2022 | rated PG-13 | directed by Roar Uthaug | 1h 41m | In Norwegian with English Subtitles |
Very often you can’t tell what a movie’s level of self-awareness is. Does it know it’s good? Does it know it’s bad? Does it want to be taken seriously? There are movies with great original ideas that burn out in the execution and movies with a tired, worn-out idea executed in an inventive way. I’m not 100% sure which side of the spectrum Troll falls in, and it may be a little bit of both. This movie is actually fun. Fun in a way that most Hollywood movies haven’t been for a little while, made exactly like a Hollywood movie and without a single original idea in it’s head.
Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) is dragged away from her geological site at the request of the government of Norway when a mysterious disaster strikes the countryside. Soon it’s revealed the culprit is a giant troll stomping around Norway smashing anyone in it’s path and Nora, her wild-eyed father and the government agent helping her (Kim Falk) race to stop the troll from getting to the city and attacking Oslo.
I had 3 reactions as Troll unfolded.
Act 1: cool, this looks like another non-Hollywood take on a monster movie using a different kind of monster to add new rules and a quirky personality to the action.
Act 2: oh, this is just a Godzilla movie.
Act 3: oh, this is not just a Godzilla movie, but it’s very specifically Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla.
You want to see Hollywood tropes, this movie has them in spades. This movie is positively made of cliches. And yet, it’s all done with such enthusiasm, at such a quick clip and with a tone that rides that line between not taking itself seriously and not winking at us, that I had a lot of fun with it. It got to a point where the tropes became so by-the-numbers that I couldn’t believe the movie had the sheer audacity to do what it was doing.
Director Roar Uthaug has a history of playing his genre movies completely straight regardless of genre or how that style may work with them. I felt it worked with the modest slasher flick Cold Prey and not so much bringing the reboot of Tomb Raider back down to Earth. Here, it works better than it has in the past with Uthaug replicating Hollywood schlock to a T.
All the tropes are here, but does it count if it’s ticking off some of my favorite? I always love the scene in these movies when the black helicopter drops into the life of the expert and whisks them off to a secret lab for a secret debriefing. Then, our hero, Nora points out something very obvious that all of the other agents in the debriefing room somehow didn’t notice. We get the usual Roland Emmerich estranged father/daughter storyline mixed with the typical correct-conspiracy-theorist character as Nora’s father has turned into a raving lunatic trying to warn the government about giant trolls. We get the nice agent who believes Nora vs the military that wants to blow the troll away. We get the countdown to the airstrike of a major city. We get the techie nerd who will have to go rogue and hack into the system to help save the day without getting caught by the boss. We learn the monster that everyone fears is just lonely and misunderstood. We get an ending where the nice agent stands up to the boss and quits. “You don’t have to fire me, I quiet”. It’s all here.
Then Troll gets even more specific. By the time a recurring military character stood up on a truck and gave a rousing speech to his men about what would be “coming over that hill” and how they weren’t going to back down like he was Bill Pullman in Independence Day I was gobsmacked by the nakedness of the nerve. I’ve always had a cheesy monster movie affection for Emmerich’s Godzilla but given how low in regard it’s held it’s shocking to watch a movie 20 years later try to replicate it, of all things. Down to the troll chasing the heroes in a car over a bridge, the shot of the heroes narrowing getting out from under it’s large foot overhead – and the best scene in Godzilla: Matthew Brodrick listening to the beast’s large heartbeat slowly fade away.
What Troll won’t be confused for, is Trollhunter – a best-in-class found footage movie that cleverly uses troll mythology to create a unique monster movie experience. It simply turns it’s troll into another generic kaiju monster, which is disappointing. American critics tend to have a self-flatulating idea that foreign films are inherently going to be better than American movies. A lot of times that is the case, not through lack of talent or American invention, but because those movies don’t have to crank through the Hollywood studio system that squeezes the uniqueness out of them. It’s not an American thing, it’s a Hollywood thing.
That’s why even foreign films that emulate Hollywood blockbusters as tightly as Troll does, tend to do it better. The Wandering Earth is as by-the-numbers as Armageddon but it has a lot more fun being Armageddon. This movie is a collage of tropes, but it seems to be executing them earnestly in a way that doesn’t feel lazy even though it probably should. It wants to be fun – a quality that Hollywood movies like this have lacked for some time now. Either they are trying to set the stage for a series of sequels, beating us over the head with a political message or executing the material with the cynicism of someone who hates everything about it. This movie doesn’t have the grim disaster porn Roland Emmerich’s movies turned into or the hyper-active, unintelligible chaos of Michael Bay movies. It’s another attempt to bring back the crowd-pleaser. Troll is a perfect fit for Netflix, where the barrier for entry is very low. I might feel very different about this movie it I had to go to a theater, pay specifically for it and then shamble out with a bunch of grumbling moviegoers when it was over.
The final coda is one of the most bizarre. Like Godzilla, Uthaug ends his film on an audacious sequel set-up. If he wants to put out a movie called Troll 2 someone needs to tell him what he’s up against here.