Hunter Killer, 2018.
Directed by Donovan Marsh.
Starring Gary Oldman, Gerard Butler, Common, Ryan McPartlin, Linda Cardellini. Michael Nyqvist, Michael Trucco, Caroline Goodall, Zane Holtz, Toby Stephens, David Gyasi, Gabriel Chavarria, Carter MacIntyre, Taylor John Smith, Henry Goodman, Colin Stinton, Shane Taylor, Will Attenborough, Christopher Goh, Sarah Middleton, Mikhail Gorevoy, Adam James, Corey Johnson, Alexander Diachenko, and Ilia Volok.
An untested American submarine captain teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general.
If Hunter Killer had stayed underwater for the duration of its running time, there might have been something worthwhile to come out of it. Unlike most Gerard Butler action vehicles, this one has more of an espionage thriller feel to it, and a dialed back performance from the macho leading man of such “America fuck yeah” movies; it still clearly functions as military propaganda that is disinterested in humanizing any of its soldiers or telling a remotely believable story about the potential emergence of World War III, but at least it’s not total balls to the wall, nonstop bloodshed and fist-pumping gunplay.
Admittedly, Hunter Killer is tolerable when watching the forgettable crew attempt to make sense of the complex situation they find themselves in (multiple submarines have been attacked and it’s not quite clear whether America or Russia or another party entirely is to blame); early on it’s discovered through some detective work that one of the subs exploded from the inside rather than outside forces. The fact that Gerard Butler isn’t screaming and shouting his way through the role like the past 47 movies he’s done, is again, a pleasant surprise. There are also some nifty moments such as the crew leaning forward from head to toe when a submarine nosedives underwater to first survey the damage, showing that at least one person responsible for this snoozer (the film is directed by the unproven Donovan Marsh, who has dabbled in political filmmaking before but not something serious and adult-oriented like this, with Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss adapting George Wallace’s and Don Keith’s novel Firing Point) did a lick of research to try making select portions of the experience authentic.
The problem is the overall narrative, whether it’s following around Gerard Butler seemingly in over his head as a new captain, or a sleepwalking Gary Oldman (make no mistake about it, the importance of his name credit comes from having recently won an Oscar, containing no correlation to his work or character here which is essentially nonexistent), Linda Cardellini as part of the NSA, Common as an admiral (he especially looks bored and delivers a wooden performance, which is a shame considering he’s been on a nice string of strong roles), the doublecrossed Russian president, a fellow Russian naval captain (the recently deceased Michael Nyqvist in his final performance), or the American military ground troops that are tasked with saving the day Call of Duty style, is littered with clichéd dialogue and uneventful set pieces.
It’s extremely frustrating since every once in a while there will be a genuinely clever moment, such as the American and Russian naval captains forming an unlikely alliance to navigate through some sonic and invisible traps. Usually, Hunter Killer then transitions into another segment showcasing some bland, stereotypical military troops doing their part of the rescue mission. The film swaps between underwater, land, occasionally sky, heavy artillery, sniper rifle sequences, all wrapped into a fairly silly plot that, again, often does feel like a Call of Duty campaign lacking in the over-the-top excitement. If the movie stuck to the submarine components, the filmmakers would probably have more interesting material to mine. Missiles are fired what feels like every 20 minutes here, and while the CGI is completely ghastly, the aftershock and whiplash, not to mention severe ship damage, the crew face also feel grounded in something real. It may be difficult to keep track of what is going on during some of the evasive maneuvers, but at least something different is unfolding on screen.
Then there is the villain, who is given zero motivation besides being labeled a madman and who also looks ridiculous as if he’s doing all of this because someone made fun of his short height or goofy facial features. He’s a comic entity more than anything, but more importantly, makes the dangers of impending war feel less urgent. We also know the American military is going to save the day and come out of this as the heroes, rendering every war room debate and firefight somewhat meaningless. Hunter Killer has literally no use for roughly half the characters in the damn thing.
There are bursts of electricity, though, as one cool image sees a character on the ground pulling the pin of a grenade with double middle fingers raised. It’s the kind of thing I got a mild chuckle from as an adult but would have found absolutely awesome as a teenager, although considering the numerous Call of Duty references I’ve already made, maybe that was the target demographic rather than anyone that enjoyed the book. It’s not a complete disaster, but Hunter Killer is a formulaic and bland espionage thriller with no intriguing characters or riveting narrative. Thinking about it, maybe I do wish Gerard Butler was screaming and shouting throughout it simply for some amusement. Such a thing would certainly make a better distraction than what 90% of the other characters are up to.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com