Well after one great future set sci-fi action film, the world was indicating that the time was right for the other prominent future set sci-fi action film to be watched. While Upgrade had a bit of John Wick in the feel of the combat (though don’t for a second think the fight quality of the former was anywhere near the latter), Hotel Artemis more boldly just takes the idea of The Continental hotel from those films and expands it to feature length. Perhaps that isn’t fair to this film as it is far more of a hospital (still for criminals) now, but in broad strokes, it is remarkably similar. Also, there’s another film this is better compared to in plot and quality; The Purge.
Coming to us from debut director Drew Pearce (co-writer of the underrated Iron Man 3 and writer/director of the fan pandering, idiotic short All Hail The King), Hotel Artemis continues a long tradition of films dating back to Grand Hotel featuring a number of intersecting stories centered around a titular hotel. It’s far smaller in scope this time though with the main groups being the brother survivors of a bank robbery gone wrong (American Crime Story‘s Sterling K. Brown and Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry), an arms dealer (It’s Always Sunny‘s Charlie Day) and a hitman (Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella) all being presided over by Jodie Foster and Guardians of the Galaxy‘s David Bautista as they try to heal and take care of their patients all while a riot occurs in the city outside. It’s quite the all-star cast and that’s not even counting Jeff Goldblum, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto and Kenneth Choi. It’s just a shame the film can’t find an interesting character or story line to save its life.
Bautista and Brown seem to the two who know best what type of film they are in with ably handling the action and moments of wit and self-awareness that comes from being a hulking, heavily tattooed man in orderlies. Brown on the other hand effortlessly moves from scene to scene, having a way of drawing that spark of life from the eyes of other performers and controversially, actually having an arc. Doesn’t change that the dialogue that they are given is as awful as everyone else’s, an ungodly mix of 90% exposition and 10% alleged quips, but they make do with what they have. The only other character who gets something resembling an arc is Foster’s nurse, but not only does the ultra-serious tone bring down the movie whenever they try to crowbar in her backstory. Goldblum hams it up (as it should be), Quinto yells a bunch, Day is uncharacteristically insufferable, and the frequently underserved Boutella is given half a character, but it’s an embarrassment of riches serving nothing.
Then again, trying to figure out what this movie is actually about is harder than you’d think. It’s not for example a John Wick style action film. The action is minimal and unimpressive, mostly held until the end. The much-vaunted rules of the place seem to exist more for reference to John Wick than to serve any practicality. Like so many other things, they get talked about a lot, but they ultimately don’t amount to much of anything. That rioting in the streets, well it is over water shortages against a probably brutal state and yet it serves as little more than mostly offscreen instigator of annoyances for our main cast as they hole up away from it all. They are a third party with minimal thematic significance except for Day to act smug a bunch.
It’s where The Purge comparisons come back into play. Where that first movie set up a cool idea for a movie with all sorts of ethical and political and societal conversations to be had and then just made a largely disconnected, dull home invasion movie. It also is similar in that Hotel Artemis also has a sort of home invasion theme, or would, but there doesn’t even feel like a threat of an invasion, just dialogue that keeps telling us that “no really, they are totally going to invade this hotel at some point and not just stand outside looking cross”. Panic Room, incidentally starring Foster, this is not as much as they laughably try to talk about how secret and secure their giant building with seemingly one habitable floor, a giant neon sign, and so many entry points (“I thought it was just a myth” my ass). It’s also not just a fun “throwing interesting characters together in a tight space together” because as I indicated earlier, they are neither especially interesting, nor do they interact like human beings.
So, it’s not an action film, a dystopian sci-fi story, a home invasion movie, a suspense film, or a character piece. It’s just a test of the audience’s patience even at a reasonable length. Pearce just writes under the assumption that a little of everything creates a perfect variety when in the end it just creates a mess. Boutella was in another disappointing Wick-inspired film in Atomic Blonde, and while that one also made the mistake of getting lost in what kind of film it was trying to make, it did at least succeed in making a few great action moments. Hotel Artemis only succeeded in reminding that films like John Wick and Upgrade are no minor successes. Maybe it can mirror The Purge and reach mediocrity by Hotel Artemis 3.