I'm a fantasy geek. I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time series. My tastes in video games run toward the fantasy RPGs and MMOs, and you can bet every last cent that I will play a mage class, destruction magic if possible (still haven't learned how to shoot fireballs from my hands in real life, though).
So when I was approached about a year ago by a guy who followed Moviepilot's fantasy page religiously and explained to us he and a few others were trying to get an indie fantasy film series off the ground, of course, I was down to help spread the good word about their Kickstarter project.
Lo and behold, that project was Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, and that guy was co-star Jake Stormoen (whom some of you might remember from our Actor Diaries series).
Fast-forward a year later, and the screener link was before me. But I was nervous. Even as a fantasy fan, I admit, high fantasy is exceptionally hard to do well. Go too heavy on the magic and creatures, and you run the risk of falling into complete cheese factor territory (I recently screened Seventh Son and got a stark reminder of that). But go too light on them and you miss the point of the genre completely.
I'm happy to report that I need not have worried. Mythica nails the tone of high fantasy. Admittedly, the plot suffers a bit, as most fantasy does, from a weakly-defined catalyst to get things rolling: There is a stone of great power that must not fall into the wrong hands. Predictably, it falls into the wrong hands and it's up to our heroes to stop them. In other words, your generic MacGuffin plot. But what the story lacks in being fully fleshed out is more than balanced by the characters.
Our main protagonist is Marek (Melanie Stone), a crippled but plucky slave girl who has secretly been learning magic from her trainer and only friend, the nomadic Gojun Pye (Kevin Sorbo). She dreams of adventure, and when she finally escapes her brutish master one night, she sets off to find it. Heading to an inn renowned for being a gathering place for adventurers, she offers her aid to priestess Teela (Nicola Posener), whose sister - and stone of power - have been kidnapped by orcs.
And indeed, while men join them on their quest - I'll get to them in a minute - it is the women that are the engine of the film. Posener plays priestess Teela with a quiet determination and grace befitting of a woman serving a divine goddess, wise beyond her years but with a real affection for her companions.
But it is Stone's portrayal of Marek upon which the entire film rests, and she shines in the role. From her introduction, you like Marek, whom Stone plays with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. Clever and determined, Marek is the heart of the group and you find yourself rooting for her to succeed simply because she's so damn endearing.
The honest friendship between Marek and Teela blossoms quickly, and it's a joy to watch a movie in which the female protagonists aren't secondary characters needing to be rescued by men, but the other way around - indeed, it is the women who do the saving. Mythica passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and then some.
Still, the men hold their own on the screen. For their rescue mission, Marek recruits Thane (Adam Johnson) a world-weary soldier with a good heart, searching for a dignified existence, and Dagen (Jake Stormoen), a roguish thief who enjoys nothing more than gold - except maybe using that gold to bed beautiful women.
Unlike Marek and Teela, who are open and honest about who they are, you get the sense that both Dagen and Thane have walls they have built through years of hard experience. Where the women are determined and open, the men are cynics. But as the group inevitably grows closer, slowly, that cynicism is chipped away piece by piece.
Fantasy fans will be happy to know that Mythica takes equal care with the world-building and visuals, too. One of the reasons fantasy films have lagged behind is that no one has yet found a way to make magic look as realistic and visceral on screen as, say, superheroes flying around and explosions. But for an indie film, the effects are high quality. Visually pretty but with a more grounded take on the special effects, it actually makes you feel as if, were magic to exist in reality, this is what it would look like. Not all glitter and perfect CGI, but with a raw quality that you'd expect in the hands of a novice.
Likewise, writer-director Anne K. Black brings the same good eye that she has for those visuals into the fight scenes. While Mythica is the first of a planned series of movies and does involve character introduction and set-up, it is not at all light on the action. Our characters get knocked around - a lot. They bleed and they kick ass and get their asses kicked. The pace moves swiftly. This isn't Frodo & co. walking for a hundred miles of exposition, but characters that are thrown into the thick of it right from the start.
I really hope this gets picked up for distribution somewhere, and I hope it gets picked up as a series. We need more of this in our world - a high fantasy project that's true to the genre, a fantasy series where, for once, the women shine even more brightly than the men.