Film, Film Review, Special Features

MOCKBUSTER VIDEO: Avengers Grimm

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For reasons unclear, film Hassler Oscar Goff has vowed to watch and review every film released by notorious straight-to-video outlet The Asylum in 2015. Read his mission statement here.

TITLE: Avengers Grimm

FILM BEING IMITATED AND/OR TYPE OF SHARK ON DISPLAY: This appears to be a rare double-mockbuster. The most obvious inspiration, obviously, is Marvel’s earthshaking Avengers franchise; the substance of the film, however, owes more to the fairy-tale mash-up aesthetic of TV shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm.

HAVE I SEEN THE SOURCE MATERIAL AND/OR WOULD I RUN FROM THAT SHARK? Dutiful fanboy that I am, I have seen every silver-screen entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, I have never watched an episode of either of the aforementioned TV series (which, to be honest, I only just realized are in fact two separate shows).

PERCENT CHANCE OF BEING CONFUSED WITH THE ORIGINAL AND/OR AN ACTUAL SPECIES OF SHARK: 20%. Despite vaguely similar plots, and the fact that this film’s Little Red Riding Hood shares a fashion sense with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, it is unlikely many audiences will confuse a blockbuster about the world’s most popular superheroes with a movie about princesses who dress like Charlie’s Angels. Still, the word “Avengers” is right there in the title, which means The Asylum may well tap into the always-fruitful “well-intentioned but unobservant grandma” demographic.

 . . . AND: ’90s it-dude turned Asylum regular Casper Van Dien, as central villain Rumpelstiltskin; UFC “personality” Kimo Leopoldo as a decidedly human Big Bad Wolf; and one-time Incredible Hulk star Lou Ferrigno as local crime lord Iron John. Incidentally, Ferrigno still provides the voice of the Hulk in Marvel’s current run of movies. I’ll check the books, but this may make Ferrigno the only actor to appear in both a major Hollywood blockbuster and its Asylum equivalent.

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One entry in, and I’m already cheating.

When I initially conceived of this series, I intended it to span from January to December of 2015. This, I reasoned, would provide a sense of narrative cohesion, and, God willing, give me enough time between releases to keep up with The Asylum’s machine-gun production schedule. However, as so often happens with grand schemes, this didn’t quite pan out; between the Hassle’s (awesome) overhaul in January and my own real-life, non-shitty-movie-related responsibilities, the gauntlet did not get thrown down until earlier this month. No matter; I would rent the studio’s first release of the year (which, as I’ve intimated before, looks to be a doozie) and review it before the second came out. Easy. Schedule maintained.

Then the Brattle did something insane: They held a screening of the next movie.

Obviously, this shot to the top of my priorities. Asylum films generally don’t have time to waste on a theatrical release, instead rocketing straight to either DVD or Syfy before interest has waned on the films which inspired them. Outside of the occasional Rifftrax simulcast, actual screenings are rare. If I’m going to do this right, I can’t let opportunities like that slip through my fingers, even if it means trudging out at 9:30 at night to see a movie with a handful of bemused onlookers. So, Avengers Grimm became my first subject.

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Wasting no time for exposition, Avengers Grimm opens in media res in an unnamed magical kingdom engulfed in CGI flames. The queen, Snow White (Lauren Parkinson, whose low-cut tops and perpetual glower give her a sort of Tura Satana–like presence), is in possession of a Magic Mirror, which can evidently open doorways to other dimensions. This has come to the attention of Rumpelstiltskin (Van Dien, doing his best Loki even while wearing a ridiculous Night at the Roxbury jacket), who reasons that if he can find a world without magic, he can rule it like a king. When Snow asks Rump what has happened to her husband, he throws a plastic crown on the floor, which implies either that he’s murdered him, or that he dropped him off at his day job at the party store on his way over.

It is around this point that we meet the rest of the film’s titular (ahem) Avengers: Cinderella (Milynn Sarley), here reimagined as a Trinity-esque ass-kicker; Sleeping Beauty (Marah Fairclough), a spacey Mean Girl of a princess; Rapunzel (Rileah Vanderbilt), who has very long hair and occasionally gets a line to deliver; and Little Red Riding Hood (Elizabeth Peterson), a peasant vigilante who has joined the princesses to wreak revenge on the Wolf (Leopoldo), who is working as Rumpelstiltskin’s muscle. In very short order—one gets the feeling The Asylum doesn’t want to overstay their time limit—Rumpelstiltskin pulls Snow White through the mirror, the other princesses follow, and Red, locked in combat with the Wolf, also falls through, shattering it.

It is here that I should mention that all of the princesses are here given superpowers which, to the best of my recollection, are absent from all of their previous storybook adventures. Rapunzel can use her hair as a weapon, which I suppose makes sense. Sleeping Beauty can make others fall asleep, which doesn’t really follow, but okay. Snow White can cause extreme cold, and also create icicle daggers from her hands, which . . . really makes her more of an Elsa, all told, but that character isn’t in the public domain. Red has a quiver full of trick arrows and kickboxing skills (which, for the record, makes her a stand-in for at least three separate Avengers), and Cinderella has the ability to deliver rousing speeches. The villains, however, while magical, mostly just seem to be a couple of dudes who are kind of dicks. This is an oddly defined universe.

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Anyway, through some sort of peculiar movie physics, the princesses apparently wind up on Earth about six months after Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin. During that time, Rumpelstiltskin has apparently not only launched a successful campaign to become Mayor of Los Angeles, but has promptly turned that city into a hellish dystopia ruled by a zombified secret police (more so than usual—hey-oh!). Snow White, meanwhile, has positioned herself as the queen of the underworld, which mostly seems to consist of her driving around in a black sports car and living in a swanky apartment. In spite of all of this, it takes the princesses all of about five minutes to find her, because there’s only so much time to fill.

Red wastes no time in continuing her pursuit of the Wolf. She emerges from the portal with a shard of the mirror stuck in her back—big enough to serve as the film’s central MacGuffin, but not big enough to prevent her from doing more badass karate. She tails him to a bar, only to find that he’s already slaughtered its inhabitants. Said inhabitants turn out to be the men of Iron John (Ferrigno), the other kingpin of the underworld. Iron John’s nickname, needless to say, is eventually made literal by Rumpelstiltskin, who grants him super strength and a thick coat of silver body paint. Which . . . is not the color of iron, but okay.

And things progress pretty much as you’d expect, provided you’re reasonably familiar with the modern superhero formula. The princesses come together, get momentarily defeated, exchange some rousing speeches (“We’re not heroes, we’re avengers,” Cinderella stresses, in case anyone doesn’t get it), and rally as Loki Rumpelstiltskin summons his Chitauri Thrall forces through the Tesseract Magic Mirror to ravage New York Los Angeles. There’s even the teaser for a possible sequel, which I imagine we’ll likely see in 2018, just in time for the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Part I.

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The angle of Avengers Grimm is pretty obtuse, as mockbusters go. The reasoning seems to be that The Avengers worked because it’s a team made up of recognizable and beloved characters, and since most modern recognizable and beloved characters are locked under heavy copyright, The Asylum opted for the public domain world of fairy tales. (Curiously, they chose not to use Thor, despite the fact that he’s the one Avenger who is actually in the public domain, and the fact that they already have their own version). The problem here is that, in modernizing the princesses, they’ve made them unrecognizable. If the characters are ever formally introduced in the beginning, I missed it in the whirlwind of exposition; I didn’t piece together who Sleeping Beauty was until she made some bad guys fall asleep half an hour in, and I literally didn’t know who Cinderella was supposed to be until she was addressed by name during the final battle. It’s like if the Iron Man of The Avengers was just a guy in a shiny jacket who shoots people, and instead of Robert Downey, Jr., he was played by Anthony Michael Hall, without a goatee. Which, come to think of it, actually sounds pretty plausible as a future Asylum release.

It must also be said that there is a reason most straight-to-video (or TV, or streaming) films don’t get shown on the big screen. Effects that might look halfway-convincing on a TV or laptop get stretched far beyond the point of credulity when enlarged past their intended viewing circumstances. The CGI fire and explosions which bookend the film would not be out of place in a Nollywood production, and the cheap costumes make their photogenic wearers look more like Spirit Halloween models than actual princesses. Like a fine mosaic, an Asylum production is best appreciated from a distance.

But I will say this: despite mounting evidence that The Asylum is in on the joke, there is a refreshing earnestness to Avengers Grimm. I can’t imagine many parties involved thought they were making Citizen Kane (or, for that matter, The Avengers), but the script and the actors all seem committed to telling their dumb little story. Despite the ample cleavage, there is no actual nudity, and apart from an uncomfortably rapey scene toward the end (in which Rumpelstiltskin not only forces himself on Snow White, but implies that he did the same to her husband), the film retains a whiz-bang attitude which borders on wholesome. It doesn’t have the chops to rival Guardians of the Galaxy, but its budget prevents it from attaining the bloat of Spider-Man 3. It’s not good, but it’s not offensively bad either. It manages to succeed at being a movie for 90 uninterrupted minutes, which, in all likelihood, is all it set out to do.

One down. God only knows how many to go.

Avengers Grimm
2015
dir. Jeremy M. Inman
86 min.

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