Greetings from the edge!
Today I’ll be coming to grips with Armstrong, the 2016 sci-fi/superhero film from Screen Media Films. A rookie EMT and her partner have to help a stranger who may be Los Angeles and perhaps the world’s last hope against a strange doomsday cult set to bathe the world in a rain of destruction. Starring Vicky Jeudy as Lauren the rookie EMT with a tragic past, Jason Antoon as Eddie her cynical partner, and Shawn Parsons as the titular Armstrong, wielder of an experimental cybernetic prosthesis with fantastic, if erratic, powers.
Armstrong opens with a shot of an industrial site overlaid with 4:30 AM and then proceeds to flash back to earlier in the evening. First in fifteen minute increments then increasing in duration until we get to 11:30 PM, showing glimpses of the coming chaos before introducing us to Lauren – Vicky Jeudy having an anxiety attack in a bathroom. She calls her sponsor while struggling against her desire to fall back on a little chemical assistance. Normally this might come across as gimmicky or contrived, but I felt that it was done quite well and really helped build tension before leading into the title drop.
This segues into a late night conspiracy radio broadcast being listened to by Lauren’s new partner Eddie, played by Jason Antoon. After a little character development, an explosion in the distance leads to our EMT’s being dispatched to the scene, but before they can arrive they literally run into Armstrong and are dragged into a conspiracy to set off a series of earthquakes to bring about a new world order by a fanatical cult.
After two weeks of truly horrendous special effects here on the Edge, Armstrong’s are a refreshing show of restraint. While the CG never rises above the level of a good SyFy original movie, the director and the producers knew that less is more and, with a smattering of decent practical and makeup effects, manage to make the best of their limited budget. A lesson more low budget films would do well to take to heart. Nothing is going to blow you away, but you aren’t going to feel like you’re watching a cutscene from a Sega CD game… while bitterly regretting you didn’t buy a Super Nintendo. “Cough” Childhood regret that is apropos of nothing… ”cough.”
I’d like to take a moment to praise the performances of Vicky Jeudy and Jason Antoon, who bring both talent and skill to Armstrong. Jeudy delivers a heartfelt performance as a woman struggling to remake her life after watching it spiral out of control, and the battle between her desire to help and her fear of her own weakness forms the backbone of Armstrong. Antoon does a great job as a cynical and sometimes bitter man leary of the rookie he’s been saddled with, while never descending into being a completely unlikable jerk or simply being a cliche.
I did particularly enjoy a scene where one of the cultists is trying to intimidate a restrained Eddie into giving up Armstrong and shoots a homeless man, whose head ignites into flames ( that keep on burning through the entire scene. ) Armstrong then rounds the ambulance and, with a burst of fire, reduces the cultist to an ashen skeleton. The look on Jason Antoon’s face as he realizes just how much trouble he and Lauren are in is kinda great.
Armstrong is a tale of the hero’s journey writ small. It manages to make us care about our protagonists, unlike most films that cross my screen. Armstrong may be a modest little film, but it knows what it is and does its best to tell its story. With some surprisingly good performances, some fun action, and more heart than you’d expect, Armstrong is a pleasant surprise in the sea of bad low-budget cinema. If you’re in the right mood for some superheroes and drama, you could do much worse than give Armstrong a try.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
The post-ending scene of Armstrong gives us a shot of Lauren as the new Armstrong coming to the aid of an embattled group of soldiers. I have to say that if we do get a sequel and Vicky Jeudy reprises her role, I’d be interested to see it.
I’m afraid I don’t know if strategic nuclear blasts dropped down fault lines could be used to actually set off society destroying earthquakes but, as a superhero movie, I think we need to throw them a conceptual bone here.
Come back next week when we’ll be hunting down Cute Little Buggers. Bunnies meet H.P. Lovecraft as killer rabbits rampage through the idyllic countryside in what I’m realllllly hoping is a horror comedy. If I’m supposed to be taking life-threatening lepores seriously, we’re in for trouble my filmically fanatical friends!