February 20, 2018 Wastelander (Movie Review)
When it comes to imagining a post-apocalyptic world, one of the go-to examples has been the Mad Max series of films. Where, in a world low on water yet high in gasoline, colourful freaks prey on the weak across a sun-blasted landscape. It inspired the Japanese punch-up gore-fest anime Fist of the North Star, the Tank Girl comics and the fellow-Australian 1997 TV movie Doom Runners (starring future Mad Max: Fury Road star Nathan Jones, which was not perfect in every way). The series even inspired political speeches, as UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said Britain will not be “plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction” after the country leaves the European Union.
The latest Mad Max-alike is Wastelander, due out on VOD on February 20th, 2018, before reaching DVD on March 13th via Indican Pictures. Written and directed by Angelo Lopes (Jack of Bullets 2004, Gunheavy 2008), it is about an ex-soldier called Rhyous (Brendan Guy Murphy: Story Time Fables 2010 Lucky U Ranch 2016) who is looking for his lost home and family. Along the way he meets other survivors, including cyborgs who believe Rhyous will lead them to a legendary haven called Eden. However, they must contend with the Scourge- a notorious band of pillaging raiders- whether they end up there or not.
Coincidentally, the next Mad Max film shares a similar title (Mad Max: The Wasteland). It is a pity coincidence could not bring the same level of quality; granted it does not have a Hollywood budget, so it was not going to resemble 2009’s Avatar. Unfortunately, the flat angles, Dutch angles and the often-overexposed camera make it a pretty ugly film to watch. The editing does not help either, as action scenes stutter from one stunt to the next. It even gets confusing, as some characters just pop into a scene out of the blue via cuts. In one surreal case, it cuts to a Scourge villain sitting in their lair during a fight scene. It only lasts for a second or two, but there is no suggestion they are watching the fight; it just seems like it was put in out of sequence.
Wastelander has a slow first half: it establishes character motivations, has a couple of jerky fight scenes; enough to keep eyes glued to the screen, except that it is padded out by scenes of Rhyous wandering through the wasteland, always towards the camera and always at a medium distance. All backed-up by some occasionally pretty yet obvious green-screen backgrounds. It may be fine for its budget but as far as VOD and DVD films go, it is not exactly last year’s The Osiris Child. Though credit where credit is due: the laser effects, holographic effects and blood splatter do look alright on-screen (quite literally on screen in one instance).
The acting is not-so-alright, though. Murphy does the best out the bunch as the tough-as-nails title character. This is not because he does anything special beyond being the harsh, tough guy with a troubled past (“Fuck that guy! He’s a dick!”, “And kind of a badass…”). He does do a good job in looking tough, acting harsh and remembering the past. However, the rest of the cast are different degrees of wooden. Jon Proudstar (Young Guns II 1990, Auf Wiedersehen Pet series) does an almost passable job as a hanger-on. While Carol Cardenas did better work as the film’s producer & costume designer than on screen. The cybernetic props are not that convincing, but the rest of the attire is appropriately post-apocalyptic; leather jackets, kooky face paint and tattoos galore.
But is that enough to save Wasterlander? Good costumes, nice set designs and environment, nice, if unconvincing, green-screen backgrounds, is that enough to overcome the bad acting, ugly camerawork and choppy editing? The story is largely so-so; even with its twist on Eden, it is just bargain-bin Mad Max with a touch of its successors. There is little to recommend this on, especially when there are better post-apocalyptic films and shows around.
However, between the dodgy performances there is a little cheesy charm here. Maybe it is in the jittery fight scenes or in the gory effects. It is certainly in the jokey ‘Krognar Mk2’ robot advert before Rhyous’ second fight against a topless dude in a helmet. Wherever it is, it is there, and it is just enough to boost its score a touch. The cinematically lactose-intolerant can take 0.5 off the star rating, but CrypticRock gives Wastelander 2 out of 5 stars.