(Originally posted 17th March 2017 - minor spoilers)
First of all, let's get this out of the way – this isn't a bad film. I feel the need to say that because I'm about to explain all the things that are bad about it. But ultimately it's a workable action film; the type you could see three of every week because they're so common. Should this have been something better given the budget and creatives involved? That's not for me to judge. But yes, it should.
The most frustrating thing about this whole film is that it feels like there was a good story in there once upon a time. I came out of this with the sense that this was originally an interesting script that made points about the nature of man and war until the studio decided to put it through a couple of rewrites. Filter it through the execs and the director and some hired writers and now all you've got is a by the numbers action flick that hints at depth without ever really reaching down.
The film manages to hit every cliché in the book. Sometimes this feels like deliberate homage to the Vietnam war films that were so popular during the eighties – they tick off the seventies soundtrack like it's a checklist they have to get through. There are also desperate attempts to have that Jurassic Park moment of awe and wonder where the filmmakers must be imagining the audience just gasping in their seats at what amazing spectacle they're witnessing on screen. Apparently they haven't fathomed in the 24 years that have gone by since then and the slightly different expectations of the audience. And when Samuel L. Jackson says that line... eurgh. I felt dirty.
The basic plot is that a scientific expedition with a military escort goes to investigate a mysterious island. They find a lot of huge animals. Boom. What more do you need? Well, how about some realistic character motivation? That would be nice.
Samuel L. Jackson is miscast as the character of Packard, the veteran grizzled leader of the military unit who embarks on a bizarre personal vendetta against an animal. Jackson is a little bit too cuddly to play an unhinged war mongerer and his particular brand of bad-assery doesn't work in this context. By the end we can kind of buy into the fact that he's a bit doolally and he's gone all Captain Ahab on us but we have no reason to believe his journey and his behaviour doesn't fit with a military leader. Similarly, the subordinate played by Shea Whigham, who unnecessarily and inexplicably kills himself just near the end of the film without enough character justification for it to work.
There are many other nameless military grunts who are there to provide a body count and a few privates picked out apparently with the sole purpose of providing us with some “witty banter”. In a post-Predator world, there is absolutely no excuse for dialogue this weak in a military movie. Every single attempt at humour falls flat and it really disrupts the tone of an otherwise straight down the line action film.
John C. Reilly does his best with what he's given and as the resident eccentric character should be the comic relief. In another film it would have worked and frankly his character is the one with the most intriguing emotional story. Unfortunately, this is killed by a diabetes inducing and badly mis-judged closing scene.
If I was in charge, then Tom Hiddleston would have certainly ended any chance of playing Bond with this performance. He manages to deliver every line without emotional resonance or passion, as if it was completely disconnected from the last. It was like listening to a Barack Obama speech. It made me realise that the only other thing I've seen him play is Loki, and the concept that he is a good actor is entirely based on the opinion of others. Funny how some people can slip through the cracks just by being a charming bastard.
There are many other characters. Far too many, in fact, as they are given neither purpose or plot. The most obvious example is Tian Jing, who plays some kind of geologist on the expedition. Not only is the character entirely pointless as she does absolutely nothing and has approximately four lines of dialogue, but her presence was so incongruous that I assumed it was going to become a major plot point. Why is a Chinese woman on a secret US government/miltary expedition during the Vietnam war? And that doesn't even get mentioned?! I know you're just crowbarring Chinese actors into stuff to try and get some of those lovely Chinese dollars into your fat California pockets but at least put in a line of dialogue to explain it. You could even make a point about how the scientific world are more open to multi-cultural partnership than the military.
Which, by the way, is what I think they were getting at. It was very diluted but there was a point here that had something to do with creating an enemy based on your own prejudices, which is something that felt appropriate with the backdrop of the Vietnam war. That's probably the best I can do with it though. I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt that there was a message there somewhere.
But, as I say, despite it being a lot worse than it should have been, it delivers spectacle and explosions in the required amount. People will like this film, and those people are the reason that Hollywood will continue churning out mediocre meaningless films.
Basic but competent.
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