Over the past few years, there’s been an abundance of straight-to-DVD war films that aim to capitalise on the public’s interest in World War II. They include the likes of John Rabe, Winter In Wartime, The Bridge, Only The Brave and the recently released Pathfinders: In The Company Of Strangers.
More often than not, these films are shot on the cheap in Eastern Europe and contain a host of no-name actors and former soap stars. It’s therefore something of a unique commodity to see such a film contain not one, but three familiar actors and attempt to do something more than the usual ‘group of soldiers versus Nazis in occupied France’ story, which we’ve all seen countless times.
Starring Sean Bean and Danny Dyer, the awfully titled Age Of Heroes tells the story of the formation of Ian Fleming’s (played by Master And Commander’s James D’Arcy) 30 Commando unit, a predecessor to the SAS, who are dispatched to capture German radar technology in Norway.
Now, Sean Bean and Danny Dyer have both done their fair share of awful films (The Beanster can currently be found starring in Syfy original movie, The Lost Future), but here it looks like they’re actually having fun, as opposed to turning up for a quick paycheck.
Bean stars as the stoic Major Jones, the unit’s leader, who’s ordered to train the commandos for the mission, while Dyer plays the hot-headed Corporal Raines, who’s drafted from a military prison where he was sent for headbutting a superior officer.
Age Of Heroes got a limited theatrical release, with this DVD release following by just a few weeks. One wonders whether it’s because distributors don’t think it will make much money on the big screen, and after watching this movie, I would have to agree.
It’s not a bad film, but it doesn’t exactly scream ‘big screen adventure’. While the locations are nice and the action is decent, it never manages to escape its low budget feel. There’s also not that much original or new going on that we haven’t seen before in bigger or better movies.
When you’ve seen as many war films as I have, many of these types of films seem very familiar. For example, Major Jones recruits two of his men from a military prison, echoing The Dirty Dozen. You then get the familiar training montage led by the aggressive, but kind natured, Scottish officer, before the men are sent on their mission (where their contact is a young attractive woman) with a young techie, who’s never seen combat. Sound familiar? Of course it does.
Despite the predicable plot, there are things to enjoy in Age Of Heroes. Despite Danny Dyer playing himself in every film he’s ever starred in, he does a good job as Raines, who’s determined to become a commando and not go back to prison. Plus, there is something entertaining about watching Danny Dyer being put through his paces by commandos.
Sean Bean does his posh officer voice and gives the film the gravitas it needs, but it’s actually William Houston, as training officer Mac, that’s the standout. Not afraid to tell his commanding officer to piss off, or drop a few F-bombs on the Nazis and his colleagues, he provides a lot of the film’s laughs. These are especially welcome after scenes where local families are brutalised by SS officers.
The rest of the commandos are introduced during the training scenes, which occupy the first half of the film, to make sure you can recognise and care about them in combat. But they’re so thinly drawn that, when they do die, you don’t really care that much.
However, where the film does deliver is with the action scenes. While early scenes in Dunkirk may look like they were shot in the Forest of Dean, when the film relocates to Norway, it sets the stage for some decent snow-bound action. The combat scenes are actually very well handled, with director, Adrian Vitoria, delivering the requisite gunfire and explosions with aplomb. It’s just a shame that the film’s centrepiece, the German radar compound, is clearly a few sheds built out in a forest.
As modestly budgeted, non-Hollywood war films go, you could do a lot worse than Age Of Heroes. It does everything you expect it to do, no more no less. Like many of these films, it’s hampered by budget constraints, but at least it tries to do something with the resources it has.
Word is two sequels, Age Of Glory and Age Of Honour, are planned, which makes sense, considering the film’s abrupt ending. I only wonder what stories the films will tell and if it will be a case of more of the same, or actually something we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately, I believe it will be the former.
Age Of Heroes will be released on June 13th and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.