Truthfully, there’s not any major reason behind this. Yes, it’s vastly easier for outlets like mine to get on mailing lists for smaller distributors willing to share their wares with secondary media stops like SciFiHistory.Net; so I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a contributing factor. It certainly is, but – as I’ve often argued about how foreign films don’t often feel like they’ve been produced within the Hollywood studio system (a truism that has changed quite a bit over the last decade) – indie filmmakers often imbue their projects with a freshness that elevates the material. They know they’re not Paramount Pictures or Universal Studios or the Walt Disney Company, but they love the process as much (if not more) than anyone else. As such, they will go to the ends of the Earth while laboring within a budget to make a tale work visually and textually .. while our cultural betters (ahem) simply spend a bit more to “fix it in post.”
Still, it ain’t easy accomplishing the level of world-building usually required to complete an independent Science Fiction film. While mainstream society tends to look down their nose at fans of SciFi and Fantasy, I’ve always given them vastly more credit and respect in identifying stories that function in their own reality. Think what you might, but I believe genre junkies like you and me watch films a bit more closely. We consider what they say a bit more fervently. We appreciate how they try to balance what’s come before with blazing a trail toward something different. We notice things like costumes, dialogue, and effects sequences; and we thrive on championing what we find exceptional even with the knowledge of knowing we’re going to be ostracized for it by folks outside our respective social circles.
We like what we like, and we really don’t damn well care if you don’t. We don’t hate you for not sharing our delight because we’ve been the butt of your jokes for ages. We know – better than most, I might add – what that feels like, and we tend to not want to perpetuate those sentiments onto others.
This is why we’ll seek out and explore smaller films – much like Ed Kirk’s Future Soldier – and we’ll happily chat it up. We know it may not be perfect, but we can tell that it was made specifically for us by people who both understand and enjoy flicks that push our group to watch for, think about, appreciate, notice, and thrive on all of the things I mentioned above. It is genre entertainment – all the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s for films like this that we, culturally, exist … and we really don’t damn well care if you don’t like it.
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“In the future 2002AD, bounty hunter Captain Mo Harrington finds himself pulled into a sinister conspiracy.”
Initially, I was more than a bit confused by Future Soldier.
There’s an opening bit – along with some screen text exposition – that helps to put the story into its proper context; and longtime readers know that I’m not a huge fan of exposition I have to read. My preference has always been for stories to work without having to give me a bit of the usual information dump – big or small – but once this opening confusion is out of the way and the emphasis is truly placed on organic storytelling Soldier gets smoother. As the characters and the world they inhabit gets fleshed out, I realized that the information provided wasn’t quite as necessary: what matters here is that our hero – Mo Harrington (played by Sean Earl McPherson) – isn’t so much on a hero’s quest as he’s trying to gain a bit of redemption for days gone by.
But that doesn’t excuse the narrative confusion from the early moments.
What writer/director Kirk has done here is fashioned an alternate history picture, one involving some secret soldier program, some vast changes to European government, and the introduction of technology that – circa 1989-2002AD (when the film takes place) – didn’t exist in the original timeline. That’s an awful lot to cram into the first five minutes of screen time – along with introducing some of the names and faces the audience is about to get to know – and it doesn’t go down quite as easily as it should. Suddenly we’re pulled into the future that these characters are now living, and it took me a bit to acclimate into this new present.
Setting aside the narrative hang-ups, Future Soldier is nonetheless impressive with what it accomplishes on a fracture of the budget that major studio projects get. Kirk and his visual wizards prove themselves masters both in small scale (costuming and set design) as well as large (post-production special effects) by weaving some fabulous yet simple imagery alongside the ideas from start-to-finish, so much so that I think the man and his friends could teach both established directors and budding auteurs how and when to do it right. Balancing out when to ‘go big’ against ‘how big can we afford’ with a smidge of ‘how big do we really need to make this work’ is not a talent in great supply in Hollywood; here, it’s accomplished with an uncanny effortlessness that deserves all of the praise it gets.
Still, filmmaking loves its shakycam footage, a technique I wish were in short supply. Somewhere around 2010, directors got the big idea to photograph fight scenes in extremely tight frame composition; and I have to admit that’s just never worked for me. While I understand how effective it can be especially for independent storytellers – space is at a premium on the screen, so hiding a small set within a larger world will always be the quickest solution – I’ve always suggested it works against the scope of a story if you can’t back up a sequence or two with a wider establishing shot. If I – the audience – can’t tell what’s going on in a fight, then is the fight really necessary? Is it aesthetically taking place? These are the choices a director makes, and I critically don’t always agree with them. Such is life.
As for the performers?
McPherson makes for a convincing lead. He underplays a few of his big moments, and I’m not sure why, other than to suggest that (again) maybe I just didn’t quite understand his motivations. Yasmine Alice – as his kinda/sorta begrudging sidekick through most of her scenes – delivers good stuff as the fallen police officer still clinging for law and order, despite morality being in short supply. Ian Curd largely chews scenery as the film’s fallen and broken patriarch, the guy who always thinks he’s doing what’s best for mankind but is actually doing the worst. Ellie Pickering practically steals every scene she’s in as a surprisingly battle-hardened soldier/daughter who’ll go down fighting if that’s what it takes. Adam Fox also turns in good marks as a street tough who really wants to do the right thing. Lastly, Sarah Whitehouse – as the film’s chief villain ‘The Matriarch’ – exudes a hard-boiled sexiness that may or may not feel a bit misplaced as I never quite got to the bottom of what her designs on mankind truly were. I’m guessing they were for ill, but … who knows?
Kirk is off to a good start!
Future Soldier (2023) was produced by ACAMAS Video. From what I’ve been able to ascertain (from a Google.com search), the feature is only presently available for purchase or rental via streaming platforms like Apple TV, Amazon Video, Vudu, DIRECTV, and Spectrum On Demand online. As for the technical specifications? Generally speaking, the sights and sounds are very, very good – a few effects sequences are obviously effects sequences, but it’s nothing that detracts from the storytelling. (Just bein’ honest, as they say.) As I viewed this film via streaming, there were no special features, but I’d love for a commercial release (on DVD/Blu-ray) to include some shorts from the cast and crew discussing how to go about world-building of this quality on a budget. I think many in the entertainment business could benefit from the lessons shared.
Recommended, but …
It isn’t always easy to determine what’s the main premise behind Future Soldier, and – to be fair – some of that might be owed to the fact that there’s an awful lot going on in the narrative, so much so that it feels occasionally a bit clunky with exposition and flashbacks. Dipping back into the well he created previously, perhaps writer/director Kirk knew a bit too much about this world and its various characters, allowing him to work with storytelling shorthand that maybe kinda/sorta didn’t serve the audience as well as he intended. But … hey … as an indie SciFi (which we honestly don’t see all that many of) Soldier is still leaps and bounds above many other attempts I’ve seen, so kudos to all involved for raising the bar as to what could, would, and should be expected from low budget yarns. It’s an impressive debut, proving Kirk’s is a voice worth listening to.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that Ed Kirk provided me with complimentary streaming access to Future Soldier (2023) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and the contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.