Tuesday, March 04, 2014

War of the Worlds: Goliath—Teddy Roosevelt Gets His Independence Day On

You would think if H.G. Wells’ Martians could master space travel and death rays, they could also develop antibiotics. It turns out they have shored up their immunological vulnerabilities and have come back for more in Joe Pearson’s animated feature War of the Worlds: Goliath (trailer here), which opens in select cities this Friday.

Germs saved our butts in 1899, but the vigilant understand it is only a matter of time before the Martians return for round two. Under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of War Teddy Roosevelt, the multinational A.R.E.S. defense force is formed, employing abandoned Martian technology reverse-engineered by their science advisor, Nikolai Tesla. However, by 1914, tensions in Europe threaten to pull A.R.E.S. apart.

Captain Wells struggles to hold his team together, but he has issues stemming from the first Martian invasion, when he witnessed his parents getting zapped. The IRA also hopes to capitalize on the potential European war, striking the British with advanced weaponry they expect Corporal Patrick O’Brien to steal from A.R.E.S. Obviously, this would be a good time for Mars to attack.

Ordinarily, you do not expect steampunk science fiction with a touch of art deco from a Malaysian animation studio, but here Goliath is, with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman on-board as executive producer. While the jaws of its characters could not possibly be any squarer, it creates a surprisingly cool world, where A.R.E.S. battles Martians with era-appropriate biplanes and EVA-Jaeger-style tripods, the latest model being the titular Goliath, piloted by Captain Wells and his crew.

Frankly, the warfighting scenes are more graphic than you might expect, particularly for those unfortunate enough to get caught in the Martians’ flesh-melting lasers. However, the historical details are sort of clever, including the hotshot Captain Von  Richthofen, engaging the Martians’ air support as the ace of A.R.E.S. Wells’ backstory and his relationships with his squad members are a bit clichéd, but Goliath has a real ace in the hole. Any film that features Teddy Roosevelt shooting Martians earns a pass.

Since it exists in an alternate universe, Goliath manages to be both hawkish and internationalist in its galactic world view. The animation is might be just a cut above passable (if that), but the world-building details are well thought out. Fans of the Highlander television series will be particularly interested in its voice cast, which includes Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen, and Jim Byrnes (probably best known for Wiseguy), with the latter being a standout as Roosevelt. It is not a classic, but it is fun in an ambitious meathead sort of way. Recommended for fans of H.G. Wells and T.R. looking for an animated distraction, War of the Worlds: Goliath opens this Friday (3/7) in select theaters.