First Hit: I loved the concept and thought behind the film, but on screen it lagged.
Using computer graphic (CG) actors in combination with real life actors is becoming more modern place in films. Here it is effective to create a world that Mark Hogancamp aka “Cap’n Hogie” (Steve Carell) creates after his memories have been literally kicked out of him. This is a true story.
Prior to the film’s beginning, Hogancamp is a graphic artist who goes into a bar, gets drunk, says something like, I like to wear high heels, to a group of four jerks. The jerks take offense, call Mark gay and beat and kick him to death’s door.
All his memories are beat out of him and his manual dexterity to draw is gone.
To keep his creativeness alive, he builds a miniature WWII village called Marwen (Mark and Women) in his side and back yards. Because so many women helped him recover, he finds dolls that represent them, and they are fighters against Nazi soldiers who appear when Hogancamp’s fears get triggered. The Nazi soldiers represent the men who nearly kicked and punched him to death.
Hogancamp’s alter ego is a doll called Cap’n Hogie who leads and fights with the women of Marwen. Together they battle the Nazi soldiers again and again.
In the battle sequences the film turns to the CG representation of the dolls. In these roles they are wonderfully done. However, as Hogancamp returns to reality, he finds himself taking pictures of the dolls that he’s staged in various poses throughout Marwen, sometimes even fighting the Nazis.
Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves in across the street and they strike up a friendship. Hogancamp falls deeply for Nicol’s kindness and kind inquisitiveness about what happened to him, the town of Marwen, and his cadre of doll women that keep the town of Marwen safe. He likes her so much he finds a new doll to represent her in his Marwen world.
Nicol’s boyfriend is a brutish jerk, much like the men that beat Hogancamp up. There are a couple of intense making scenes when Mark is talking with Nicol and the boyfriend appears.
Hogancamp is being pressed by his real life women friends, his lawyer, and Nicol to testify at the sentencing trial for the men that beat him. He’s reluctant to go to the trial and show opening, which causes him to slip into the dream world of Cap’n Hogie and the women fighters killing the Nazis intensifies.
Additionally, the brother of Roberta (Merritt Wever), one of the real-life versions of his fighters, is having a photography show of Hogancamp’s photos of Marwen in New York City. This event and the trial hearing are bringing things to a head for Hogancamp in the real world so the battles in Marwen are becoming more ferocious.
I thought the segues between real life and CG were really well done. The over done shooting and machine gun fire seem a bit excessive, but then again, they were dolls, so I guess it was required. The CG version of Nicol was wonderfully created and effectively done and captured the essence of Nicol.
Carell was good as Hogancamp. His Cap’n Hogie was even better. However, I cannot put my finger on what didn’t work and maybe it was because there were too many doll scenes. Mann was crazy wonderful. I loved her gentle kindness and empathy. She was perfect in this role. Wever was outstanding as the owner of the craft store where Hogancamp got all his supplies. Her support and getting Mark into a show in New York City was wonderfully portrayed. Caroline Thompson and Robert Zemeckis wrote this screenplay. I think they spent more time in the CG active doll world than needed and could have done more digging into the background of the story. Zemeckis directed this film.
Overall: I loved the end of the film when they showed a captioned picture of the real-life Mark Hogancamp.