Movie Reviews: Mute (2018)

As referred to in my last review, here’s the second sci-fi film from an acclaimed director to come out this weekend.  The subject of today’s review is Duncan Jones.  As with Garland, his first film instantly put him on the map as Moon is one of the best sci-fi films of this century and fantastic from start to finish.  Since then however, his career has gone continually downhill.  Source Code was good and all, but it was a disappointment nonetheless and lacked any sort of staying power.  Five years later, his third film (and one he co-wrote at that) was Warcraft, an instantly forgotten video game adaptation that somehow made money when everything about it screamed “career-ender”.

But now we are at the film that Jones has promised for years, his true follow-up to MoonMute.  What once was perhaps my most anticipated film nearly a decade ago is now the also-ran that feels like it is being dumped to Netflix.  I know Netflix is trying to change that feeling and I was one of the few people who enjoyed The Cloverfield Paradox (The 21st century’s Event Horizon), but it still feels like Netflix Original means “film that no one quite understandably thought would make any money”.  Even films like Okja and Mudbound haven’t had that much staying power.  They are good but not memorable films and Mute seemed all too destined to join them.  Then again, Clint Mansell, my favorite composer and a major part of why Moon is so great, returns which alone makes the film notable.

Sadly, the film doesn’t even rise to the height of good but forgettable or even The Cloverfield Paradox‘s lovable stupidity.  It’s just a dumb, boring slog.  While the film is supposedly a spiritual sequel to Moon, it lacks the spirit of that film and instead just throws a token follow-up to that film which if anything cheapens the conclusion of Moon.  What was a wonderful bit of hard sci-fi, a genre so rarely seen in the movies, is now just a generic sci-fi tale or rather one specific sci-fi tale.

Set in a futuristic Berlin ripped straight out of Blade RunnerMute really wants to be that film.  Poor Jones waited too long though and in the decade+ interim this film was in production, the true successor (and significant improvement) came in the actual Blade Runner sequel.  Well that and about half the futuristic sci-fi works made in the interim which have taken the Blade Runner look as default cityscape.  It’s all very blue and neon complete with all the standard goofy futuristic hair and makeup and it’s just oh so tired.  I guess the film wants us to be impressed with its world but there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before.   The intricacies of this world aren’t shown, they are told with what feels like an ever so “clever” smirk.

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd with a fantastic mustache, and Justin Theroux’s smarmy face (and Noel Clarke of Doctor Who in a small role), the film has plenty of desperate noir trappings that seek to harken back to the period even more than the typical neo noir.  It’s a well-worn tale filled with two competing perspectives that both fail to be compelling.  Skarsgård plays a mute (hey, that’s the name of our film!) bartender trying to find his missing girlfriend and willing to tear apart the city to find her, one scribble at a time.  I’m pretty sure we are supposed to find the protagonists avoidance of technology endearing, but instead it does the opposite.  The fact that he’s played by Skarsgård doesn’t help as let’s be honest, he’s got the perfect face for playing a scumbag.  Then again, the futuristic technology and especially the futuristic cell phone looks dumb as hell and all the characters speak like they are in a bad ’80s film, so maybe he just has some stylistic if pretentious taste that informs his reasoning.

Rudd and his mustache are an AWOL mob surgeon and father who is trying to get out of the country, willing to sink to any brutal depths for the mob to get his papers.  The film is supposed to have this crack comedic paring of Rudd and Pedo Partner Theroux but their dialogue is just painful.  Maybe also don’t swing wildly between Theroux creeping on young girls in open hospital roles and him bantering with Rudd over and over again.  The film just cannot for the life of it pick a tone that it wants.  In Moon, there’s a sense of dread and inevitability that hangs over the film, but Jones allowed Rockwell’s humor to naturally emerge in opposition to that.  It was a man going mad in a cruel situation and using humor to keep him going.  Here the attempts at humor and the attempts at dramatic heft are at war with each other and both wind up failing.  It’s a Smokin’ Aces level of waste of Mansell’s work for pathetic attempts at drama and you don’t get to use mournful cover of “Heart Shaped Box” in your damn film.  I have to put up with this enough in lazy critically acclaimed TV shows and crappy trailers, don’t let it infect film too.

Mute is just a disaster of a film and not in an of the fun ways.  It wants to create larger than life and memorable characters and yet they are all obnoxious and/or hateable knockoffs of a better works.  It wants to be funny and thrilling and cool yet the humor is strained, the thrills nonexistent, and it’s about as cool as an ’80s sci-fi film aimed at kids.  It wants to create an awesome interconnected world but it all just feels too disconnected, as if he was making up new things as he went along with little regard to what came before.  It’s a two hour plus film that would just not end climaxes too early.  It’s very obvious why no one gave Jones the money to make this script before as this is a passion project with no passion or originality that makes you question his very capabilities as a director.  Following up the unique visuals of Annihilation with this garbage didn’t help this film’s case, but I’m not sure what film would have made for a good lead in to this.  It sure as hell wouldn’t be Moon.