Originally published on Set The Tape
STARRING: Vicky Jeudy, Shawn Parsons, Jason Antoon, Christian Anderson.
WRITTEN BY: Nick Rufca
DIRECTED BY: Kerry Carlock & Nicholas Lund-Ulrich
Armstrong is made out to be a superhero film, and in a time where the film market is flooded with comic book superhero movies it would be easy to produce a film that fits that mould. However, Armstrong isn’t that kind of film. It has more creativity, intelligence, and spark than I was expecting from an independent superhero film. Possibly because I didn’t see it as a superhero film whilst watching it; something that worked incredibly well in the films favour.
The titular character of Armstrong, a former soldier with a high-tech bionic arm capable of shooting lasers, feels less of a stereotypical superhero and more a regular man on a mission. He doesn’t wear a mask or an over the top costume, and whilst he does have a hood/cape it feels more like part of his military ensemble than trying to be like a comic book character.
This goes a long way in grounding the film, in making it more real world than a lot of superhero films. Yes, he’s got a bionic arm that shoots lasers, and he’s fighting a high-tech doomsday cult that wants to end the world; but the film feels a lot more real than that story deserves. It’s more Netflix’s Daredevil or Jessica Jones than it is Iron Man or The Avengers.
A lot of this comes from the way the film is shot, as much as from the hero. The film is all set within the same night, meaning that the film is very dark in the way it looks, though it does make use of some very beautiful cinematography to make Los Angeles jump out of the screen. Many of the scene make use of bold colours to make the locations sparkle, such as deep yellows and oranges in construction sites and warehouse districts, and bright whites and greens in an underground car park.
The film looks beautiful throughout, using the fact that it is set during one night to shoot the film in such a way that it makes the most out of what some would call a limitation. There aren’t many films set in Los Angeles at night that manage to make the city look the way Armstrong manages. It feels like a city we all know and recognise, yet has a look and feel that stands out as its own.
The films cast are well picked, and with only three named characters to lead the story, getting the right actors was hugely important. Vicky Jeudy, best known for her role as Janae Watson in Orange Is the New Black, plays Lauren, an EMT on her first shift. Nervous at starting her new job, and later we discover because she’s a recovering addict, we spend the most time with her over the course of the film, and get to see how she grows as a person over just a few short hours.
Jeudy is believable in the role, able to play the emotional young woman incredibly convincingly, and by the end of the film you come to believe her change into a hero, someone willing to risk their life for a greater cause. Her partner Eddie, played by Jason Antoon, has less character growth, but we do get to see a lot of sides to his personality as events begin to unfold. Initially something of a cynic and a jerk he never really stops being that person, but you do get to see his caring side. He’s not the most instantly likeable person, but he does feel like someone with a well rounded and thought through personality.
Armstrong himself remains the least developed character by the end of the film, but that’s okay, because his role isn’t to be the films hero, but to drive the story forward and help to forge the films real hero, Lauren. Shawn Parsons sells the role well, believable as a former soldier and a man on the fringes of society. Whilst we don’t get to see him performing any over the top or crazy feats that you’d expect from a superhero it’s okay, because that would feel too jarring for the film. He’s grounded and real, which is just what he needs to be.
Armstrong doesn’t have a huge Hollywood style budget, it’s not a Marvel or DC superhero film, it doesn’t have the money to splash out on big effects shots, so the special effects in the film are fairly fleeting, and because of this more effort is given to making them look good. The film won’t be held up as a technical masterpiece, or nominated for its effects, but it does manage to do the most important thing – it keeps its effects well crafted and realistic. I wasn’t once drawn out of the film because of shoddy CGI or poor practical effects, and that’s something that some big studio films fall short of.
Armstrong is a character driven action film masquerading as a superhero film, and because of that it’s actually one of the more refreshing superhero films I’ve seen in a while. With engaging and interesting characters, beautiful cinematography, and an ending that leaves the film open to a sequel, Armstrong is a film worth giving a chance.
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