The Callisto Protocol has some famous actors in it. It also has the most middling story I’ve seen in a game this year. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, as much as the developers behind expensive prestige games might hope they would be.
In Callisto Protocol, you play as Jacob Lee, a space trucker who gets hauled into Black Iron Prison after his ship crashes on Callisto, a moon of Jupiter. The crash is caused by Dani Nakamura, a mysterious character who violently boards the ship for reasons unknown.
Jacob and Dani are played by Josh Duhamel and Karen Fukuhara. Duhamel is best known for his roles in the Transformers movies, though he also starred in a string of romantic comedies and dramas in the early 2010s, opposite stars like Katherine Heigl and Kristin Bell. Fukuhara is best known for playing Kimiko, a series regular on Amazon’s The Boys. She's also played roles in big budget movies like Suicide Squad and this year's Bullet Train.
Both Duhamel and Fukuhara are recognizable Hollywood faces and their presence suggests that The Callisto Protocol will have the dramatic chops to tell an interesting story. It doesn’t. Duhamel and Fukuhara aren’t bad, but they have nothing to do. Their characters are as flat as Jacob's skull after a particularly brutal death animation. All of the dialogue we have between them serves to move the plot along and there isn’t a line they speak that hasn’t already come out of the mouths of a million action heroes. As a result, their characterization is about as complex as the characterization you would give a chess piece.
Which makes the inclusion of Duhamel and Fukuhara feel like an attempted shortcut. Sure the story isn’t good, but if we populate it with famous faces, maybe we can trick the audience into thinking it’s better than it is? It’s not dissimilar from the way Nintendo’s upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie cast Chris Pratt, despite the Guardians of the Galaxy star obviously being a weird fit for the character. I'm not a Pratt hater — I loved his work on Parks and Rec and his pretty wonderful voice performance in Pixar’s Onward — but he’s so obviously a bad choice for the role, that the calculated nature of the move becomes transparent. Between Jurassic World and Guardians, Pratt is the lead of two of Hollywood’s biggest franchises, and Illumination and Nintendo seem to be betting on his box office bonafides. They're doing the same thing in casting Anya-Taylor Joy and Jack Black — those stars just happen to be well cast.
It seems unlikely that any of those stars' presence will have much of an impact on the Mario movie's box office haul. Mario is bigger than Pratt, and gaming’s most iconic character probably doesn’t need any help on the name recognition front. He's a known quantity. The same can't be said for The Callisto Protocol, which — despite the Dead Space pedigree behind-the-scenes — is a new property. It's understandable that Striking Distance would go for a celebrity cast as a way to stand out, and Duhamel makes sense, given that he previously worked with Callisto's director, Glen Schofield, on Call of Duty: WWII.
But, casting stars isn't enough. If their presence is going to be worthwhile, there needs to be some meat on the bone, too. If there is, a game can make stars of less well-known voice actors. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are two of the best known actors in video games because of their remarkable performances in The Last of Us. That game might have worked with 2013 era stars like, say, Gerard Butler and Dakota Fanning, in the roles. But, aiming for big names can distract from what's really important. In The Callisto Protocol's case, it may have distracted from crafting a story that was worth telling in the first place.
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