Pretty damned good.
This movie was something of a singular experience in that I left the theater with a definite opinion on the film but after a nights sleep and a few waking hours to think about it I have more or less reversed it. My massive ego does not leave me prone to second guessing myself but upon occasion I realize I was slightly less correct than I could have been. This is such an occasion.
I feel like my late night slightly negative opinion is based largely on the fact that I have been seeing the trailers for this movie for months and each time I did I got more excited about the film. 2013 has not been a generous year for fans of science fiction thus far (based on some of the trailers I saw last night that is about to change dramatically) and I have been feeling a little thirsty for something good. In the trailers this looked like it could fit the bill nicely (although when I saw the directory Joseph Kosinski had also done Tron: Legacy I did have a few doubts).
In truth it really does, but during the course of the film I kept spotting what I thought were massive plot holes that just seemed like stupid mistakes for a big budget film to make. That really tainted my viewing experience. However the story managed to wrap pretty much every hole in the last 15 minutes, a feat that is not seen often in Hollywood. It was like being pissed at a friend for making you late to a show only to find out at the last minute he had already bought VIP tickets and reserved a parking space six feet from the door. The plot holes were like a sour taste in my mouth that some reflection and mouthwash were able to get rid of.
Thus we are left with a shockingly original interesting story with some really good twists and great action. The concept was very cool and the final twist was almost Matrix-like in being unexpectedly and well executed. The special effects were seamless (this is one of the very rare occasions when I wonder how it would have looked int 3D) and all the acting at least good. In general a credible stab ad science fiction.
That’s not to say there weren’t still problem, which I will get into in excruciating detail shortly. There was one thing that bugged the hell me the whole time: is Tom Cruise (or his character) supposed to be right or left handed? He consistently uses his rifle in the left handed configuration (left hand on the pistol grip right hand on the fore grip) but his pistol is on his right hip and he uses his right hand to shoot it. Perhaps there was some science reason for it but nothing was ever offered up. Petty I know but it really was the tiny rock in the shoe of movie watching that drove me nuts.
This film is super twisty and complicated so am going to great pains to avoid spoilers. This will result in my story recap being somewhat abbreviated but this is the kind of film I expect all of you to see and I won’t ruin it for you. Three of my black holes will include a bit of a spoiler but I will warn you beforehand. Tom Cruise (Top Gun, Minority Report, Mission Impossible) is Jack Hardy, a drone technician left behind on Earth after a devastating war against aliens has left most of the planet a post apocalyptic wasteland. He lives in a high tech sky base so advanced it makes the Apple Store look like the booth at the swap meet where the guy sells rusty old tools and broken lawn mowers. His wife and fellow operative Victoria (Andrea Riseborough-W.E., Being Human, Happy-go-Lucky) lives with him. Jack flys around in a super cool hover gunship that looks like ti was made of giant ping pong balls blued together repairing damaged drones (that also look like giant ping pong balls). The drones are there to keep the alien remnants called Scavs (or Scavengers) from damaging giant energy converters that are turning water into power for the human colony orbiting Titan. Jack has a fascination with old Earth and keeps dreaming about it.
Again, I don’t want to go into it too much. Jack runs into some other humans and saves one of them (Olga Kurylenko-Quantum of Solace, Hitman, To a Wonder). Things aren’t what Jack believes them to be. Twists get twisted and somehow Morgan Freeman surfaces dressed suspiciously like a helmetless Darth Vader.
First and foremost this was an original story. I have seen elements of it in other books or movies but this particular set up I haven’t seen before. Given how often I beat my fists against the unimaginative brick wall that is Hollywood script writing I would be a cad to not award this at least three stars. Three stars. The story was complex, cool, and convoluted in the best ways. One star. It takes a lot for special effects and CGI to impress me these days, but that plus some really great camera work made this movie fun to watch. One star. While Tom Cruise may or may not be a weirdo in his personal life, the man can deliver a solid performance. One star. The ship Jack flew around in, the drones, and all the super cool technology made sense and didn’t strain any disbelief. Good science fiction is not about creating technology that couldn’t possibly exist for hundreds of years (or ever) but taking existing technology and moving it along the logical progression to something believable. One star. Action was very solid. One star. In spite of a 126 minute run time pacing was great. One star. The movie was a constant debate as to which of the two women turned me on more (I know who my best friend would pick). Plus you (almost) get to see some bare ass. One star. Science fiction movie that is not a huge insult to science (Except for maybe the moon part. I don’t know enough about lunar gravitational stresses so I can’t comment. Plus I was always a Thundarr the Barbarian fan so I’d let it slide. Science image courtesy of the Nerd T-Shirts.). One star. Overall a quality movie experience. Two stars. Total: thirteen stars.
The black holes:
In spite of having a complicated and intelligent story the director obviously thinks most of us are idiots as he spoon fed us plot elements in the form of either an annoying voice over monolog (every element of which he later revealed as an expository scene or three) or just over explained stuff. One black hole. Like I said when I reviewed him in Jack Reacher Tom Cruise must have a clause in his contract that says he can never be anything other than the most capable, macho, moral super human on the screen. There is nothing beyond his abilities (also what is the deal with him and characters named Jack? That’s two in a row). It tends to drain some of the tension from the scenes. One black hole. The action labors under the PG-13 yoke like a bull trying to pull a plow through solid concrete. Humans die in kid friendly evapo-explosions and most of it seemed to be Tom Cruise firing at something off camera. One black hole. This is where the spoilers come in so SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT! You can skip ahead to the next paragraph or not but you can’t say I didn’t warn you. I need Hollywood science fiction writers to let go of the idea that the most valuable resource on our planet is dihydrogen monoxide. It was a stupid idea in Battle L.A. and it is a stupid idea here. The universe is up to its ass in dihydrogen monoxide (Pluto is 90%) most of which does not have pesky natives shooting back at you. One black hole. The movie was solid all the way through up until the end when they decided the final scene needed to have Jack fumbling around with the win MacGuffin. Has no one ever heard of a device that can be activated with a single flip of a switch? One black hole. While all the humans motivations seemed pretty clear, the actual bad guy perplexed me by being so blatantly stupid. Also they did the Phantom Menace and Avengers thing of having all the bad guys fall apart as soon as the controlling brain died. One black hole. Total: six black holes.
A grand total of seven stars. A very good score, although I think with a few tweaks it could have been better. Should you see it? If you call yourself a nerd than absolutely. If you don’t you are not a true nerd but one of those people who just glom onto the latest cool thing (somehow being a nerd turned into something cool. When did that happen? I must have missed the memo) like most hipsters, emo kids, and Tea Party members. Turn in your nerd card on the way out. Date movie? I think so. The characters are cool enough and the story nicely complicated such that a non-sci fi girl will still enjoy it. However, be warned that whatever Tom Cruise is doing to stay young and good looking (cryo-sleep chamber? Full body Botox injections? The life blood of young aspiring starlets?) is working at full strength and you will probably suffer in comparison. Bathroom break? Like I said with Trance hold it. Any scene you miss could screw up your comprehension radically. If you really have to go any of the scenes with Jack at his lake house are probably the most expendable, but just don’t super size your drink if you can.
Thanks for reading. More to see this weekend. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Comments on this film or my review can be left at the bottom here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to me at email@example.com. Talk to you soon.