I just watched Age of Heroes
, a WWII action film starring Sean Bean. On Netflix I rated it 3 out of 5, but I think that's a bit generous.
Sean Bean is the first indicator that a movie is likely to be dodgy. He's an action adventure hunk without a great deal of acting ability, and at this point (54), he's an aging hunk. He carries his age pretty well in this film, as he's not trying to look as if he's 30, But it's like seeing Bruce Willis's name in an "coming soon" trailer: you can bet it's going to be a "check your brain at the door" popcorn fest.
And that's pretty much what Age of Heroes
is. A serious attempt was made to give the costumes and props a period look and feel, and those help raise this a bit above the made-for-TV or direct-to-video realm. So does the cinematography; there's some quite good imagery, both panoramic sweeps and careful, detail-filled close-ups that are more than the standard action shots of a shoot-em-up movie. And the company sprang for location filming; quite a lot of the action really takes place in the story's setting, Norway (though in the hills of the southwest rather than the mountains of the interior where is supposedly takes place). And the training sequences look as if they might actually have been near the historic commando training grounds of the western Highlands.
The plot is straight out of a 1940s or 1950s military flick. A commando unit is to be inserted into the heart of Norway to raid a German radar installation, both to destroy the site and to seize as much of the German technology as possible, so as to reverse-engineer it and speed up British radar work. Many of the classic war-movie archetypes are present and accounted for: the tough and dedicated officer who tells his pregnant wife that he has to do "one more mission", the hard-bitten sergeant, the foreign liaison (in this case a Norwegian-American volunteer), the pretty girl, the misfit soldier who makes good, even the disturbingly clean-cut but sadistically evil German SS officer (of COURSE he is an SS officer). We start off with some backstory, show a bit of training to demonstrate that the boys are tough, get the Top Secret Briefing, move through the inevitable Something Unexpected that screws up delivery of our heroes to their mission, see them make their approach to the target, and then violence and explosions ensue. I won't spoil the ending for you, but suffice to say that the final shot is also one I've seen in many, many movies of this genre. So, it's hammering out all the tropes. But while on the surface it looks good, if brainless, there are some rather gaping flaws that shift this from a solid 3 to something just below it.
For one thing, let's start out with the mission. The commandos did make raids in Norway; in fact, several of their early raids went against targets in Norway. But the attack that this film is supposedly based on
took place on the French coast. Why? Because that's where the radar emplacements were. The writers actually include a lot of detail about the German radars, and get most of it right (the name of the system, how it worked, how it contributed to defeating an early RAF attack on German navy bases). But for some reason, someone decided they needed to make the film in Norway, so the German air defense radars are in Norway. Not only that, but they are mysteriously being built in a valley in the middle of the Norwegian mountains (not even on the mountain tops!) where they would be completely useless. Then, to seize these radars and destroy them, a force of exactly eight men is sent in (the historical raid on German radars are Bruneval, France, featured 100 men). And they are sent in on a single, twin-engined aircraft. Of course, you say, because the target is in the middle of Norway--they could hardly be sent in by boat (as early commando raids, which took place against coastal targets, usually were). Except that they are slated to escape by rendezvousing with a submarine--within a day of the attack! So they could presumably have been sent in that way (using whatever seven-league boots are going to get them from the middle of the mountains to the coast). And since they are going to attack a radar primarily designed to detect air targets, sending them by airplane seems a poor choice. Add that when the commandos debate trying to reach Sweden and determine that it would take 2-3 days to walk there through the mountains, the geography involved becomes very...odd.
There's also a bit of confusion about the timing of this raid in the history of the commandos, too. The force already exists, clearly, as the major has been with the commandos for some time and has, at the beginning of the story, to retrieve one of his men who has gotten arrested by the military police and is in prison--so clearly the commandos are a force in being already. But, wait, we're told this is taking place shortly after Dunkirk (May 1940), and some of the motivational speeches during the Top Secret Briefing include the exhortation that "this raid will set the standard for all future raids". Really? The first commando actions took place in the summer of 1940, at about the same time Germany was capturing Norway; but the Germans at the radar site are clearly part of an occupying force that's been there for some time. (Oh, and the Wilhelmshaven Raid that was spoiled by German air search radar? Took place in December 1939.) For comparison, the Bruneval raid that the movie takes its inspiration from, took place in 1942, nearly two years after the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk.
I'll just bring up one other thing that bothered me quite a lot and that suggested that their military advisor/trainer (who got a lot of squad tactics right) was either asleep during the costuming conference or got overruled by a director with "vision". Because the commandos, in their approach march through German-occupied terrain, after already meeting and killing one enemy patrol, move across open snow fields. In daylight. WITH NO WINTER CAMO! A basic article of commando snow gear, from the first winter operation in Norway
onwards, white coveralls were essential to avoid standing out like a sore thumb when moving across snow. That these fellows have been sent in on a carefully planned operation (where, despite "losing a lot of our gear when we landed", they all have their bergens) without snow camo is just silly. That they would try to move in the daytime without it in an area swept by enemy patrols (which all wear winter camo themselves) is crazy. Oh, and although they train in mountain climbing and carry ropes and other climbing gear with them, there's never any suggestion that the mission involves climbing anything. Bwuh?
So, yes, if this were a building project, a great deal of the story would consist of spackle, covering up holes and smoothing over things that aren't quite right. Again, just a fun story, right? Not supposed to be too serious. But it does rather make me wonder why someone would get the bits like Freya and the Wilhelmshaven raid right and then get so many other things wrong.