This movie doesn’t quite fit into our mandate here at Cape Jeer, because though it involves a superpower, it has nothing to do with the capes-and-costumes crowd or with the comic books they’re found in. But, like Dark City, I’m going to include it anyway just because it’s interesting enough to be worth discussing. Unfortunately, what makes it interesting is not so much what was included in the movie, as what was left out.
See, it’s based on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “The Golden Man”. And that story is a very long way from a conventional superhero story. It’s a horror story. It tells of a future where atomic mutants are common, and regularly euthanized. But then along comes a mutant who can’t be caught and disposed of, because he has an unexplained ability to see into the future. He’s unstoppable because he knows everything you’re going to try against him, minutes in advance. And he reacts, instantly and automatically, in whatever way keeps him out of your clutches.
The “automatically” part is where the horror comes in. Because this young mutant does not think and does not plan. He doesn’t need to — he only reacts. Nor does he speak, or communicate in any way. Because all he ever has to do is react instinctively, his mutation has jettisoned those mental capabilities which are no longer needed... including, it seems, all capacity for conscious thought or even for self-awareness. He is, essentially, mindless. And when his kind outbreeds humanity — which it clearly will, since he also knows in advance exactly how to get into your pants — that will be the end of all culture.
Now that is a pretty darn disturbing story idea, and as an alternate point of view on the meaning of superpowers, it remains rather fresh and unexplored to this day, because nobody has really followed up on it. Especially not the people who made this movie. They definitely weren’t in the mood to take a superpower movie in a dark and disturbing direction. So they threw all that out, and gave that superpower to an ordinary person. Well, depending on your definition of ordinary, that is, because the character is played by Nicolas Cage.
And what have they given him to do? A completely generic ordinary formulaic Hollywood standard-issue Hero’s Journey, that’s what. He Refuses the Call at first, then reluctantly fights baddies, and gets the girl after saving her. She’s twenty years younger than he is, I might add. To be specific, she’s Jessica Biel, whom we last saw teamed up with Ryan Reynolds as a vampire hunter in Blade: Trinity.
So yeah, the transition from page to screen has ended up utterly debasing this story, sapping it of everything that made its existence worthwhile, turning it into something as generic and worthless as a fast food wrapper. It’s disgusting.
Also, Nic Cage’s performance is terrible. He’s a talented actor who is capable, once in a while, of a stunning performance. But he’s also capable of some of the worst misfires of any big name actor, and the latter occur more frequently than the former. And he’s also capable of just not even trying. This film falls into that third category. It isn’t phoned in... it’s voicemail.
Does it at least have super cool action scenes to make it worth seeing? A little, but not really. What visually exciting scenes there are, are undermined by the absence of any real threat to the protagonist. Are the villains cool? No, they’re interchangeable with any other suspense movie. They never even bother to specify what country their evil accents come from. How about the other acting? It’s okay. The one real bright spot is Julianne Moore as an FBI agent. She’s never not good.
So I absolutely cannot recommend this film, or condone its existence. And yet... somehow, I still enjoyed watching it.
How can this be? Am I that much of a sucker for completely formulaic hero stories? That might be one element, but I think the main reason is because of one person: the film’s director, Lee Tamahori. Though the center is empty, he manages to put heart into the film around the edges. He makes excellent use of the southwest desert setting, and the people who live in it. Particularly the Havasupai tribe, living on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
And sometimes, even Nic Cage at his laziest manages to make otherwise lame scenes charming.