In the grim darkness of the far future, someone will finally come along and turn the Horus Heresy into one of the greatest theatrical science fiction fantasies of all time. Until then, fans of Warhammer 40,000 will just have to settle for a few baby steps in the right direction. Namely, Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie, the first official film set in the 40K universe (about damn time!), built on what looks like a budget of scrap and spare parts but clearly with good intentions at the helm.
Paraphrasing Dr. Grant however, some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions. While Ultramarines is far from being Nurgle’s blight on humanity, it’s nonetheless a pretty terrible movie, one that’s hard to recommend to anyone but the most ardent 40K fans and even then it’s really only on the level of ‘they finally freaking did it’. Honestly, for a universe with as much fluff supporting it as 40K (and as many fans), I’m still scratching my head as to why the property hasn’t been snatched up for a big budget treatment – it’s practically waving its hands and screaming, “I’m your next billion dollar franchise! Pick me!”
Part of the problem with Ultramarines are the muddy, low quality visuals and animation, which fail to convey the grandiose scope of the gothic, dystopian future setting, set in the 41st millennium where there is only war. The characters here are all ‘Space Marines’, genetically enhanced super soldiers, wearing bulky ‘Power Armour’ and bearing such Latin-sounding names as Carnak, Pythol, Verenor and Hypax among others. They are mostly new initiates of the Ultramarines, recently sworn in, who are sent to investigate a distress beacon on a remote planet (a useful starting point for sci-fi movies). Brother Proteus (Sean Pertwee) is the strong-willed main character. He’s unsettled by some unseen sinister force as the squad marches towards its distant goal.
And boy is there a lot of marching! Much of the movie is just scenes of these identical-looking toy soldiers walking, and walking, and still walking – oh, and perhaps some general military chatter. Moreover, there’s just no weight to their movement. As far as I’m concerned, the recently released Space Marine video game was better in this regard (and better at telling a 40K story). One scene in particular in Ultramarines had my eyes rolling when these godlike soldiers were walking over a rickety wooden bridge. Now, I’m no expert on the lore, but unless that bridge was made of unobtainium I’m pretty sure it should have buckled and collapsed.
Not even the screenwriter, fan favourite 40K novelist Dan Abnett, can save the film from its horribly misrepresented Chaos Space Marines (evil Space Marines) and a Daemon Prince that isn’t quite threatening as it’s laughably malformed. The plot too, ends up being pretty familiar for fans, whereas non-fans will be left confused by unexplained jargon and the mass of bald, samey characters that look like plastic.
Yet I’m inclined to be nice-ish to Ultramarines since, being a fan, I can appreciate that it was made on a shoestring budget of balls and ambition. The soundtrack is genuinely good, being appropriately operatic and occasionally eerie, and there’s some great voice talent here from Terence Stamp and John Hurt. There’s also a kind of nerdy glee is seeing certain things realised onscreen… somewhat. Ultimately it’s really the thrill of what Ultramarines represents for the Warhammer 40,000 universe – a step towards something bigger and better – rather than the movie itself which makes it worth watching.
Strictly for fans of Warhammer 40,000, Ultramarines is an achievement in that it actually saw the light of day, but as a movie in and of itself it’s muddled, unimaginative and awfully drawn out despite an anaemic runtime.