Video game movies aren't a genre that inspires confidence, nor is SyFy a channel that raises hopes. They are the same channel that brings us classics like Sharktopus, after all. THQ teaming up with SyFy to release a Red Faction movie sounds like a recipe for disaster, and anyone who assumed Red Faction: Origins was going to be one could hardly be blamed for that. Despite all odds, however, Origins is actually a competent movie.
THQ is attempting a multi-generational story with the world of Red Faction. The soon to release Armageddon stars the grandson of Guerrilla's protagonist, Alec Mason. Origins bridges the gap between these two games, starring Alec's son, Jake. In Guerrilla, the Colonists and Marauders, two Martian factions, worked together to free themselves from the Earth Defense Force, or EDF.
Origins takes place twenty-five years after Guerrilla, and Alec is now a worthless drunk, having lost his wife and daughter. Jake is a member of the Red Faction, and starts off the movie tasked with leading a salvage mission to the recently crashed ruins of the Hydra, an EDF ship from Guerrilla that had been stuck in orbit all this time. After some soldiers in white crash the party, and tensions between Marauders and Colonists rise, what follows is a well-executed, if somewhat cliché, adventure story.
Though it takes place on Mars and features more than a few sci-fi elements, Origins actually has more in common with the fantasy genre. It's much more character driven, and doesn't rely on the technology alone as the point of its narrative. A lot of the time characters spend wandering around on foot from place to place. From style to pacing, it just doesn't feel like a sci-fi story. This is actually great, because as a fantasy story it's light-hearted and fun. The characters are amusing and easy to like, even the slightly sociopathic teen. By the end, most viewers will actually find themselves attached to said teen, simply for his inherent hilarity.
Another reason it works is that it recognizes the difference between video game stories and movie stories, and doesn't try to tell the former. It takes place in the same universe as a series of video games, but it doesn't limit itself with that. That it doesn't have to adapt a pre-existing story certainly made the job easier for the writers, and gave them a lot more freedom. Many of the important backstory elements took place after Gurrilla, meaning that there was never any need to retcon or alter what players already knew. Given that this is setting up for Red Faction: Armageddon, doing that could have posed a problem.
The visual presentation is impressive, especially with the knowledge that they were given a very small budget. The main town where the story starts off really fits the tone and feels natural. The one place where the budget woes were noticeable were the Marauders, which look and feel more like the Fremen from Dune. This was done partially because matching the costumes as they are in the video games would have cost more.
The acting and dialogue is mostly well done, though there are some character moments that can feel unnecessarily silly from time to time. Even so, the occasional silly scene isn't enough to ruin what is otherwise an enjoyable experience.
Red Faction: Origins is a good sign for video game movies. Acting, presentation, and story are all quite good. It's no summer blockbuster for everyone to look forward to, but, as a television movie, it's more than worth taking the time to watch from the comfort of your couch. It respects the franchise it's a part of, but it doesn't limit itself by trying too hard to be like Guerrilla. It tells a story that, while cliché, works. In short: Origins isn't amazing, but it's still very good.
I give it three out of five stars.