Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Spectral


   Every so often, a sci-fi/action movie comes along with really good acting, great visuals, an excellent concept, and then... the last act pulls some miracles out of it's ass with cinematic duct tape and rampant implausibility. Spectral had me though. Spectral had me so hard. I was ready to slap a four star rating on this shit and move right the hell along. I was entertained from beginning to end and that certainly counts for something, still, but in retrospect, this fun ride was deeply flawed.

   The movie starts off really strong, lots of familiar faces and some excellently built-up intrigue. The first action set piece is phenomenal, and I was hooked. I really, really wanted to like this movie. However, there's two different movies here. One is a brainy and grounded science fiction movie, and the other is sci-fi action porn. The first 2/3rds of the movie are actually pretty solid. I was completely engaged and found the story seriously intriguing. The story follows a DARPA scientist/engineer who's called into the field to assess an 'anomaly' on some hi-tech optic-wear he designed for the US military.

   As it turns out, it's not an 'anomaly', it's some kind of otherworldly humanoid... thing. Invisible to the naked eye, but can be seen using the special eye wear. I half expected the movie to just run with the "ghosts of war" trope past all common sense. But, the fact that the hero of the movie was a scientist, and not a Schwarzenegger type gave me hope that maybe there'd be a more intricate explanation. And, fear not, there is one- and I really liked it, but holy shit this movie gets really stupid before it ends.

   See, the scientist goes out with a platoon of soldiers to try and get a better look at these unstoppably deadly things and eventually they find a means to keep them at bay. This doesn't tie into the last act in any significant way and goddammit, it should've. Instead of going with straightforward logic, the hero pulls it out of his ass that he can build extremely futurist 'focused energy pulse' weapons to defeat the creatures in an all-out siege on the place where it's believed they're coming from. How does he build these weapons? With scraps and a hot glue gun! Seriously!

   Now, a cynical viewer would've been taken out of the movie right then and there. It's the worst offending moment in the movie thus far. But, to me? The weapon building montage was awesome. It felt like something out of a low budget 80's B movie. The 'energy' guns end up looking proper fucking cool, and I want a video game based on this movie STAT... but therein lies the problem. Up til this point, the movie is dead serious. Characters have discussions about scientific concepts that I had to Google to make sure were real, and hot damn, they were. So why the bullshit cop out with the weapons?

   Hot gluing a random circuit board onto the side of gun, does not actually do anything. I don't care how cool the end result is. If you're going for something tongue in cheek like Evil Dead 2, Turbo Kid, or even an extreme like Kung Fury... sure, knock yourself out. But in a serious movie like this? That's absurd. It made me squirm while watching it, but honestly it only seriously bothered me in retrospect. If I were to watch this movie again, I don't think I could get through the last act without snickering and laughing. The movie doesn't have any kind of tonal buffer to help pull this kind of thing off. It's not a satire, there's virtually no humor, it's not tongue in cheek at all. But... the hero makes super weapons with a box of scraps and a hot glue gun.

   Tony Stark he is not. It took Tony a week or so to build his first Iron Man suit in that cave, but this fucker did what he did in one evening. Hot damn. Also, he gives an explanatory speech about "Bose-Einstein condensate" to a much of military grunts, who all thoughtfully nod like they know what the flying fuck he's talking about. It's the second silliest moment in the movie, but also highlights the fact that none of these soldiers really have personalities. We root for them by default, but not because the movie has earned our emotions.

   On the other hand, the cast is great. James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3) escapes mostly unscathed in the lead role. His acting was excellent and he carried the movie through it's weaker moments. Bruce Greenwood shows up as some military officer, and of course he gives the requisite non-drowsy inspirational speech before the big climax. He has less screentime here than he did in Star Trek. Emily Mortimer (Hugo, Shutter Island) is here, but she's absolutely wasted and kind of annoying. Max Martini is also here and he feels like he's reprising his role from Pacific Rim, for that he gets a hall pass. He's fun to watch, even when delivering cliche dialog.

   This movie isn't offensively bad, or even kinda bad. At worst it's puzzling, operating in a vacuum of logic and good sense. At best it's intriguing and just really cool looking. It has all the fancy visuals of a triple A video game title, as well as bombastic action sequences, eye-popping visual effects, and solid production design. It just doesn't have the brain that a movie like Edge of Tomorrow had. It's got the aesthetics of a Neill Blomkamp movie, but thankfully manages to be marginally less insulting to its viewers, and ultimately more enjoyable. The frustrating thing is that when the movie was good, it was really good. But when it was dumb... the soldiers might as well have just been using painted Nerf guns.

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