Armstrong is that rare superhero movie that’s better when the hero is off camera. It makes for a pretty interesting character drama when it’s focused on regular people whose lives are forever changed after an encounter with a superhero.
Lauren (Vicky Jeudy, Orange is the New Black) is a recovering addict preparing for her first night as an EMT. She’s partnered up with Eddie (Jason Antoon), a longtime vet who’s decisive, bossy and doesn’t mind a little light hazing. Since they work the graveyard shift, Lauren and Eddie anticipate a slow night … until a massive explosion requiring all units breaks out. The duo don’t make it as they literally run into a vigilante, Armstrong (Shawn Parsons, Justified), who’s trying to stop a terrorist organization from unleashing a national disaster. But when the organization comes after Armstrong, he’s going to need Lauren and Eddie’s help to save the country.
Armstrong doesn’t have a variety of super powers, but he does pack a bionic arm filled with enough gadgets to pique Tony Stark’s interest. The only catch is the arm is a power guzzler and Armstrong frequently has to allot for charging time. Eddie is probably the most relatable character as he acts in the most realistic manner.
Parsons brings an interesting take on the superhero vigilante. He doesn’t try and channel Batman, Green Arrow or Daredevil. Instead, he makes Armstrong a regular guy who’s got above average courage and a super weapon. But there’s something to be said for that charismatic, take-charge leader type superhero. Armstrong is hardly inspiring and is more well meaning than competent vigilante. Parsons also plays Armstrong as severely beaten down whether from lugging his bionic arm to conveying his various injuries through the night.
For large portions of the film, Armstrong doesn’t have a major presence. It helps to make him more mysterious and provides a different look. Nick Rufca’s script is more engaging in showing the wake left behind normal people when they meet up with a hero.
Some of that is because Armstrong’s arm has to be CGI budget intensive and Lauren’s story is more interesting. The HR department wasn’t really paying attention as Lauren seems way too easily rattled to handle such a high stress job. But more so than Armstrong, the film is about her journey to overcome old habits and find a new way to get through life.
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Nicholas Lund-Ulrich and Kerry Carlock make their directorial debut an encouraging one. Considering the obvious financial limitations — most of the film takes place in the ambulance — they show promise. I’d be curious to see what changes they would make if given a bigger budget. Would that have entailed more cast members, more locations or simply better effects?
Naturally, with a lower budget action film it’s the action that is affected most. Lund-Ulrich and Carlock try to limit the action sequences, but it’s unavoidable at times. These scenes need the most visual makeover to truly sell Armstrong as interesting a character as his civilian allies. Jennifer Kes Remington’s score often doesn’t fit the moment in the film properly. The score suggests more of a creepy, nerve-wracking thriller instead of a more relentless chase vibe.
In keeping with superhero films, there’s even a mid-credit scene to fully pay off the overall plot. Armstrong won’t be challenging Marvel Studios any time soon, but it offers up enough of a different perspective to be worth checking out.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo Credit: October Coast