It is rare to see a cinematic amalgamation of 1940s war film lingo, 1980s action movie heroics, and the historical reality of one of the most costly battles in world history. This hodgepodge of lightly connected scenes is set against the onset of the Battle of the Bulge and follows a mishmash of fictional characters. Directing himself in the lead role, Steven Luke and his motley crew of miscast bit players (and Tom Berenger) through a slog of almost offensively trite conversations and firefights. While the filmmakers’ fascinations with World War II may be apparent, Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland is a historically inaccurate, overly mannerist tedium through tired genre cliches.
In the winter of 1944, German forces muster to make one last desperate push to turn the tide of the war in Europe. Lieutenant Robert Cappa (Luke) and his battle-hardened platoon have been ordered by Major McCulley (Berenger) to hold a road junction that has specific strategic importance. Though Cappa’s men are drained and need rest, they dig in as the spearhead of the Allied defense, unaware that all hell is about to descend upon them in the thick woods of the Ardennes. At least that is what this film is supposed to be, in theory.
“…they dig in as the spearhead of the Allied defense, unaware that all hell is about to descend…”
Front and center is the overreaching robotic and caricaturistic acting of the entire cast, especially Luke. He relies on default statements of blind flag waving supplemented by Christian plot contrivances to carry an appreciation for his character when there isn’t much character to consider. This Robert Cappa is a fictional character, not to be confused with Robert Capa, a heroic Hungarian photojournalist (which would have made a far more interesting subject), but has little to no characterization beyond the typical whitebred, starry-eyed idealist over here to make the world right. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that kind of character if placed in positions that challenge them in intriguing ways, but as with most American action movie stars of the 1980s, he is a perfect bastion of goodwill, perfect aim, and seeming invincibility to direct hits by bullets (even when standing clearly in the open).
Supporting cast members, like Mikeal Burgin and Apostolos Gliarmis, are there only for the protagonist to have easy opportunities for crazy (yet always effective) heroics, and to spout off 40s-era one-liners (“You crazy son of a bitch!” as the indomitable Cappa rushes an enemy position and takes all soldiers out with singular perfect shots). These performances, coupled with the non-existent continuity (snow will be covering the ground, only to be gone in the very next scene with significantly more foliage in the trees, to then go back again), and endless traveling sequences with no character development make it impossible to take anything that is happening seriously…and the Battle of the Bulge is one of the most serious events in modern history. It’s hard to keep that in your mind when every German soldier can’t even get close to hitting their targets (unless convenient for the plot). The Americans don’t even have to duck, spraying M1 and Thompson fire almost indiscriminately with barely any kind of recoil or disadvantage (again, unless convenient to pull at heartstrings or plant a seed for a justified vengeance).
“…hard to keep that in your mind when every German soldier can’t even get close to hitting their targets…”
What it appears to have happened is that the filmmakers were inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, yet only took away the continuous meandering sequences with none of either work’s central dynamics or themes. Even with Berenger’s credibility and screen presence, the screenplay makes little use of his talents, while wasting far too much time on our petrified protagonist. With obvious particle computer effects in place of snow, and digitally animated tanks and bullets, the visuals are just appallingly cheap. The Americans are heroes, and there isn’t a solitary moment that the film will let you forget that, with the buffoonery and lackadaisical tactics of the German soldiers to be on par with any classic Schwarzenegger henchmen. The film tries to canonize these characters (by way of The Great Escape), but because of their hyper-dramatic representation and lack of all things accurate to history, it ends up making a mockery of the whole battle. At times I wanted to root for Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland, but it ultimately impresses as a half-baked film school project over a completely realized movie.
Battle of the Bulge: Wunderland (2018) Directed by Steven Luke. Written by Steven Luke. Starring Steven Luke, Tom Berenger, Mikeal Burgin, Aaron Courteau, Casey Sill.
2 out of 10