This movie starts out so well. Set in 1988 and starring Boyd Holbrook as a beat cop who latches onto a strange serial killer case, it's pulpy scifi noir, and I thought had a great chance of being one of my favorite pure-fun movies this year. But that was just the first five or ten minutes; by the time it ends, it's worked its way into being one of the most trite, self-righteous, garbage movies of the year instead.
|It's like he's trying to do penance for being a man. Just keep elevating fun movies! Don't throw your career away on guilt-ridden garbage!|
What caused the decline? As with most movies of recent days that have fantastic premises but flop into miserable piles of wasted opportunity, it boils down to an agenda. Films should have agendas; if they didn't, they'd never be anything but an unstructured mess of nothings. Most movies have an agenda to entertain, tell a meaningful story, or show a character grow into a better person. To be art! This movie's agenda? To promote an idea; the idea that some ideas should be restricted and punishable by death.
This movie says that if you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, you should do that, but not even to stop there, but kill his family and anyone who might have influenced him. (Otherwise they may simply influence someone else into being "Hitler.") It declares that to be a moral good and doesn't ever offer a counterargument. We follow the lead down the rabbit hole as he chases a murder suspect who reappears every nine years. He grows older and falls further away from his daughter in his obsession, until finally he is taught -- like in a Sunday school lesson time -- that the murderer is good, and that he must accept her deeds as such because one day he will believe as she does, and be the one to teach it to her in the first place.
|This is the Antifa version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.|
Plot twist! She's a time-traveler. And his granddaughter. When he first met her in '88, he killed her, and in 2015 when these realizations come, it is too late for him to fix anything, though she hasn't gone through it yet. Also, he's made a miserable life for himself and his daughter over the past 27 years, and none of his action resulted in anything. Understandably, he's upset. So, what happens after that? Nothing. He accepts it all like the good, contrived fictional character he is, and the film wraps up with a hopeful sermonette on the importance of saving the future by any means or some such BS.
Because the future is apocalyptic and the lead's granddaughter's mission is to kill just the right people in the past, whether they be innocent or guilty, to prevent the apocalypse. It's like if Skynet were presented as the good guys. They'd blame John Connor for the war (he did resist their takeover, after all!) and use that to justify killing Sarah Connor and anyone else who gets in the way. Their ultimate goal is to prevent a war! How could you possibly call that evil??
The movie aims to never allow the validity of their moral reasoning to come into question. There's no debate presented within the movie's pondering, and though the lead is crazed to stop the killer, he never argues with her once she explains her actions. She's clearly the twist good guy, and he is clearly just ignorant; misunderstanding the situation. This winds up hitting the movie's quality down from two directions. First, who is ever going to enjoy a movie where that boring monstrosity is the lead's arc? The film ends at his lowest point and he's never given a chance to overcome anything, decide anything, or have ultimate triumph. The "triumph" is taken from him and given to his granddaughter, who never earns her spot as hero.
|Makes me want to watch The Predator. A dumb fun movie where he gets to be heroic.|
Secondly, it hits the movie from a messaging standpoint. These days all movies seem to have a message of some kind -- and by that I mean a meaning to takeaway that is intentionally added by the filmmakers. All good art has meaning of some kind, but I remember a day when that meaning was merely what the viewer saw in the art. And nowadays most films will add a little straw-man counter argument at least, so they can knock it down easily and make their message look even better. I suppose this movie was afraid of counterarguments. And well it should be; all it takes is for someone to point out that killing an innocent person is morally wrong, and the whole movie crumbles like a house of cards made of dry sand.
This whole movie is like if you were to cook a spaghetti noodle by dipping it incrementally deeper in the hot water. (The hot water is a metaphor for all this movie's indoctrinating hot air.) The end of the noodle you'd hold onto is the extremely solid premise and set-up. Then the longer the noodle soaks in the garbage water, the softer and limper it becomes until by the end it disintegrates into nothing -- overcooked until its structure fails.
The evil ideas on a pedestal here eat into every aspect of the movie. If they don't directly influence it, they distract from anything that could be worthwhile as the filmmakers clearly don't care about constructing a clever scifi mystery at all. The scifi and time-travel is a means to an end, never explained beyond a vague "the moon allows for it." They don't care about character, or they wouldn't have destroyed their lead to make their point. And they don't care about entertaining through world building or visuals or anything else. Good actors give lazy and contrived performances, and the action is messy, and unforgivably bland.
|The antithesis of Minority Report. And Minority Report had the good grace to present the appeal of the other side.|
I can ignore bad, even evil ideas if the rest of the movie is good and high-quality. I can even ignore if a movie is low-quality in technical aspects but at least has an entertaining story. I was open to forgive this movie's horrible progressively worsening slog of preaching and cheap storytelling; all it needed was to give me one solid thing to hold onto. One. It had a gigantic head start, being two sub-genres deep into my favorite genre, and starring someone who makes even the worst crap worth watching, playing a character set up with great potential.
How they lost it is almost beyond me. Almost. They failed and lost because even though their starting point was two steps away from a successful finish line, when the race began, they sprinted backwards. In the Shadow of the Moon is the sad and frustrating proof that any movie can ruin itself if it tries hard enough.