COSMOBALL (2020) Review of Russian sci-fi fantasy epic

 

‘The stakes have never been higher’

Cosmoball is a 2020 Russian science-fiction action-fantasy film about a huge spaceship that hovers over Earth hosting a sports event. Also known as Goalkeeper of the Galaxy

Directed by Dzhanik Fayziev from a screenplay co-written with Andrei Rubenov, Drew Row and Twister Murchison. The movie stars Evgeniy Romantsov, Evgeniy Miranov, Viktoriya Agalakova, Maria Lisovaya and Ivan Ivanovich.

The blockbuster-scale film is reportedly an adaptation of a French anime-style TV cartoon, “Galactik Football,” though the resemblance is slight at best. Cosmoball was originally to play theatrically in a 3D-stereoscopic process, but mass closure of Russian cinemas during the pandemic severely curtailed planned rollout and optimal exhibition, and likely contributed to the film’s very poor financial returns. Eventually, it was the first major Russian film release after the first lockdown on August 27, 2020.

Plot:

2071: After an intergalactic war causes worldwide famine, climate change and devastation on Earth (largely thanks to the moon being blown apart), life for humans is brightened mainly by Cosmoball, a dangerous, high-flying sport superficially resembling soccer, that requires lightning reflexes and talent for teleportation – this last trait one that has been discovered a very few young humans, but enough to outfit an Earth cosmoball team.

However, as the teams from different species compete against each other, only an elite few realise that in each game the players are fighting a furious, secret war in plain sight, with the fate of humanity hinging on defeating Cherno, a monstrous underground enemy…

Review:

Thanks to an expert English-dubbing job, one has the privilege of being able to watch “Cosmoball” in either the original Russian or the decadent-capitalist-running-dog tongue of the capitalist-imperialist West… Okay, maybe time to drop the Warsaw Pact propaganda stereotypes, as this is one of the numerous 21st-century Russian film fantasies (Night Watch being up there too) proving the movie studios of Moscow can now offer a digital-enabled, f/x-minefielded, popcorn-brained entertainment epic just as good (or, if you prefer, ungood) as what Hollywood foisted upon the proletariat for ages. This one’s just more, shall we say, comradely.

The premise (which may take a few rewinds to comprehend) is that Earth’s environment was ruined and the moon fractured when a mighty space armada fought an evil overlord named Cherno, who was cast deep below Earth’s crust and imprisoned.

In compensation, humanity largely reduced to peasant subsistence, earned acceptance into the alien community. Earth has the honour of hosting a giant organic, flower-like spaceship, created by master scientist Belo (Evgeniy Miranov) that is the arena for Cosmoball, an airborne, soccer-like interspecies sport avidly followed by all intelligent worlds.

Anton (Evgeniy Romantsov), an unpopular and awkward human teen, is one of few people anywhere with no interest in Cosmoball. But he secretly has DNA created by Cherno and, with it, the very rare human ability to teleport, necessary for proper Cosmoball play.

When Anton’s teleportation skills come to Belo’s attention, the bewildered boy is summoned to join Earth’s small Cosmoball team (who happen to be audience favourites as they ascend to the finals for the first time). Anton agrees to compete in exchange for advanced alien medicine for his ailing mother.

But Anton has met Cherno’s seductive daughter (Maria Lisovaya). A closely guarded secret is that balls used in Cosmoball are actually wave-eaters, terrible weapons conjured by Cherno and unleashed forth from his subterranean lair. Only by being kicked around in a Cosmoball game do wave-eaters lose their lethal potency – thus every Cosmoball match is a covert life-and-death struggle against the bad guy, fought right in front of the unknowing spectators. And Anton becomes a tool to sabotage the game.

The movie is a wild borscht mish-mash, possibly resembling something that Luc Besson might have dreamt up after too much Japanese anime, American superhero comics, videogames, Slavic folklore (the names “Cherno” and “Belo” should be familiar to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods readers) and, perhaps, rather a lot of vodkas.

Plus a monster that is Cherno’s ultimate terror weapon is a cuddly sort who might easily come from the same litter as the Luck Dragon from Neverending Story. Robotic, shape-shifting “sputnik” mecha-suits worn by the human Cosmoball competitors also have groaningly cute cartoon faces right off a Pokemon card set.

But very occasionally the material will throw in a surprise, and for sheer visual brilliance in set design and filigree, you can lay back and enjoy the ride. It is worth noting that, whilst in past American underdog-sports blockbusters that are a clear role model, players arrayed against the hero were typically brutal, even homicidal (and very often were scripted to be ruthless Iron Curtain athletes). Here, however, alien rivals of the Earth team are good-hearted sportsmanlike types, no threats at all.

They include a giant-sized set of Amazonian women in flesh-baring outfits, and it is perhaps a distinction that what in Russia passes for a children’s entertainment can still throw in a good degree of cleavage and nudity. Possibly a reconsideration of who really won the Cold War is in order, especially regarding sultry actress Maria Lisovaya (who, in her Cherno’s-daughter incarnation, looks like a Kabuki version of an H.R. Giger pinup girl). Really, had there been more Russian females of this calibre in the old days, top NATO leadership might well have defected to the USSR. Only to see a smug Kim Philby surrounded by his harem, saying, “Sorry chums, I was here first.”

Cosmoball must be quite something to behold in its original 3D. Try to watch it on the biggest, most capitalist-decadent screen you can get for the best results.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“The effects are done well even if you have seen a lot of them before. Being from Russia this movie is probably made for a lot cheaper than you would think […] Even though it has violence in it, most of the story is light and fluffy and an easy watch for people who want something not so serious.” Impulse Gamer

Cast and characters:

Viktoriya Agalakova … Natasha
Georgiy Bestaev … Molodezh na tribune
Khristina Blokhina … Amazonka Vo
Valeriya Bukhina … Amazonka Bu
Wolfgang Cerny … Borodach s Tayms-skver
Aleksandra Cherkasova … Mama devochki s respiratorom
Artyom Chetverikov … Drug muzhika s binoklem
Ekaterina Dar … Fanatka ‘Pele’
Olga Degtyaryova … Mama
Valeriya Dmitrieva … Molodezh na tribune
Pavel Dorofeev … Siriusianets 1
Mikhail Efremov … Vasiliy, sotrudnik politsii
Ivan Egorov … Malchik
Diana Enakaeva … Devochka na tribune
Ivan Fedotov … Vostorzhennyy eritel

Technical details:

118 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1

Original title:

Вратарь Галактики aka Vratar Galaktiki

Teaser trailer:

Trailer 1:

Trailer 2:

US trailer: