In one sentence, it's a Kurt Russell action movie. But that description falls extraordinarily short of the mark; the script expects, and Russel delivers, a full character arc from sociopathic alienation to genuine empathy in just over a hundred words of dialog and just under a hundred minutes of running time.
The setting is a star-spanning, near-future civilization, if you define "civilized" loosely enough. The set and texts both sub- and overt are rife with references to other films, notably Blade Runner and much of Russell's œuvre. At least for me, this made the background seem deeper: the flashes of "Russellized" backstory didn't remind me of the films but rang with disorienting familiarity. (Borrowing works both ways: the child-soldier training sequences in this movie were mirrored a few years later in James Cameron's Dark Angel.)
If you have much of a military background (or a logical turn of mind), OpFor's stategy, tactics and command structure are as laughable as the antics of heavies in a bad King Fu movie, but for sheer storytelling, the film punches well above its weight. Bonus: nobody ever stops to point out the features of the Mk. IV/A non-McGuffin. Sets and settings are very good and -- sadly -- the hyper-fascist future sketched in seems more likely in light of current events. Interestingly, you could file dates and some names off and drop this film neatly into the Firefly universe without crumpling a fender. (Or, for that matter, into H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History, which has a number of parallels to the setting for Firefly.)
This film neatly illustrates what cinematic SF can and should do: in print, the story would be at best a novella, not a novel. It's a cracking good way to spend a sleepy Sunday afternoon; the scriptwriter and Russell put his scant lines and copious screen time to very good use advancing the arc. If you were after deeply deep subtlety, perhaps you should've chosen something with subtitles.
6 months ago