Hotel Artemis and all the images you see in this review are owned by Global Road Entertainment
Directed by Drew Pearce
So you’re telling me that there’s a movie with Dave Bautista AND Jeff Goldblum in it, but it’s NOT part of the MCU!? That seems like a bit of waste, especially considering the latter is clearly playing the same character minus the highlights, but I guess not EVERYTHING has to be a superhero film… at least for now. Anyway, I kow ABSOLUTELY nothing going into this film other than seeing the poster once, and even that didn’t give much information on what this was going to be about, so it’s yet another chance for me to roll the dice at the theater which can be REALLY great when a movie surprises you, but then you run the risk of being completely unprepared if the film is an absolute train wreck. Did I manage to roll sevens on a solid action film, or will I end up getting snake eyes on my last bet before I lose my thumbs? Let’s find out!!
It’s the year 2028 and our movie begins with a crew of gangsters trying to pull off a bank heist in the middle of LA during a riot. It seems that some big conglomerate turned off the water for everyone and now people are rising up to march their corporate offices and beat the hell out of anyone still working there which is an awful indictment of privatization and a huge humanitarian crisis, but ALSO a great opportunity to steal stuff because the cops are busy elsewhere. Capitalism, am I right? Anyway, the heist doesn’t quite go as planned and they barely seem to break even by just taking the stuff of those who happened to be there at the time, but one of them gets shot (Brian Tyree Henry) and his brother Sherman (Sterling K Brown) has to drag him to a SECRET CRIMINAL HOSPITAL known as The Hotel Artemis run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster) who has a very precise set of rules that are followed to the latter; else you have to deal with the orderly named Everest (Dave Bautista) and you do not want to deal with Everest unless absolutely necessary. Sherman and his brother aren’t the only ones there however as a fellow guest staying in the Nice room (Sofia Boutella) is nursing a gunshot wound and another guest in the Acapulco room (Charlie Day) is getting his face fixed up after some sort of encounter. Seems like a typical night at The Hotel Artemis, right? Well it turns out that riots can cause a fair bit of chaos, even in a place as well protected as that, and things start to unravel as someone from The Nurse’s past start to show up asking for help (Jenny Slate), and the big mob boss who helped The Nurse set this place up known simply as The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is stopping by with a gunshot wound; flanked by his hot headed son (Zachary Quinto) who chafes immediately at all the rules. Oh, and it turns out that Sherman’s brother managed to take something that belonged to The Wolf King during the heist, and if he were to find out… well let’s just say that wolves aren’t typically known for their ability to share things. Can The Nurse keep order in this place while the rest of the world is descending into chaos around her? How long can Sherman keep himself and his brother out of sight, and will they be able to escape in time? How is it that no one can just follow the rules!? IT’S NOT THAT HARD!!
It’s been a rather ho-hum year for me in so much as there haven’t been a lot of big blockbusters or mainstream fare that I’ve felt particularly engaged with, and the art house and indie films I’ve seen so far have been just as (if not more) disappointing. It’s that kind of year where I’ve most definitely seen a few movies that will end up on my Top Ten list, but none that feel like INTERESTING choices or at least choices that haven’t been talked to death already by various film critics. Now this movie may not end up being THE best of the year, but it’s one of the only films I’ve seen so far that not only surprised me but feels like something we’ll still have a reason to talk about come December; not just because it’s that good but also because I doubt enough people will have discussed it to death by then. Make no mistake that this is a fantastic little sci-fi thriller that will sadly probably fly under the radar for too many people, but that’s often the case with movies like this that may not be reinventing the wheel but do a damn good job of making something with such classic influences feel new again.
The basics are all there to make this a solid sci-fi actioner. It’s got a great cast of colorful characters, the titular hotel is fascinating to explore, and the action is rather well handled whenever we get to it. What really sets it apart though is its story and dystopian setting that does an uncomfortably great job of mirroring our current political client and the ennui that too many people are feeling right now because of it. The world is going COMPLETELY to hell due to the craven machinations of big corporations and an uncaring government (DAMN YOU, CAPITALISM!!) and the Hotel Artemis serves as something of a refuge for all of that. While people are rioting in the streets just looking for clean water, the people inside are privileged enough to just try and tune it all out; experiencing it second hand through television broadcasts and the occasional look outside their window. Bautista in particular encapsulates this perfectly as he continues to nail the BIG GUY WITH A HEART OF GOLD shtick but gives it an interesting twist given the premise. He enjoys what he does and extremely loyal to The Nurse, but this sanctuary has effectively closed him off to the rest of the world. Despite being able to leave whenever he chooses (unlike The Nurse who has sever anxiety issues), he only sees the world expanding as far as the walls of his home which makes him all the more protective of it; both in terms of actual safety as well as the ideas and principals it represents. In a world where many people are watching society crumble around us, he comes off as very relatable but also as a critical indictment of that mindset where were all focused on trying to preserve our little corner of the world before the forces of evil out there finish taking everyone else’s before coming for ours. It definitely feels like a spiritual successor to Carpenter’s work in that it’s a politically prescient parable told within the context of BAD ASS ACTION SCI-FI AWESOMENESS, and while we haven’t been short on those lately (*cough* Get Out *Cough* The Purge: Election Year *cough*), it’s always great to see a filmmaker take that risk while also telling an extremely entertaining story in the process.
That’s all heady message stuff though! You want to know how BAD ASS this movie is, right!? Well there’s not a WHOLE lot of action in here, but it’s an intriguing movie filed with quite a bit of tension as the guests try to navigate around one another without getting themselves killed, and it’s shot so beautifully in that dirty sci-fi way that it’s always compelling to watch if for no other reason than to see what each room looks like and the various pieces of super technology within them. The people as well are just as fascinating with The Nurse being one of the most unique characters I’ve seen in a movie like this. Jodie Foster isn’t playing up the fact that she’s an old lady AND a criminal; rather she plays the role completely straight without any hint of irony or artifice. She’s exactly what you’d expect from a jaded nurse, whether or not she’s working in a sci-fi crime hospital, and it’s really fun to watch her go from room to room putting out fires until things start to overwhelm her on this fateful night. Sterling K Brown and Sofia Boutella as the two primary guests aren’t QUITE as fleshed out, but they serve their parts quite well and are fun to watch whenever they interact with each other or with Charlie Day who’s a raging ball of entitlement that provides a good foil for everyone he comes into contact with. Best of all we have Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblum-iest who unfortunately only shows up briefly, but he adds his signature charm to this when he does. It’s a movie that’s constantly surprising you and gets better with every new pieces that falls into place, whether it’s the first time we see Charlie Day act all pissy, the reveal of who Sofia Boutella is in the context of the movie, or the series of revelations that give more dimension to The Nurse and her relationship to this place as well as the people inside of it. Most movies can kind of plateau in the middle with an ending that can either ramp things up or end on a disappointing note, but this is one that never really loses its forward momentum and in doing so makes it one of the more satisfying films to sit through that I’ve seen this year.
The, movie is not without its flaws though and for the most part it comes down to the writing which needed just a bit more polish. I love Charlie Day who’s great in this movie, but the role he’s asked to play is a bit much. His character is just so unpleasant to be around that it goes from being fun to watch as a jackass rants and raves in a situation they are truly oblivious of, straight into wishing that someone would stop putting up with him so we don’t have to anymore. I also thought that Zachary Quinto had a similar problem where he wasn’t quite as ANNOYING as Charlie Day, but his obliviousness and hot headed actions grated quite a bit the more we saw of him. There were also a few plot points that didn’t make a lot of sense, particularly with Sterling K Brown being SO PARANOID about The Wolf King’s crew finding him in the hotel. No one knows what he has or that he’s here, so just stay in your room! Heck, if that’s not an option, just don’t bring up the fact that you HAVE the damn thing or even just flush it down the toilet to make sure! He’s skulking through the hotel frantically looking for a hidden way out which granted isn’t the WORST use of someone’s time in this movie, but the tension just wasn’t there because the threat felt too nebulous. Sofia Boutella ALMOST gets out of this movie without a similarly perplexing moment, but right at the end there’s this thing about a “line” that I don’t think was ever brought up before despite feeling like a payoff for something. Maybe I missed something, but it was this weird thing that kept peeking its head up during the best action scene in the movie. Really though, those problems are quite small and don’t detract from the overall quality even if it would have taken just a FEW more lines here and there to iron them out.
I’ve seen a lot of good movies this year like Black Panther, Ocean’s 8, Pacific Rim Uprising, but aside from MAYBE A Wrinkle In Time (I have to see how that holds up on a repeat viewing), this is the only one that’s really hit me in such a unique way that it feels a bit more than just a great movie. This is one of those films that will hopefully have a strong shelf life that we’ll be remembering down the road along with other classic sci fi greats like Escape from New York, Buckaroo Banzai, and Brazil. It may not get the credit it deserves right away, but it’ll hopefully stick around for people to discover and will CERTAINLY get a nice resurgence once Bautista wins his Oscar. Hey, don’t dismiss that possibility! You put this guy in Hamlet and he’ll win like five of them!
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