When I could not get to Serenity last weekend, I had pretty much decided to let this be one of those movies which I allow to slip past me. I mean, I heard negative word of mouth, the Rotten Tomatoes score was in the 20s and it bombed at the Box Office. No need to see it.
Then I listened to the Critically Acclaimed podcast.
Critically Acclaimed is a podcast featuring internet critics William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold. Every week, they review the new releases as a part of their podcast and I have enjoyed listening to their intelligent discussions on the films. They raise topics and discussion points with wit, acuity and sophistication in ways that you do not typically hear from other online critics. Ironically, many times I seem to disagree with their opinions, but that does not take away from my enjoyment of hearing their well-reasoned analysis. Film is all subjective.
On the last episode (linked above), both Witney and Bibbs had seen the latest Matthew McConaughey/Anne Hathaway film, Serenity and reviewed it. Not only did they review it, but they went into full spoilers because of a certain twist that they indicated was in the movie.
Having no intention of going to Serenity, I decided that I may as well listen to the review and enjoy what they had to say. And I did. I enjoyed their review very much. So much so that I decided that I needed to see the film that they were describing. Thanks a lot, fellas.
In Serenity, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) was a fisherman on an island called Plymouth Island, and he was not having much success. Much like Captain Nemo, Dill was obsessed with the capture of the Beast, a gigantic tuna that had continued to elude him. When former flame Karen (Anne Hathaway) arrived in Plymouth with a tragic tale of abuse at the hands of her current husband Frank (Jason Clarke), Dill had his past crash back in his face, especially the existence of and the well-being of his son Patrick (Rafael Sayegh).
Karen had come to Plymouth Island with a plan. She wanted her ex to take Frank with him out on his boat fishing, get him drunk and toss him overboard for the sharks to eat. Her tale of abuse and violence did not sway Dill at first, but the arrival of Frank on the island made it clearer that something had to be done.
This seemed to be a dark noir tale of revenge and retribution for Frank’s sins, despite a strange island and a community of people that could be considered weird. However, I knew what the twist was, thanks to Critically Acclaimed, so I was watching the film with the power of prior knowledge. That only made everything I was seeing all the stupider.
From here on out, I am going to be speaking in spoiler talk, because I agree with Witney and Bibbs that you cannot effectively talk about how stupid this movie was without revealing the twist that colored everything about my review.
It was revealed that the entire Plymouth Island and everything around the island was actually a digital, video game world created by Patrick, who apparently was some kind of computer genius. This twist was hinted at early in the movie (and not at all subtly) and it was revealed to Dill midway through. The whole thing was a game that Patrick was playing. A fishing game. How exciting. What was his purpose? To spend time with dad? No, he doesn’t put himself in the game until the end of the film in one of the silliest parts. The whole catch the beast tuna bit is the game that Patrick has yet to master, since Dill has never caught him. Plus, it was dropped as a main storyline into the film.
But worse than that was that someone should probably check on the mental condition of Patrick. Not only does he create this whole world, he makes his father (who we learn died in the sand in Iraq during time in the military) be down on his luck. Dill drinks heavily. He makes his dad basically have sex with a woman (Diane Lane) for money. He has his dad and mom have rough sex on the boat, not to mention the fact that he wants his father to kill his step-father. For what purpose? In the end, Patrick had killed Frank himself, but it is unclear when this happened. Was it after the death in the game? Did it give him the courage? If so, shouldn’t this have been a premeditated murder instead of the self-defense that it seemingly turned out to be?
And it appeared that the island itself was working against him as Duke (Djimon Hounsou), the man who worked with Dill on his boat, was actively trying to keep Dill from killing Frank. The woman, Diane Lane, Dill was having sex with had a son (I think) played by Garion Dowds who appeared out of nowhere a couple of times and dropped into situations that prevented the killing from happening.
It was implied that the creator (Patrick) was creating the rules for the games, and if that was the case, why was he throwing these obstacles into the path of his father? It made little sense before the big twist and after it, the story made zero sense. That does not speak well for your big twist.
Sure, the film does try to do something original and daring, but it failed miserably. The film truly missed its mark and was better prior to the twist. Maybe the film would have been better if the island was actually a magical place that was working to try and keep Frank alive and to save the soul of Dill. Maybe it could have been some kind of purgatory and these characters were all dead (except for Patrick, who would have had some kind of mystical connection to his father). A vibe like LOST sometimes had might have played better.
By the way, we never saw any sort of connection between Dill and Patrick so we had to accept the fact that they loved each other. There were some flashbacks to a time when they went fishing, but Patrick was three years old (according to the movie…and was a different actor) and he may not have remembered that at all. All we saw of Karen was a mean spirited woman plotting for the death of her husband. Is that how her son saw her, because he had to program her avatar in that manner. There was no chemistry between Dill and Karen and, near the end, when she tells him that she did love him, I simply did not believe it. I believed that he was only good for what she needed. Maybe the abuse was meant to humanize her, but it did not help me like her at all. Hell, I liked the prostitute Diane Lane played way better and I thought she had more connection with Dill than the mother ever did.
I am glad I saw this because it will have a special place on the worst list at the end of the year.