Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Fantaspoa ’19: The Last Warrior

We do not really think of Disney in the context of Tolkienesque fantasy, but the Mouse House produced The Sword in the Stone, The Black Cauldron, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in Fantasia. This film does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath, but it is still a fantasy and it is sort of Disney—the Russian arm of the company. Enchantments are made to be broken in Dmitriy Dyachenko’s The Last Warrior (a.k.a. The Last Knight), which screens during this year’s Fantaspoa in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Ivan Naydenov thinks he is an orphan, but he is actually the son of Ilya Muromets, the legendary knight, or rather Bogatyr, who was hidden away in our dimension to protect him from the evil forces that assumed power in the fantasy realm of Belogorye. It turns out the Sorceress Varvara and her lover, Prince Dobrynya Nikitich hunted down and turned to stone all the other bogatyrs, much like Dark Vader and Emperor Palpatine’s massacre of the Jedi Knights. This is all quite a lot for Naydenov to take in when he is suddenly whisked away from our world to Belogorye.

Obviously, Varvara and Nikitich want him dead too, but he manages to escape with the help of the immortal Koschei, Vasilisa the Wise (a.k.a. the Frog Princess), and Baba Yaga. To fight the evil duo, Naydenov will have to find the enchanted sword Kladenets, the Slavic Excalibur, but he really just wants to go home. They will get seriously sidetracked fooling around with Vodyanoy the merman (who sort of looks like the cow that wants to be eaten in the BBC version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), before Varvana and Nikitich restart the plot be recapturing everybody.

Naydenov is a thoroughly annoying character (when we first meet him, he is working as a cheap con artist and fake magician (under the title, “The White Mage”), whom Viktor Khorinyak portrays completely without charm or charisma. His chemistry with Mila Sivatskaya’s Vasilisa is completely non-existent, even though she is nearly as boring. By far, the most interesting character is Konstantin Lavronenko as the Richard O’Brien-looking Koschei. Ekaterina Vilkova (who some might have seen in Hipsters and PyraMMMid) also has some villainous presence and flair as Varvara. However, far too many characters a shticky stick figures.

This is one of two recent Russian films known internationally as “The Last Warrior.” The other, which screened at Fantasia as The Scythian is considerably grittier and better. There is just too much mugging and slapstick humor from Khorinyak/Naydenov. Still, Dyachenko crafts some spectacular fantasy imagery, especially during the third act. It is sort of interesting to see Russian myth and folklore mashed up into a greatest hits narrative package, but it is hardly essential. Lifechanger, Seder-Masochism, and Violence Voyager are all better films screening soon at Fantaspoa. Just sort of “eh,” The Last Warrior screens tomorrow (5/30), during Fantaspoa 2019 in Porto Alegre.