Review: Welcome to Marwen

PLOT: After a near fatal beating leaves him with no memory of his life prior to his attack, a former illustrator (Steve Carell) finds solace in the imaginary, WW2-era world of Marwen, populated by action figure surrogates of him and his friends.

REVIEW: WELCOME TO MARWEN had all the ingredients to be a slam dunk. Based on a well-received documentary (MARWENCOL), director Robert Zemeckis found a unique way to dive into the story, using VFX/Motion Capture to bring the fantasy world of Marwen to life. It’s like a hybrid of his POLAR EXPRESS-era stuff with the latter-era adult drama of FLIGHT. Sadly, despite what I assume were good intentions, WELCOME TO MARWEN goes disastrously awry right from the start.

Part of the problem, and I hate to say this given what a big fan of his I am, is Steve Carell. A gifted actor to be sure, Carell is out of his range here. He’s fine in the fantasy sequences depicting the pulp-ish adventures of his heroic avatar Hogie, but when we cut to the real world Mark Hogancamp, who’s been left a shell of his former self following a brutal beating by a gang of Neo-Nazis, the film falls flat. You really needed a perfect calibrated tragic-comic performance to bring a guy like Hogancamp to life, at least in a way that would connect to a broad audience. In his heyday, the late Robin Williams would have nailed this. Tom Hanks too. But Carell never convinces in the part, with it seeming like a mannered, artificial performance through and through – right down to the way he smokes his ever present cigarettes.

In short, the character comes off as a creep, making fantasy world avatars of seemingly every woman he meets, so he can act out sado-masochistic WWII scenarios with them, which usually involve him saving them from rape-crazed Nazis (based on his real attackers) or vice-versa. Heady stuff, but Zemeckis, in an ill-advised movie, waters everything down to a PG-13 level, perhaps in the hopes of fooling family audiences into seeing this over the holidays. Based on the number of family walkouts last night he shouldn’t have bothered.

WELCOME TO MARWEN is arguably the worst film Zemeckis and Carell have ever been involved in. The Hollywood elements worked into the story, specifically everything involving his next-door neighbor played by Leslie Mann (who quickly becomes a new figure for him to play with) up the ick factor. There was likely a way to play out this storyline that would have worked, but Zemeckis, who co-wrote, seems out of sorts depicting this broken soul, with Mann’s character having no agency of her own, except an abusive ex who gives us another Nazi avatar for our hero. Likewise, the real-life ladies of Marwen also seem like fantasy figures come to life, from Gwendoline Christie’s cartoonish Russian caregiver (sporting an unfortunate accent) to Eisa Gonzalez’s lavishly dressed cook and Merritt Wever as the hobby shop owner who unconvincingly carries a torch for him.

In the end though, it’s the fact that Carell, as good as he normally is, seems too out of his range to play Hogancamp. That’s the film’s fatal flaw. He’s not able to evoke the nuanced anguish of the character, although he’s certainly let down by a two-dimensional screenplay. Everyone involved probably thought they were making something special, but the ingredients just aren’t right, making this a tough watch right from the get-go and a film best forgotten.

Review: Welcome to Marwen




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.