The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Ultraviolet

Originally published 3/9/06
Full review behind the jump


: Kurt Wimmer
: Kurt Wimmer
: John Baldecchi, Lucas Foster
: Milla Jovovich, Cameron Bright, Nick Chinlund, William Fichtner, Sebastien Andrieu

What compels us about superheroes are not their strengths but their weaknesses. We sat down when we saw
Superman fly, when the Kryptonite showed up we decided to stay in our seats. In Ultraviolet we have a heroine who is in all ways I can divine completely invulnerable, who can outfight any army unaided, reinvent the law of gravity, and manipulate space and time in ways previously accessible only to Greek Gods and high-level Scientologists.

She’s some sort of vampire, I gather from the teeth and all the talk of blood. In her futuristic world, a genetically-engineered version of the old vampire plague, designed to create supersoldiers, has instead created a feared subclass of citizenry – the Hemophages. They are extremely contagious, and the world lives in desperate fear of infection, turning both legal and spiritual authority over to a fascistic elite medical clique that promises to keep them safe. Violet (Milla Jovovich) is a Hemophage, which is what gives her many of her powers. Other powers come from head-spinning machinery like portable holes into an alternate dimension that allow her to store dozens of guns and a full-length sword up her sleeve, and a belt buckle that contains what appears to be a miniature black hole/supernova that lets her walk on the ceiling and ride her motorcycle along the side of a building. This equipment did not come from Q Branch.

But she insists she does have a weakness. She’s “dying”, so she says, from her infection. But since she’s had it for 12 years and is still vigorous enough, and all the infected we see are superstrong, superfast and devastatingly pretty, and need only the occasional ingestion of fresh blood to keep going, we could all stand to be “dying” like that. Really, Violet is no more dying than anyone who wears black and writes bad poetry. And so to my point above – we have here a movie which rarely bothers to make sense, cares for nothing but action and features a character who will never be in danger.

The story begins as Violet infiltrates a laboratory posing as a courier to pick up a package – one wonders about the prospects of the FedEx Company surviving the invention of the portable dimension hole. To get the package she must pass an absurdly invasive screening procedure where she’s X-Rayed, has blood drained out of her wrists and needles poked into her eyes, her voice is analyzed, and she must walk naked down a long hallway with mood lighting. The MPAA continues its determined work molding the fetishes of the coming generation by deciding that a bare backside is acceptable PG-13 fare and tickets to its viewing may be sold to all, while the female breast is evil, harmful and forbidden without a parent or guardian around. So it is safely hidden away in this picture, as is any blood from the hundreds of people violently murdered by blade or bullet.

This entry procedure, which takes up several warehouse-sized rooms and about a billion dollars’ worth of equipment (pity the pizza delivery boy), is so thorough that it absolutely, positively could not be fooled. Except that it is.

The package is rumored to contain a weapon that will wipe out the Hemophages once and for all, so she and her underground cell want it. What it actually contains, and how it affects the Fate of All Mankind, sets Violet against both the human world and her vampire brethren, and she’s catapulted into what is little more than 85 minutes of chasing, fighting, more chasing, more fighting, brief soul-searching, more chasing, more fighting, confusing exposition, more chasing, and so forth. Eventually you’ll learn why the chasing is happening – what you won’t learn is why Evil Mastermind Daxus (Nick Chinlund) would finally have the key to all his ambitions and the first thing he does with it is stick it in the mail.

Better to just try and enjoy the fighting if you can. In one scene Violet fights dozens of Asian Men in Suits. They were described as being neither human nor vampire, I believe the movie called them “Blood Chinois”, which sounds terribly important and interesting, except that in seconds they are all dead. So all I learned from that encounter is that Blood Chinois = Asian Men in Suits.

Another clash happens between two swordsmiths in a completely darkened room – their weapons have somehow caught on fire and provide the only illumination. It looks like an angry luau, I remember thinking. Many of Violet’s feats against superior numbers become repetitive; her foes insist on enclosing her in a perfect circle, then falling as one from her blows like the stormtrooper version of Ring Around the Rosie.

I’m kind of skipping around. I plead coercion – the movie is forcing this on me. The wall-to-wall digital effects are watery and blurred, the fight choreography busy without having any sense of pace or build, and the dialogue is adolescent flapdoodle. A Purple Heart to the actor who must try and convincingly snarl “Now it’s on!”. There is one design flourish I like – in the future you can print out disposable phones on a strip of paper from a vending machine. And the opening credits are laid out in lurid comic book style, each name emblazoned on a phony issue of Violet’s fantastic adventures, while subtlety-pummeling composer Klaus Badelt does his best impersonation of Danny Elfman’s Spiderman score.

The choice is imaginative, but I’m not sure if we’re meant to think that Violet is actually a comic book character, or if they’re just arguing that she should become one. There’s a lot I’m not sure of about this movie. That it stands feeble in comparison to other movies of its type, though, that I’m secure about.


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