The former is a must-see that delivers no-holds-barred explosive fun, while the latter is best left to die in the trap that it poorly setup for itself.
The last couple of weeks have seen some motion pictures return to exclusive theatrical runs. Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man and Chris Rock’s Spiral: from the Book of Saw. In-theatre press screenings have also returned! Whether the movies that are receiving exclusive theatrical runs are your cup of tea or not, it is highly encouraging to see the BIG SCREEN experience return around the country.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to enjoy motion pictures in the cinema since July of last year, but most of the country hasn’t had that opportunity. Between the two movies I saw this week, I can tell you that you do not want to miss Wrath of Man in cinemas! Spiral, on the other hand, you can either skip it altogether or just wait for it to hit streaming/VOD. Oh, if you go to Cinemark, watch Wrath of Man in XD; and if you’re going to AMC, watch it in Dolby Cinema!
Guy Ritchie’s Wrath of Man is a no-holds-barred heist movie! It’s an extravaganza of beginning to end action and thrills. Jason Statham does his best Stathaming, and the nonlinear storytelling never loses the audience – while packing a punch. I sat down with Brad of The Cinema Speak podcast to chat with him about this film, so for the full conversation, click HERE. In short, there is literally nothing to dislike about this action-thriller! Although it is fast-moving, you know everything you need to know about each character. On the topic of characters, no one is safe! In addition to Jason Statham, a former 90s/2000s heartthrob returns to the screen (and this time not with a kinda-weird yet adorable haircut, nor is he surviving Michael Myers or shape-shifting aliens at school) – Josh Hartnett.
Everything about this movie just works — and works nearly flawlessly. From the moment it opens until the credits roll, it is non-stop balls-to-the-wall action, and at the center of that action is Jason Statham. I commented on the Cinema Speak podcast that I view Statham as a bonafide movie star in the classical sense. Much like other modern-day “classical” movie stars like the definitive example Tom Cruise or The Rock, Statham IS the movie. Even when he is playing a supporting role, such as in SPY, he is larger-than-life on the screen. Often playing the same type of character (or an extension of), movie stars are attached to sell the movie and up the ante, and act as a de facto identifier. Pretty soon, we will be referencing Statham’s movies as “are you going to see the new Statham movie” instead of referencing the movie by its title.
Wrath of Man is one of those movies that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. And what is that? A fun, entertaining movie without case for any kind of thoughtful subtext or socio-political agenda. Just an entertaining movie, plain and simple. And yet, you enjoy the characters and know just enough about each to care about them (or hate them). Point is, you feel something for these characters. We have a simple plot, and a complex central character. And this central character has a well-defined external goal that is met with obstacles brought on by a character of opposition. In other words, this is a movie with solid bones and foundation.
One of the standout storytelling devices in this film is the non-linear narrative. While we’ve certainly seen films employ non-linear storytelling, many films that do this often run the risk of or, do in fact, confuse audiences. Or, just as bad, the stylistic choice doesn’t add anything to (and sometimes even detracts from) the experience of the film.
Guy Ritchie’s non-linear choices are successful not only because they are clearly labeled, but because each flashback adds to the story through a process called character accumulation. This is the process a character goes through that reveals more layers to the audience that reinforce who the character is, what to expect from the character, the internal needs of the character, and what motivates the character. Think of it as character familiarization. In addition to learning more about our characters, the nonlinear flashbacks also provide different perspectives on key scenes that advance the plot to the explosive finale. These different perspectives aren’t used to complicate the plot, but rather to provide a means for the audience to reasonably grasp what’s going on without being patronized. Guy Ritchie assumes his audience arrives at the film with some modicum of intelligence.
Wrath of Man delivers a wildly entertaining experience at the cinema! You don’t want to miss seeing this on the BIG SCREEN. And don’t allow the paint-by-the-numbers surface lull you into perceiving this as just another generic action movie. Guy Ritchie’s clever, stylistic approach to this tried-and-true genre film feels just familiar enough, whilst delivering a fresh approach that will remind you that movies needn’t have a heavy-handed, agenda-driven message.
So often, films and movies today are filled with agendas not characters. Not that there isn’t a time and a place for motion pictures to take a sociopolitical or faith-based stance –those kinds of films are important too — but too often nowadays, this has become the foundation for a movie, not the plot or characters. Wrath of Man has mass appeal but never sacrifices quality storytelling for the sake of commercialism. Treat yourself to this explosive experience!
Spiral is the movie equivalent of a comedian that only knows the punchlines. It’s derivative and predictable. Just as the victims have zero chance of surviving the traps, this movie has zero chance of re-watchability. Just watch the original instead.
Should you choose to watch the new film, in hopes of capturing even an infinitesimal amount of what made the original innovative, spawning countless movies in the torture-porn sub-genre of horror, you will be sorely disappointed. Everything about this agenda-driven movie feels heavy-handed and forced. Very little, if anything, happens organically. It’s common knowledge that this movie was a passion project for Chris Rock, inspired by his fandom of the SAW franchise — but where is the passion??? Even his acting is wooden and lifeless.
I am going to break my own rule and suggest that you NOT see this in cinemas. Why? Because I am trying to spare you from the torturous trap that I was in as I watched the longest hour and twenty-minute movie.
There is no sense of fun in this movie at all. While I do not care for the SAW franchise, and feel that there is no redeeming quality nor does it offer at cultural value, what fans enjoy about the franchise is the unrealistic, hyperbolic, Rube Goldberg-like traps. The traps in this movie played it far too close to reality, rendering the movie sickening to watch, devoid of entertainment value. And then there is the perpetuation of the narrative that law enforcement is simply corrupt by nature. I’m not going to go down that rabbit trail, but most law enforcement officers are NOT corrupt. A small fraction of a percentage are (just like with any vocation), yet this movie paints the portrait that entire precincts are corrupt. Unfair, and unfounded.
This movie follows suit with so many that do not afford characters the opportunity for a redemptive arc. This was a problem that I had with Promising Young Woman as well. Ostensibly, filmmakers that create films with a heavy-handed (not subtle or subtextual) message have demonstrated the gull to set themselves up as self-righteous in the most self-aggrandizing manner, and have decided to be judge and jury.
Aside from the problems I have with the agenda-driven plot and characters, the kills themselves are simply overly violent to be overly violent. The only element of the traps that was creative (albeit cliché) is for the trap to be a dark mirror for that which Piggy/Spiral is accusing (and in most cases, not inaccurate). Think of it as SE7EN meets SAW. Otherwise, these traps and this movie do little to nothing to add to the world of cinema either critically or culturally.
Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!
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