Directed by: Roar Uthaug || Produced by: Espen Horn, Kristian Strand Sinkerud
Screenplay by: Espen Aukan || Starring: Ine Marie Wilmann, Kim Falck, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, Gard B. Eidsvold, Pål Richard Lunderby, Eric Vorenholt
Music by: Johannes Ringen || Cinematography: Jallo Faber || Edited by: Christoffer Heie || Country: Norway || Language: Norwegian
Running Time: 101 minutes
I tend to dislike copycats of Hollywood blockbuster formula in other (re: non-American) cinematic cultures (e.g. Warriors of Future ). From where I stand, your average contemporary Hollywood blockbuster (e.g. Fast & Furious [2001-], various Detective Comics-adaptations, various animated Disney features and their live-action adaptations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe [2008-2019], etc.) is quite predictable, safe, and generic to begin with, both in terms of screenplay structure and directorial execution. Hollywood production values, computer generated imagery (CGI) most of all, remain the international standard, but the works of Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, Jon Favreau, the Russo Bros., Justin Lin, James Wan, et al. aren’t too creative beyond their use of digital FX or their occasional stylish oners. As such, I’ve never understood the theoretical appeal of a generic Russian (e.g. Stalingrad ), mainland Chinese (e.g. The Wandering Earth ), Bollywood (e.g. Krrish ), South Indian (e.g. 2.0 ), or Korean (e.g. Shiri ) take on an explicitly American-style of high-concept filmmaking. Most everything feels the same except for the language and shoddier CGI.
An exception where an international, non-English language riff on Hollywood blockbuster formula works is Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug’s The Wave (2015); formatted in the straightforward, action-packed style of big-budget American disaster flicks from the 1990s-2000s (e.g. Twister , Dante’s Peak , Deep Impact , The Core ), Roland Emmerich’s filmography most of all (e.g. Independence Day , Godzilla , The Day After Tomorrow ), The Wave showcased great narrative pacing, solid screenplay structure, simple yet relatable characters, and memorable special FX to portray a massive landslide and tsunami impact on a coastal Norwegian community. It remains Uthaug’s best movie to date and one of the better translations of classical Hollywood formula to an outside national film industry.
The critical and audience reception to his latest picture, the Netflix Original film Troll, another Norwegian attempt at a Hollywood-style disaster movie, has been interesting. From an anecdotal perspective, its low Rotten Tomatoes audience-score and negative social media comments, combined with its decent critical ratings, imply most American general audiences may be overly harsh and most American film journalists too forgiving towards the film; the shortcomings of established blockbuster tropes are perhaps more obvious to the average American viewer due to the language-barrier, while critics, on the other hand, may be giving a pass to high-concept genre movie formula in an international context they’d otherwise feel free to criticize in a Hollywood production.
In the end, I feel the truth is in the middle of these somewhat biased reactions, where Troll is limited by its shallow, predictable script and thin characterizations, but also has the production values, location-photography, and pacing appropriate for a big-budget monster-movie of this scale. Troll, as its title implies, is a traditional creature-feature and disaster film in the vein of Legendary Pictures’ “MonsterVerse” (2014-2021) or Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013), where utilitarian character archetypes study and try to counter a leviathan beast that threatens dense human settlements; straightforward to a fault, Uthaug’s latest covers all the storytelling basics of movies about giant monsters, but as is typical with FX-driven films like this, drags whenever the camera’s focus turns from its eponymous character.
That latter point is my biggest problem with Troll. Compared to The Wave, Troll’s main cast (e.g. Ine Marie Wilmann, Kim Falck, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen) are forgettable and add little personality to this high-concept premise. The Wave never challenged disaster-film conventions in the slightest, but it did execute its human element with surgical efficiency thanks to both smart writing and great performances; Troll, on the other hand, doggy paddles its obligatory exposition and character introductions, where an important relationship between protagonist Wilmann and quasi-comic relief side character, Gard Eidsvold (Wilmann’s diegetic father), doesn’t pay off, while the chemistry between costars Falk and Sjøgård appears nonexistent.
Don’t get me wrong: Whenever Uthaug focuses his cinematographic attention on the titular beast’s rampage, the movie is fun, but those set-pieces are at odds with the rote human characters that consist of the bulk of Troll’s running time. To that end, recent films like Godzilla vs Kong (2017) to King of the Monsters (2019) featured powerhouse monster battles that at least gelled with their stock characters, even if they never broke free of them a la Shin Godzilla (2016).
To put it in simplest terms, I think the contrasting reactions to Troll between many (most?) American Netflix viewers and most American or Anglophone critics are a function of opposite biases: Most Americans are unaccustomed to engaging with movies, whatever their format, as cultural outsiders, unlike most Hollywood markets outside North America, while English-speaking film journalists are predisposed to grade this Norwegian monster-movie on a curve to highlight their multicultural, “cosmopolitan” mindset. Troll is neither better nor worse than the typical Hollywood disaster-blockbuster we’ve seen a million times before, which, in terms of Roar Uthaug’s directorial execution, is a strength, but also represents a weakness in Espen Aukan’s forgettable, unimaginative screenplay. I remain ambivalent at best with regards to the general artistic merit of cloning big-budget, high-concept American filmmaking tropes to other cultures — I think the international scene is best left to aggressive, leftfield genre films antithetical to Hollywood’s blockbuster machine — but clearly most audiences around the world support these types of movies no matter their cultural origin, which is why the blockbuster became so widespread in the first place.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Good-looking, epic, and adventurous, Troll hits all the characteristic directorial hallmarks of a high-production value creature-feature that involves mythological backstory, urban destruction, and straightforward storytelling. Roar Uthaug doesn’t innovate here, but given the canvas on which he chose to paint, the mechanical precision of Troll’s special FX, location-photography, and overall narrative pace are a perfect medium-rare.
— However… the screenplay and most all of its main characters are medium well at best, and none of the cast have the screen presence to bolster their stock characters, bland dialogue, and forced humor.
—> ON THE FENCE
? Where did Wilmann think the monster was gonna go? Was it supposed to dash behind a mountain ridge at the last minute?