on limited funds are never an easy thing to execute, and unfortunately the team behind this film succumbed to the inherent issues rather than surpassed them.

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Questionable writing and confusing editing mar the movie. Vitoria and Scates’ seeming refusal to engage with the conflicts within their script represents one of those missed opportunities that pop up in films from time to time that intrigue more than the film itself.

As is often the case with lower budgeted filmmaking, next to no information about the production is readily available, so maybe the already awkward editing has something more to do with the odd lapses in logic, continuity, and ignorance of Ian Fleming as a character. Since I’m without evidence, all I can do is point toward Chris Gill (Redcon-1, Calvary) and Joe Parsons (Hot Property, Broken Meats) in unconfident blame, but even that feels like the wrong decision.

Budgetary restrictions are clearer cut than the post-production curios in Age of Heroes. Everything looks period appropriate, down to the weapons, costumes, and scenery, but the CGI is never convincing, and the protagonists’ use of American firearms seems like a convenience concession. Despite these drawbacks, Michael Richard Plowman (Absolution, Alien Warfare) tries hard to redirect attention via his music, which has the aural power that the film lacks. Multiple parties were doing their best, but they just didn’t have the resources to work with.

Although it is by no means terrible, largely due to Bean, Dyer, and Plowman, Age of Heroes is a weak war feature that failed its inspirations. The real heroes are in other movies.

Age of Heroes is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Platforms including, in some regions, Tubi. If you want more films like this, FilmTagger can suggest some titles.

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