Volkodav promises epic fantasy adventure but mainly delivers gore
Volkodav: Iz Roda Serykh Psov (Wolfhound from the Breed of Grey Dogs) has been touted as Russia's answer to the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. At $13 million, Volkodav is the most expensive film shot in Russia thus far. Volkodav is the first film in an epic fantasy series, and given its success at the Russian box office, it probably won't be the last. However, all the money spent on Volkodav's spectacular cinema photography and special effects cannot make up for an unoriginal plot or gratuitous violence.
In fairness to director and screenwriter Nikolai Lebedev, the novel Volkodav by Mariya Semyonova was not as good source material as J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved classic for a feature film. Nonetheless, fantasy and sci-fi fans who watched Conan the Barbarian will immediately recognize the plot of this movie as almost exactly the same.
Another poster from the film showing Volkodav, played by Aleksandr Bukharov
Like Conan, the boy who will grow up to become the warrior Volkodav (Aleksandr Bukharov) is born to a blacksmith who lives in a peaceful village in a magical, prehistoric Earth. One day a group of cannibals led by a Dark Lord gallop into the village and proceed to rape, burn and pillage. In a particularly gruesome scene, the cannibals murder the young boy's father and pregnant mother in front of him, and then sell the child into a life of slavery.
The boy grows into a hard man, and eventually wins his freedom by strangling his brutal slave driver. The man takes the name of his taskmaster, Wolfhound, and wanders the magical land in search of the dark lord who murdered his father. Volkodav remembers the Dark Lord's Skeletor mask and the tattoo on his sword hand in a series of flashbacks.
The film opens with Volkodav finding one king of the cannibals tribe and killing him to avenge his family. Volkodav then rescues a young girl and the old wizard while making his escape from the cannibal king's fortress. The quiet warrior vows to take the girl and the wizard to civilization. When a wagon train comes along carrying people headed for the nearest town, Volkodav has to beat up several soldiers before they agree to take the girl and old wizard with them. Among the people in the wagon train headed for the human city is the princess Helen (Oksana Akinshina - who played the daughter of a Russian MP who was murdered by Jason Bourne in The Bourne Supremacy).
When the party passes through a dark forest, they are suddenly ambushed by a shadowy group of attackers. Volkodav hacks his way through the attackers only to confront the Dark Lord. Volkodav chops off the Dark Lord's arm and forces him to flee. When the fighting is over, Volkodav collects the Dark Lord's sword and keeps it for himself. When the company arrives in the great wooden walled city, Volkodav is arrested for having the sword with a symbol of evil on it. The Prince wants Volkodav executed, but his sister Princess Helen intervenes to explain how he protected her from the Dark Lord. Volkodav becomes Princess Helen's bodyguard, and then we are treated to yet another fight scene when Volkodav humiliates a master at a slave auction and then sets his slave free.
Volkodav boasts excellent cinema photography shot in the Caucuses Mountains
After consulting with the prince, the king of the walled city decides that the only way his people can be protected from the Dark Lord is to seek an alliance with the cannibals. The king decides to offer his daughter Princess Helen in marriage to the cannibal prince. Volkodav finds himself protecting the Princess while accompanied by the son of the cannibal king he killed. During their journey from the walled city to the castle of the cannibals, the Princess' entourage find themselves under attack from bandits as well as servants of the Dark Lord. This part of the movie borrows heavily from the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but the viewer does get to see some spectacular shots of the Caucuses Mountains.
For the love of a princess...we've seen this one before
Predictably, the Princess who is pledged to be married to the son of Volkodav's enemy falls for the invincible warrior who protects her. Volkodav stays strong, however, and does not give in to her advances. Just when the love triangle seems to reach its height, a member of the party betrays the group to the Dark Lord. Princess Helen is captured and taken to a mountaintop as a human sacrifice for the Dark Lord's god. Bloodied and bruised, Volkodav rides with superhuman endurance to the evil mountain for his final showdown with the Dark Lord.
When I was watching this film at a movie theater on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg, I heard people in the audience snickering several times during the protracted fight scenes. Volkodav may not be my cup of tea, but if you like watching bloody sword fights and don't care too much about the story, this film could be worth two and a half hours of your time.
Film title in Cyrillic:
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