Review Roundup - System shock


The promise of a return to slower moving but thought provoking science fiction offered by Wally Pfister's directorial debut was something that easily got my attention. As a fan of the idea of A.I. and the blurring line between the human the synthetic, I was hoping to get an older style movie where sci-fi would be used to tell a good story or offer some kind of parable instead of just having being an excuse to blow up some cars and buildings (not that I don't have time for pyrotechnics). The cinematographer had been a long time collaborator with Christopher Nolan and so the chance to see him taking what had been learned working on the likes of Memento and The Prestige and using that on a project of his own. But does this plot of artificial intelligence have any brains, and is there more to it than stylish photography?

Straight away you can see that this has the slick visual look of the Dark Knight series. It's a great looking film, but the issues come across with just about all of the other aspects of the story. Shots are beautifully constructed but often linger for far too long and there is never any urgency to any of the proceedings - it really drags it's feet even as things spiral out of control. The premise of a man considering death and using himself as a test subject to forward his own ambition and that of his partner is a great setup and the dangers of creating an intelligence that far outmatches it's creators is of course a well worn plot device. But how this plays out lacks any serious drama considering the amount of existential dilemma which could have been mined from the subject and the kinds of every day fears it might have played up. It's surprisingly flat and emotionless, and the idea that these characters are scientific minds is odd when so many strange choices are being made.

It's also strange to see a story which lacks any real central character. Considering that Johnny Depp is plastered all over the marketing, it's an odd thing to find that he isn't a focal point for the plot. His partner (Rebecca Hall) is used as the irrational heart of the film and his colleague (Paul Bettany) is the concerned brain of it, but they are never really used as an anchor to tie all of this together. Which isn't to say that the cast aren't doing a good job - a positive aspect when the material is so clunky at times. I like Bettany but along with everyone else he feels under used. When things finally come to pieces and everyone realises what kinds of problems they might have been a part of, it never picks up the pace and the nano-technology elements just come across as silly as science jargon about computer viruses and internet connections get thrown about. Nothing seems to work here and it's a big shame.



This is a film with three writers. Which I suppose might explain what a mess they made of it. With the dull re-hashing of the origin story out of the way, there was room to go almost anywhere with this material; after all they had a huge amount of comics to draw from. Unfortunately they decided to throw in all kinds of random ideas and see what would stick, and none of it does. Recycling the Harry Osbourne plot from the Sam Raimi films but condensing it all into one plot would be bad enough, but adding to that a story about Jamie Foxx becoming the villain Electro in another laboratory accident means that any kind of real focus gets thrown out the window. This only gets worse as these elements collide with tangents about Spider-man's missing parents and his love life. Scenes come across as random and often feel like they have been stitched together from different films, quirky romantic moments and trashy super villain material clash with coming of age drama. None of the casting works, the big set pieces are overblown and have unconvincing effects and it's impossible to care about any of it - even as the story aims to heighten the drama in the finale.