So, there have been a couple of movies that haven’t really worked for me of late.
The first is Gantz, a live-action adaptation of the manga (and anime) of the same name.
The trailer, and in some respects the premise, are misleading. At the point of what would be their deaths, people are summoned into the presence of a black orb known as Gantz. It offers them the use of custom-made battle suits that vastly improve their speed and strength, and weapons, and orders them to hunt and kill various targets – alien invaders, as it calls them.
What you expect from that is not what you get. For a start, Gantz is indiscriminate in its summoning. Young, old, cowardly, stupid – all are summoned and told to fight, with little time and no explanation forthcoming from the orb. Here are the tools, it seems to say. If you need instructions, then you are beyond my help.
The invaders, too, are not as expected. All are alien, certainly, and all are deadly when threatened, but before each confrontation they are seen engaging in mundane acts, trying to blend in. One is burdened with his weekly shop; one is simply walking along listening to music on his ghetto blaster. One is listed by Gantz as “likes peace and quiet”, and doesn’t even bother moving until something explodes right next to him. The motive in killing them is unclear – are they really trying to take over, or are they just trying to keep their heads down and live a normal life? Gantz offers no choice to the indecisive, on either side.
What happens as a result is not an action movie, but is instead an examination of what happens when ordinary people are confronted with violent situations. They freeze up, act irrationally, fight amongst themselves, are repeatedly and gorily killed, and – worst of all – exploit one another in an attempt to survive. Even when they do resolve to team up and fight for one another’s sake, their sheer inexperience plays against them and no amount of hyper-tech can save their lives. Only the very few have a killer instinct, and they struggle to keep themselves and others alive. It’s hard to watch – dull at times – and the best description I can give of it is that it is a two-hour long episode of Power Rangers, where teamwork, bravery, and friendship have been replaced by grief, guilt, and fear.
I was far harder on it while watching it, primarily because I was expecting action and I got none, but if you’re interested in a story that answers the question “What would you do if aliens invaded and you had to fight?” with the brutally honest answer “Shit yourself and die.”
The second movie is Haywire.
Haywire got a LOT of press for the use of Gina Carano in the lead, and probably half again for the fact that the real job into movie role shtick was used previously by Soderbergh in casting a porn actress in The Girlfriend Experience. The tone of breathless excitement with which people could link these two things and thus cast an illicit pall over Carano’s casting says a lot about our culture, and our brains, and how we all have a long way to go.
Haywire is not a good film. This is not due to Carano. Arguably, she’s the best thing in it, although in consideration of the rest of the film it’s not hard for her to rise above it. The other performances are okay, and the surrounding talent makes the best of what they are given. Channing Tatum has perhaps the most significant arc out of all of the characters, and a case could be made in the argument that Aaron is the actual protagonist in the story. He’s the only one that sniffs the job he’s been handed and comes up with a whiff of shite, and while this is supposedly meant to establish Mallory as a doublehard badass, it comes back to bite all of them in the ass later as things fall apart. Everyone else is given a minimal amount of plot coupons to dole out at appropriate points, which they duly do with as little emotion as is required to fulfil their contractual responsibilities.
Carano’s acting, the big question mark over hiring someone who isn’t a professional actor, is fine. The plot is on a rail screwed down tight, with no twists or surprises or anything like a revelation in there, so really there’s nothing for her to do but sternly march forward along it, dipping into her slick repertoire of submission holds and punches that – for some unknown reason – require her to jump clear of the ground with both feet.
The real problem is the ensemble. The package. The direction is overt, obtrusive. Smart, angular shots cut into one another with a depressingly jarring regularity, drained palettes and monochrome shots appear and vanish again without ever having real purpose. Music blares in one scene, is muted in the next, and is always inappropriate. Smooth melodic overtones of Soderbergh’s most successful movies are smeared over the soundtrack like so much icing, except what’s underneath isn’t truly a cake.
In refusing the workmanlike tropes of standard action fare, Soderbergh seems to be challenging the viewer, sticking his chin out in a determined effort to be experimental. It’s all well and good to do so, and experiments should be applauded for the bravery it takes to make them, but sometimes you have to accept that – in the end – it just didn’t work.