Like any great science fiction franchise, Mass Effect has quite the extended universe. Whether it's the extraneous entries within the games, or the comics that fill in the gaps between the first and second games or the books that detail the crimes of Cerberus, Mass Effect has been able to create a living, breathing world that any author can use to create some interesting stories.
When I heard that there was going to be an animated movie done by Production I.G., I was happy to see that another group of artists were going to get their crack at this rich world. Then I heard that it was going to be about the exploits of James Vega, the meat-head Alliance Marine who was debuting in the last game of the trilogy. I was…displeased, to say the least. When you have about a dozen sentient species who have all been fighting each other for millennia with some pretty high stakes, I felt that it was a waste of a film to tell a story that Vega was able to spin in the midst of a boxing match with Shepard.
So now that I've seen Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, do I still have the same displeasure? In short, no, but that doesn't mean that the final product is any good. Hit the jump to read why.
Mass Effect: Paragon Lost [BD/DVD]
Studio: Production IG
Licensed by: FUNimation
Release Date: 12/28/2012
Paragon Lost is the story of how James Vega, the cocky Marine that joins Commander Shepard at the start of Mass Effect 3, became a reluctant hero. Vega and his special-ops squad are sent to Fehl Prime, a human pharmaceutical colony that's under attack by a band of mercenaries. After saving the colonists from certain death, Vega and his squad are commanded to stay on Fehl Prime and keep it safe from further attack. After two peaceful years, the colony gets attacked by an unknown species of alien that has been said to be kidnapping entire human colonies. When these 'Collectors' snatch the entire colony, Vega and his team must bust into the aliens' ship and save as many people as they can. Being an entry into the Mass Effect franchise, Vega is forced to make a difficult decision that will challenge his loyalties and his beliefs.
I'll get this out of the way now: non-fans of Mass Effect are probably not going to have any interest whatsoever in this flick. It does nothing to ease new fans into any of the conflicts that are prevalent nor does it explain anything of note about these species. All you'll be told is that the big bad aliens are the crudely-drawn giant lizards and the insects that fire green lasers. The film relies on your previous Mass Effect knowledge to know why the aforementioned crudely-drawn giant lizards are of a grouchy sort and why the main character hero-worships Commander Shepard.
For those that are familiar with any of the Mass Effect games, I hope you keep your expectations pretty low, as the story is narrow and doesn't bring anything new to the table. As I mentioned previously, the entirety of this story was brought up during a "bonding" session with Vega in the cargo hold of the Normandy at the start of Mass Effect 3. Much in the same way that people more-or-less knew what was going to happen during Halo:Reach, you already know the fate of most of the characters here. On top of that, you already know that all of this suffering meant nothing, as Shepard's actions in Mass Effect 2 made Vega's information moot. I really have to wonder why this film exists.
On a less harsh note, I was surprised to find that the movie made me like Vega more. While I wasn't particularly interested in Vega when I first saw him, I grew to like the guy by the end of Mass Effect 3. I found him to be amusing, charming and quite useful on the battlefield. It helped that his voice work was well-done, performed by Freddie Prinze, Jr. Now that I saw what he went through, I feel worse for him. Making the decision he made isn't easy; finding out later that it was for nothing is even worse. It's an interesting example of extended fiction making me like a character more after the official work is complete.
It helps that Prinze reprised his role as Vega for the film. Unfortunately, none of the other returning characters have their original voices. Admiral Hackett, Captain Anderson and Liara are done by different actors. They don't do a bad job, but after spending so much time listening to their original voices, it's hard to hear somebody else do them. I guess Prinze must have cost too much to get anybody else back. Oh well. Anybody who has listened to a Funimation dub will recognize the other characters in Paragon Lost. Unfortunately, none of them are memorable, which has more to say about the quality of the script than anything else.
Finally, the biggest strike against Paragon Lost is that it just doesn't look that good. I was surprised to see Production I.G.'s name attached to this flick, as it looks like some bootleg company worked on this. I don't know if it's the art style not matching the Mass Effect world, but not a single human or alien looks good. The worst is Vega, whose beefy body looks strange in this style. Krogans also look pretty atrocious here. I didn't think I'd say this, but I'd rather have the CG style from the Dragon Age movie over this.
All in all, Paragon Lost just doesn't reach the quality that it should have. It squanders the Production I.G. pedigree, it does nothing the flesh out the Mass Effect extended fiction and it lacks some of the voices that it should've had. That said, the depth it adds to Vega can't be ignored. The next time I play Mass Effect 3 and here Vega talk about his choice, I'll remember the suffering he went through in the last ten minutes of this movie. Even with that all that emotion, it isn't enough to get it above an average rating.
4.0 – Subpar. Though not offensively bad, this one is just plainly poor. It’ll find dogged defenders, but just can’t appeal to anyone outside that deluded circle.
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