Review: Great looking 'Welcome to Marwen' misses emotionally

Steve Carell stars in fantasy action drama that feels a little, well, plastic

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Eiza Gonzalez, Janelle Monae and Steve Carell in "Welcome to Marwen."

The technical wizardry on display in "Welcome to Marwen" casts Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Janelle Monáe, Diane Kruger and more as action figure dolls living out a wartime fantasy in a make-believe Belgian town in World War II.

There are plane crashes, bar fights and shootouts in the town square, and director Robert Zemeckis — a pioneer of mind-blowing visual whiz-bang — makes his actors-as-action-figures look absolutely lifelike. It's a technology he could use to tell a killer children's story.  

"Welcome to Marwen," however, is not the best use of that technology. The story of New York visual artist Mark Hogancamp (Carell), who was beaten within an inch of his life by a group of neo-Nazi thugs at a local bar in 2000, "Marwen" uses its fantasy world as a way for Hogancamp to deal with his recovery and the complications of the world around him. But the emotional nuance of the story is suffocated by Zemeckis' sweep; it thrills and doesn't connect at the same time. 

Left out of the film's marketing (but included in "Marwencol," the 2010 documentary about Hogancamp) is Hogancamp's affinity for women's shoes, which makes up a pretty sizable portion of his story. That predilection led to his assault, and Hogancamp's taste for stilettos informs the bad-assery of the women in his stories and the kink of his world.

Zemeckis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Caroline Thompson, strives for understanding and normalizing Hogancamp's tastes, and "Marwen" does an admirable job of empowering him. But in a complex story of redemption and resilience with the blurring of real life and fantasy, it's one item on a list that contains a lot of other unchecked boxes.


'Welcome to Marwen'


Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language

Running time: 116 minutes