Ian Fleming was an officer with Naval Intelligence during World War II. Kinda puts that whole 007 and its background into perspective, don't it? Telling the story (at least partially) of Fleming's involvement with a unit that would become known as No. 30 Commando comes 2011's Age of Heroes.
It's 1940 as England and the Allies tries to slow down the surging German attacks all over Europe. One key problem facing the Allies is the advanced radar capabilities the Germans have, resulting in horrific casualties for Allied fliers on missions flying over Europe. Major Jack Jones (Sean Bean) has been tasked with helping fix that problem. The veteran commando will lead a small 8-man team into Norway, trekking across the mountains to a German radar installation believed to have the newest radar available. Their mission? Recon the technology/equipment but make it look like a mission designed to destroy the installation and nothing else.
Released in theaters in England in 2011, 'Heroes' not surprisingly did not get a theatrical release in the U.S. It has the distinct feel of a straight-to-DVD movie, but never in a bad way. Filmed in Norway with a primarily Norwegian crew, it is a small scale story that doesn't feel limited by its budget or lack of stars. WWII fans will no doubt enjoy it. Think a cross-breed between The Heroes of Telemark, The Dirty Dozen, and Objective Burma!, and you've got this movie. It feels familiar from the start, playing on the genre conventions of the unit picture or the men on a mission movie. Original? Not particularly, but I enjoyed it a lot.
A star on HBO's Game of Thrones, Bean hasn't been in a whole lot of mainstream movies over the last few years, and he's the only recognizable face here. Sidenote: he looks odd, especially his eyes...end of sidenote. He's a solid choice to play the lead here, the veteran commando who must put together a team for his dangerous mission in German-held territory. His team includes Rains (Danny Dyer), a soldier brought up on charges looking to right previous wrongs, Steinar (Aksel Hennie), an American officer with a Norwegian background along as a guide, Mackenzie (scene-stealing William Houston, doing a Connery impression sounds like), the foul-mouthed, tough-as-nails sergeant, Rollright (John Dagleish), the radar specialist, and Brightling, (Stephen Walters), the small in stature commando who's worked with Jones. James D'Arcy has a small but worthwhile part as Lt. Commander Ian Fleming while Izabella Miko plays Jensen, the team's resistance contact in Norway.
Following the formula for a men on a mission movie, this WWII story doesn't deviate much from the accepted way of doing things. Show the commando team training, get to know the commandos, reveal the mission, and then let the bullets fly. The pre-credits sequence is pretty cool, introducing us to Dyer's Cpl. Bob Rains as he tries to get his men out of Dunkirk, explaining how he ends up in a military prison. Once the mission is presented, the training sequence is highly entertaining due mostly to Houston's Sgt. Mackenzie berating the men (with their best interests at heart at least). The mission itself is where the action is, an attack on the installation high up in the snow-covered mountains on a pitch black night. Not surprisingly, it doesn't go exactly to plan, forcing Jones and Co. to improvise on the run.
For no real reason other than it reminded me of so many 1960s WWII movies I love, I really liked 'Heroes.' It is a movie that would be more comfortable in the 1950s and 1960s than a 2011 release, but who cares? While it isn't a WWII commando story on a huge scale, it does what it's supposed to. The characters are cool and likable -- especially Bean, Dyer and Houston -- and the action isn't that cheesy low-budget shootouts that are laughable. Nothing flashy, but it gets the job done.
Age of Heroes <---trailer (2011): ***/****