The Ashes of CHIKARA, Review

The storyline of a wrestling promotion's return from death is told in film form. It's ambitious, but does it work?

CHIKARA Pro Wrestling has had a unique year, starting with their final show in early June, where they were shut down by an army of corporate goons before the main event could finish. Since then, they hadn’t put on a single CHIKARA show, though the talent went on to work in less popular offshoot promotions, culminating in National Pro Wrestling Day 2014, where it was revealed that CHIKARA would indeed be coming back on May 25, 2014.

During this off time, the story was told in a variety of ways. Some of it was good. Some of it was a little too silly. A lot of it was frustrating to wait through because you want to see wrestling happen. One of the highlights was Ashes, a series of YouTube short films that depicted various CHIKARA personalities dealing with the aftermath of losing the promotion they called home. They were released sporadically, until the coming of National Pro Wrestling Day, where they were just about daily.

It was announced some time after that they would release a theatrical version of it, called The Ashes of CHIKARA. It would stitch together all the YouTube segments, include some scenes that the fans had yet to see (or only saw glimpses of), and work in the climactic events of National Pro Wrestling Day. They went all out with this, doing a red carpet premiere where masked wrestlers showed up in suits, releasing the soundtrack, and even paying for ad space on the back covers of various Dark Horse comics. Days after the premiere, the movie was available for mp4 download.

Ashes of CHIKARA starts where the June iPPV Aniversario: Never Compromise ended. The company’s head honcho and corporate stooge Wink Vavasseur had the show and promotion destroyed in a fit of anger. In the fallout, we’d follow three main storylines. The ant-based wrestlers Fire Ant and Green Ant search for their missing former partner Soldier Ant, all while distancing themselves from villain-turned-ally assailANT, who they admittedly don’t trust. Scott Parker and Shane Matthews, the former tag champs known as 3.0, hear that oddball marching band leader Archibald Peck was spotted when CHIKARA crumbled, so they go on a road trip to get answers.

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Then there’s Icarus, the main character of the story. Since turning heel in 2005, Icarus has been the most hated man in CHIKARA, but the company meant everything to him, so he’s rather disgusted to find that nobody else is willing to step up to fight against its demise. The Grand Champion Eddie Kingston is too interested in moving on and making money while founder and head trainer Mike Quackenbush is a broken shell of a man, spending his days at home, unshaven and watching old Max Moon matches.

As a fan of CHIKARA, I really thought the individual Ashes movies were pretty cool when they were being released online as their own thing. As a wrestling angle, it was original and intriguing. As a film? The whole thing just doesn’t work. It’s a complete mess and, acting aside, it could have been passable with some decent editing. As much as it pains me to say it, the whole thing feels like a wrestling version of The Room from a storytelling standpoint.

Remember in The Room how stuff would happen or be mentioned and then never be touched on again? Lisa’s mother revealing she has cancer or Denny’s drug problem? That’s what Ashes of CHIKARA is like. By placing ads in comic books and all that, they obviously want to rope in new fans with the hype, but anyone who doesn’t know about CHIKARA is going to be so lost because a lot of stuff they talk about is never expanded upon and you have no idea what they’re talking about and what’s going on.

For instance, while they show some shots of the incident where CHIKARA was destroyed, they never go too far into explaining the situation. It’s poorly defined and followed with a scene where Mike Quackenbush meets up with Derek Sabato and Dieter VonSteigerwalt at a café. Some vague references to the incident are made without actually explaining anything, followed by Deiter (who isn’t properly identified and hasn’t even appeared in CHIKARA since 2010) bringing up the safety of his never-before-mentioned brother. After that scene, there’s no mention of what that’s about, nor do we get a single appearance by Sabato or Dieter. Hell, the whole death of CHIKARA incident is barely brought up again. The evil corporation that took out the company, hence giving us the reason for this movie to exist, is borderline forgotten about.

To its credit, that’s because Wink Vavasseur and Condor Security aren’t the antagonists of the film. That belongs to a group called the Flood. The Flood is a major heel stable of over 20 names, made up of different evil factions from over the years pooled together, dedicated to wiping out any traces of the CHIKARA name by closing down all the off-shoot promotions like Wrestling is Intense and Wrestling is Awesome in various destructive ways. That was easily the most interesting part of the actual wrestling angle and it isn’t given any build whatsoever in the film.

Rather than show the Flood destroying the lesser companies (which, you know, they actually have footage of) or showing them plotting or anything, there’s just some vague references to some kind of evil army. When trying to recruit Tim Donst, Icarus asks, “Did you hear about what happened in New England a few weeks back?” Rather than explain what that means or even show the viewer, Icarus just kind of shakes his head when he gets no response and moves on. Only by the 2/3 mark does the threat get any definition as Icarus is basically all, “Oh, by the way, there’s an army of bad guys that we need to stop because they’ve put all the other companies out of business. We should really band together and deal with that.”

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The build of the Flood as a threat is missing. The explanation for how Icarus and the CHIKARA fans defeated Condor Security is missing. And get this – the in-story reason for CHIKARA coming back is missing! It’s pretty hilarious and comes off as this major plot hole in a movie about CHIKARA coming back from the grave. Imagine watching a cut of Return of the Jedi where it’s deemed that the Empire is destroyed because Luke and friends killed Jabba the Hutt. It makes about as much sense.

Then there’s the acting. It’s the amateur stuff you’d expect from a bunch of indie wrestlers, but there’s a lot of especially cringeworthy stuff in there. The Razziest performance either goes to Derek Sabato (impressive, due to only getting two minutes of screentime) or assailANT during a sequence where he had to overdub himself because I suspect his mask muffled his voice too much for anyone to understand. There are a couple rare high spots, at least. Eddie Kingston and UltraMantis Black are both aces when it comes to cutting promos, so their dialogue is performed in pure promo mode and works. Shane Matthews is a bit too hammy, but he’s at least the one guy in a fed known for comedy who isn’t trying to be overly serious and instead remains knee-deep in trying to be goofy.

If Ashes of CHIKARA has anything going for it, it’s the third act, taking place at National Pro Wrestling Day. The actual event was a bit confusing due to a lot going on, bad audio, and camera issues. For the film, they improve it with some editing and a handful of close-ups added after the fact to better illustrate the action. If the rest of the movie had that kind of continuity, we might have something I could recommend.

Sadly, I can’t recommend Ashes of CHIKARA no matter how much I like to champion the promotion. Fans of CHIKARA won’t find anything worth seeing that wasn’t in the YouTube series. Potential fans wanting to get into CHIKARA will find themselves confused and are better off just watching their shows. At least we have more of those to look forward to.

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1.5 out of 5