Athena: Goddess of War was a high budget 2010 South Korean television series (spun off of another television series) which plays heavily on a political/thriller/espionage theme. The feature film release is actually a compilation movie that attempts to hit what are likely some of the highlights from the show as it focuses on the love triangle that develops between three characters that focuses on the treacherous and murky world that the story takes place in. The event is set against the backdrop of South Korea about to go online with a secret nuclear reactor whose existence threatens a powerful cabal known as Athena that has been pulling strings behind the scenes to manipulate the world’s energy market and who then dispatches their deeply placed mole Son Heoyk to interfere with the plan. To help do so he places his lover Yoon Hye-in into a special South Korean agency that will be serving to try to protect the nuclear scientist behind the new technology, and it is in this duplicitous role that Hye-in meets Jung-woo, an agent that just transferred into the agency, and when assigned to work with him she finds herself having feelings for him and as the lie of her life collapses the three will find themselves drawn into a dangerous dance that threatens to consume them and a nation.
Few words should strike as much fear into movie goers hearts as “compilation film” and in fairness when done right such a film can be used to highlight themes and play up aspects to maximize the emotions of fans. Unfortunately often this maximization requires that one actually be a fan in the first place and while some films, particularly anime, can get around tricky plot issues with a few additional scenes to bridge awkward transitions live action is rarely as fortunate and this film isn’t really an exception to that which feels like a shame. From the opening one can see where the budget went as the production values are clearly evident from the visual presentation which passes fairly well when compared to some movies (better than a few over the last couple years actually) but slick images and some well done (though occasionally flawed) effects can’t cover for the fact that the piecemeal narrative that is constructed has major gaps that make it rather inaccessible to those who aren’t already familiar with events as the odd jumps in story and characters makes it hard to follow events as they dash in a seemingly madcap way.
Probably the easiest thing to compare the material here too is the US Television series 24 which played with many of the same themes of terrorists, anti-terrorist agencies at odds against a large and (at times) complex plot that spanned a number of locations and included a sizable cast (though with Athena not limited to a “day” the cast goes to many more locals) which adds to the depth of the series as a whole but really adds a layer of confusion for those just watching this film as it jumps from location to location-and sometimes from country to country- with little-to-no explanation at times to help those not already familiar with the story line. This is a killer for the film as it leaves the impression of being like a Bond film (though not one of the better ones) in many ways as clearly the action and character portrayals are there but the build up to events, even dramatic confrontations, is often not present due to lack of ability to shave the relevant plot points down and make them fit in the time frame which seriously undercuts the power they are clearly supposed to have.
Probably nowhere is the painful crunch that trying to edit 20- 60 minute episodes into a two hour movie felt more than in the relationship triangle that the film attempts to make its core. Obviously the series has more time to establish just how the characters are interrelated and then how the web of emotions traps the three principle characters but unfortunately whatever careful layering may have been done there is jettisoned in order to move the feature along and get to the important peaks in the story, even if some of the valleys contain the portions that might have made the first time viewer care about the characters. Instead of a build up what viewers of this film get is a sudden rush of action and drama as characters seem to move entirely too fast in the progression of relationships in one case and an almost complete lack of showing why one matters in the other that will likely leave many cold when the feature should be reaching its most fervent pitch as the climax rests on how these three will settle this impasse between them. While the film works as a bit of a bellow average action/spy film on its own its greater achievement may be in whetting the viewers appetite to see the entire work and the pieces that are presented here in context which may be a success for the creators looking to sell the series on home video (or those fans just looking for a highlight reel) but the end result here is a splashy espionage themed flick that contains a plot that borders on incomprehensible at times due to the splicing done to create it.