It was once said that in space no one could hear you scream. Luckily for fans of the Mass Effect series everyone from the Terminus System to the Reapers which dwell beyond the Omega-4 Relay heard the outcry of gamers at the ending of Mass Effect trilogy and EA released DLC to correct the issue. Now this review isn’t about the Mass Effect games but you really do need a core knowledge of the games to understand Mass Effect: Paragon Lost, an American English language movie by Funimation and starring Freddie Prinze as James Vega.
It’s really nice to see Vega, introduced in Mass Effect 3, as the main character of this story both because his character has a level of respect that sometimes borders on hero worship for Commander Shepard but is always very cool, calm, collective, and militaristic. When Vega shows up at the beginning of the game he salutes Shepard, even though Shepard has been stripped of H(er/is) title and rank and does so because he wants to not out of obligation. While Vega rarely accompanied my Shepard on missions he was an interesting character to learn about and interact with.
The action of Paragon Lost predominantly takes place after Shepard’s death and during the emergence of the Collectors. Some of the aspects that the movie does superbly are that the choreographed fight scenes. There are loads of fan service in the use of real weapons and tech/biotic abilities being incorporated nicely throughout the movie. The Collectors look disgusting, disturbing and BADASS, and the soundtrack does an incredible job of incorporating existing ME music while still being autonomous and distinctly made for the movie. Some sounds and songs ARE taken directly from the games but it serves to tie the new music into the story better as opposed to just reminding you “Oh yeah it’s a Mass Effect Story!”
Unfortunately for all Paragon Lost did splendidly there were a lot of problems. Within the script Vega, much like in ME3, comes across less as an interesting character who happens to be a POC and more like Dora the Explorer saying and teaching a Spanish word here and there to show “No, no he’s Latino, see he speaks Spanish occasionally!” It would’ve been cool to see Vega and another character, maybe another soldier or even Vega’s Asari love interest Treeya Nuwani, holding a real conversation with him in Spanish. It would have added a level of depth to all Vega’s squad mates that was unfortunately missing. It seemed like a missed opportunity as there were too many humans for me to care when they died. Because the number of starting human allies was so large very few of them had intriguing and distinctive characteristics. There was the tech geek, the woman who rarely spoke but could shoot, a woman whom a man was in love with who gets picked off early on, the man who regrets losing the woman, the reluctant guy, the guy who hits on all the ladies, the scientist who isn’t interested in the main character but you know they’re totally gonna get together. Everything is archetypal, every story has been done, but in under two hours you gotta work your ass off to make sure each of them has depth enough for the audience to care about their demise/survival and I don’t know if the characters had enough time to breath.
In addition to their unfortunate lack of depth, all character designs were amorphous. No character ever looked distinctively like themselves from frame to frame. I feel like a drinking game could be had; “Take a shot whenever a character, regardless of gender, looks like Betty Boop.” There are moments where syncing voice to mouth movement is almost impossible, and I really don’t think it’s Freddie Prinze or the rest of the cast’s fault, you can tell Freddie Prinze is acting his heart out and the story itself really does give him a variety of actions and things to do, it’s just so sad the visuals REALLY don’t support the acting.
This also brings me to a few points I need to put under a SPOILER banner. There were three moments in the script that I had a hard time swallowing.
- Treeya Nuwani is boring. She’s the damsel in distress which, if that’s the story ME:PL is telling, OK that’s the story it is telling, but I’ve heard the story of a big strong guy who needs to save a poor defensive frail woman about as many times as I’ve heard the story of a farm boy who has to go out and defeat an entire Empire. Maybe it’s because I’ve always played Shepard as female and the ME series has had some badass women (Tali, Miranda, Samara, and Aria T’Loak to name a few) but I thought the prominent badass woman was lacking.
- Dude working for Cerberus is working with the collectors to activate a beacon which will tell the Collectors about their own past… What the what?! Collectors wouldn’t work with humans at all! EVER! Collectors exist to process humans! They’re like husks with more training and cockroach-like wings! If an emissary from Cerberus walked up to the Collectors and said “We’d like to work together,” he’d step one foot on their ship, maybe say “We’d-” and then get processed into Reaper goo.
- The ending… He chooses to save Treeya and kill a thousand colonists. In saving Treeya he saves the data from the beacon. Unfortunately, as told to us in an almost minor bit of unclarified exposition within the ME3 game, the info is useless because Shepard is not only alive BUT just destroyed the collector home world… OOPS you killed a thousand people and saved your girlfriend only for it to have been in vain. While this quality IS one of the aspects that make this an ME story, they make sure you feel Vega’s agony while making the decision and how hard of a decision it is they gratuitously show Vega’s choice and the death of the mother and little girl Vega spoke Spanish to. This brings me to another point though, yes Vega respects Shepard and understand how hard it is to make decisions but if you had the death of THOUSANDS on your shoulders because you couldn’t save them would you nonchalantly say to the person who made their deaths meaningless a simple “I led a crew against the Collectors, all the while you were out stopping them at their core… It’s all good I guess though buddy.”
I understand that Vega’s got some emotional issues in ME 3 as well as dealing with this poor decision, but his decision seems more “I had to choose between the woman I cared about and a thousand innocent lives and I chose to kill the woman I love,” baggage more than “Dude… I killed a thousand innocent people,” baggage. Yes, he’s a Marine, and you need to look past yourself to accomplish your mission… but DUDE… too much to be believable.
I am quite happy they didn’t make all the woman HUGE breasted, they were all distinctly feminine but never went into that form of fan service, and I do hope if Bioware, Funimation, and all their subsidiaries continue to make one-off stories about those in the Mass Effect universe, the stories should reflect the concept art of the game a bit better, and include more badass females because I don’t want to continue to tarnish my taste of the Mass Effect series after the limited ending fiasco, because I know it CAN be incredible. Unfortunately for as much as Paragon Lost did well, there was too much it couldn’t do to keep it from being… well… Lost.