Principal Cast : Ine Marie Wilmann, Kim Falck, Mads Sjogard Pettersen, Gard B Eidsvold, Pal Richard Lunderby, Eric Vorenholt, Hugo Mikal Skar, Karoline Viktoria Sletteng Garvang, Yusuf Toosh Ibra, Bjame Hjelde, Anneke von der Lippe, Dennis Storhol, Fridtjov Saheim.
Synopsis: When an ancient troll is awakened in a Norwegian mountain, a ragtag group of heroes must come together to try and stop it from wreaking deadly havoc.
I guess if you’re going to set your shingle up as Norway’s answer to Roland Emmerich, there are few films better to
plagiarise pay homage to than… well, the films of Roland Emmerich. Delightfully cliched and absolutely stacked with Emmerich-disaster character, plot and visual beats, Roar Uthaug’s visual effects action film Troll is as hoary and predictable as it comes, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. An outright repurposing of Emmerich’s 1997 Godzilla remake, Roar Uthaug’s urban-destructo monster movie is a rock’em-sock ’em delight of gleeful idiocy, one dimensional characters, archetypal plot moments and a thousand percent wink-wink-nudge-nudge at the audience. This is a film that knows how stupid and generic it is, and delights in it, balancing a playfully fun tone and whimsical characters with just enough heart to counteract the truly remarkable full-lifting of complete Emmerich action sequences as they threaten to overwhelm the movie.
Deep in the Norwegian mountains, a mysterious explosion at a highway tunnel project draws the attention of the country’s military and Prime Minister, who become aware that… something enormous has emerged from a deep slumber to wreak havoc on the land. Young palaeontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) is pulled off an archaeological dig to serve as an advisor for the incident, but as both she, her father Tobias (Gard B Eidsvold), Ministerial adjunct Andreas Isaksen (Kim Falck) and soldier Captain Kristoffer Holm (Mads Sjogard Pettersen) scout the path of the enormous creature that has emerged, the stumble upon a hundred-foot tall mountain troll, something torn from the pages of Norway’s myth and legend. Now, with the major population centres at risk and the city of Oslo directly in its path, the enormous Troll behind a step by step journey towards a destiny that has strong ties to the country’s ancient past, a past that it has tried to bury for far too long.
Uthaug is fast becoming “appointment viewing” at the Fernby Films offices, with success in the disaster movie genre (The Wave) and action/adventure (the Tomb Raider reboot) paving the way for what I consider to be his dumbest and best disaster/action/adventure project to-date. Troll is not even subtle with its wholesale lifting of elements, visual cues and plot points from Roland Emerich’s Godzilla, complete with the Matthew Broderick scientist role transferred to Ine Marie Wilmann’s uncertain but committed Nora, a “viewpoint from under a giant foot as it swings over the head of a character underneath it” moment of slo-motion cool, plenty of stomping, smashing and devastation inflicted upon the conspicuously smaller-scale nation of Norway (I mean, Oslo isn’t New York by a long stretch), and of course the “idiot” military personnel whose only Big Idea is to fire all kinds of weaponry at the Troll to blast it into oblivion – and you can guess how that ends up. Despite obvious references to any number of kaiju movies of recent times, Uthaug goes for broke with sublimely generic subgenre characters, a gradually rising sense of jeopardy as the creature makes its way to where people live, and a slick, handsomely produced movie that boasts some quite wonderful CG visual effects.
With a screenplay written by Espen Aukan (Vikingulven) from a story by Uthaug himself, Troll (not to be confused with the all-singing animated franchise starring Anna Kendrick) is your pretty boilerplate creature-disaster story; enormous natural threat emerges from hibernation, scientists can’t think of how to stop it, a bunch of dumbass leaders try to blow it to hell, before scientists (whose reputations are either flawed or completely shredded prior to the film’s commencement) find an insane or improbable way to prevent all-out human annihilation. It’s basically every 90’s disaster movie, right? So in all aspects Troll offers something almost every other entry into this genre has given us before, making this either the silliest creative decision or the smartest. Troll – or rather Roar Uthaug – understand how silly these kinds of movies are, and it leans heavily into the tropes and clichés as it stacks the preposterous on top of the unbelievable, wrapping things in a cool layer of Norway’s fairy-tale legendarium (the troll myth originated in Nordic countries so it makes sense that they have become Norway’s defacto kaiju nightmare) that elicits just the right amount of awe and wonder when the titular creature does finally reveal itself. In perhaps one of the film’s only real surprises, Uthaug allows his troll creature to be fully unveiled within the film’s first act, rare for a monster movie such as this where hiding the creature until the very end is typical.
Our characters transition from disbelief to outright terror quite quickly, before the requisite asshole bureaucrat decides to save the country by detonating a nuclear weapon inside their borders (oh man) while science chick and her snazzy but dull-witted companion try to formulate an alternative, and far more successful, plan to counteract the creature. The dialogue is quite perfunctory when it comes to exposition, perhaps lost in the subtitle translation from the native Norwegian to English maybe, but works better when it’s about the characters. Notably, Nora and her estranged father Tobias, played by a wonderful Gard B Eidsvold (basically he’s this film’s version of Randy Quaid from Independence Day), have a number of nice moments to bond as father-daughter throughout the film, although if you’ve watched disaster films for any length of time you’ll know how that particular relationship ends up. Hell, I was just surprised one of the characters in this movie didn’t squawk “I’ll be right back” before being eviscerated with a wonderful sense of irony.
Troll is patently absurd and plays fast and loose with both geography, time (characters move from location to location with such pace I’m surprised they didn’t break lightspeed) and the laws of physics, with increasingly bombastic action sequences raising stakes until the inevitable showdown (you know it’s coming) in the middle of Oslo; somehow, in the space of a single day, the authorities managed to completely evacuate the city entirely, allowing for a cool-looking but weirdly non-urgent chase through the fabled city’s streets between the troll and Nora in a pickup truck. I guess shooting a lot of your film in the middle of the night in a deserted city has its bonuses. At no point did anybody in this film say anything remarkable, content to eulogise ancient Norwegian legends as if people who believe in them are absolute idiots, and most of the exposition and dramatic urgency is played for laughs. I mean, you know it’s a knock-off when Uthaug even plagiarises Emmerich’s “We won’t go quietly into the night” Presidential monologue from Independence Day in one laughably critical moment.
I can see the eye-rolling and negative think-pieces about Troll already: sure, it’s generic, it isn’t very clever and it borrows wholesale from more popular films in a way that probably ought to have lawyers glancing at each other in the back office. But it’s a hell of a lot of stupid, bananas fun, with just the right winks to the audience and semi-serious nature of the performances – I’d describe them as earnest – to work in favour of the whole thing not being one big joke. A comprehensive jigsaw construction of the best of Hollywood’s disaster genre narrative and character beats, I thoroughly enjoyed this enormously silly but wholeheartedly engaging VFX romp. I think it will satisfy most despite the tsunami of familiarity washing over you. D-grade fun has never felt so A-grade great!