Nerdlocker Movie Review: Welcome to Marwen


This is a film that has left me a bit conflicted. On one hand the story is fascinating and the man that inspired the film is someone that should be known. On the other hand the approach to the story, to animate the world that Mark Hogancamp has created took me out of the seriousness of it all. I understand the meaning of literally bringing it all to life but in many ways it loses the severity of it, the importance of it. It can feel silly when in reality this is a means of coping with a moment in this man’s life that changed everything he understands himself to be. It scarred him literally and figuratively, deep within his soul leaving a shell of a human. It’s in the self-made town of Marwencol that he finds his worth, he finds his strength to face the harsh realities of a world that quite literally nearly killed him.

Animating the world he created makes it feel cheap, like it’s a fun game to pass the time. I played with action figures when I was young, that’s what this feels like rather than a man trying to survive his inner demons.

Visually speaking Welcome to Marwen is gorgeous as it seamlessly combines with the real world. At times it can even feel like it’s all the same universe where WWII Marwen, a made up place, thrives in modern day New York. But for the most part the living dolls fighting Nazis feels like nothing more than a distraction from a far more interesting and relatable story. Now I understand that his town, now known as Marwencol, is so much of his life and his continued happiness but this could have been conveyed without a bunch of over-the-top CGI. I wanted to know Mark’s story and you do get to know him but it’s interrupted by dolls fighting Nazis with the deeper meaning of it all getting muddled in a cluster of action that just feels unnecessary.

The moments when we’re immersed in the town and the scenarios he creates within his mind are a representation of what he faces in his real life on a daily basis. I understand this but I think the emotional catharsis his dolls have on him could have been showcased in a less cinematically jumbled form. There is, no joke, a scene involving a time machine that I’m sure by pure coincidence, looks exactly like the DeLorean from Back to the Future. If you know who directed those films and Welcome to Marwen you’ll know why this is silly as hell. While he may have actually created a time machine for his dolls the association between the director and that car is enough to make you forget what in the hell this whole thing is really about.

The scenes within the world of Marwencol could have been its own film complete with undying Nazis and lava lamp fueled time machines. The story of Mark Hogancamp turning to his art as a means of coping with tragedy should have been shown entirely within reality from his perspective. It should have shown what his life was before the attack, the attack itself, his physical recovery and the creation of a fantasy town filled with the people in his real life helping him find a reason to go on. It’s almost as if they felt his story wasn’t cinematic enough and so Zemeckis couldn’t help himself and overwhelmed what should have been a heartfelt, heartbreaking story of survival; not only survival but the will to continue finding the beauty that living has to offer.

It should have been about finding one’s art and the amazing feeling of euphoria this can create within a human being, even those of us damaged beyond belief. When the dolls are alive it has meaning but it ends up taking away from what could have been an impactful drama of moving on and finding beauty even in the smallest of ways no matter the form it presents itself. Whether it’s creating scenes from WWII using dolls or wearing six inch heels or drinking tea, it should have been a message of acceptance. I love the town of Marwencol but I didn’t really need to see it literally come to life, that’s not the life I was interested in learning more about. They did too much when a lighter touch would have not only sufficed but ultimately made a more compelling and lasting film.

Rated PG-13 For: sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language
Runtime: 116 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama
Starring: Steve Carell, Merritt Wever, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Mann
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 3/ Directing: 3/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 2.5 Nerdskulls

Buy to Own: No

Check out the trailer below:

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Chase Gifford

"Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world"-Jean-Luc Godard