Story and World: Intriguing
Execution: Meh. It is just missing … something; some energy and excitement that, quite frankly, I’m having trouble defining.
Perhaps it was the outlandish species they created (which make some bit of sense in the economy they devised, but not completely). Perhaps it was the actors’ inability to act for green screen. Perhaps it was the amount of information they need to impart to give it all context. Perhaps it was just, simply, that the Waschowski’s (Cloud Atlas) wanted so badly to kick off a new franchise that they forgot to make a compelling movie and focused instead on almost pure action. And, honestly, perhaps it was the studios fault for launching a summer popcorn flick in February, when expectations and taste are in a different mode.
Whatever the reason, the movie just doesn’t rise to expectations. Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful) is compelling and strong in her role. Tatum (Book of Life) is somewhat one-dimensional, but has enough to drive the character… though a bit fewer reasons to keep his shirt off were in order. Bean (Black Death) delivers a solid performance, if nothing new for him. Even Redmayne (Theory of Everything) had some fun with it, though he has the flattest character of all in the piece. Booth (Noah) had echos of some combination of Stings’ and McMillan’s Dune performance. Middleton (The Imitation Game), who could have been another strong female anchor for the piece, became simply another prop and excuse for exposition. A shame really, as that may have helped balance out the testosterone-laden world (that used to be ruled by a woman… go figure).
It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy the ride. It is an impressive screen presence with some really nicely thought out tech and such. Even the 3D was well done, though a bit under-used and with a few close-ups that worked against the effect. The story, however, that threads all those pearls of action and visuals chunks of sugar-candy together is just a little too thin to allow the shape to rise to the intention. It is possible that it was over-edited, in an attempt to focus only on the visuals out of some misguided fear that no one wanted to have a story. But it comes perilously close to the level of The Phantom Menace in its resulting value… All that saves it from that abyss is the fact that the dialogue and relationships are just believable enough to not make you groan, unlike the relaunch of the Star Wars prequels.
Ultimately, this is a big-screen film. I don’t think 3D is necessary, but it definitely had its moments. Given that the story itself is so weak, perhaps going for every bit of goodness you can, if you’re going to catch this, is worth the extra bucks. The Waschowski’s have consistently misfired at the boxoffice since the Matrix was released. They either misjudge the interest, as with Cloud Atlas which was rather great, or with the execution (do we have raise the spectre of Speed Racer?) . They have a willing fan base, but are getting lost in the details or being very badly advised as the results are being honed. I can only hope they find their mojo again because they are some of the bigger thinkers in the biz… they just need to let someone else write the scripts.