Before the shootings in Aurora, the biggest news surrounding “The Dark Knight Rises” was the supposed death threats received by film critics who dared to review the film as poor. Threatening reviewers was of course unnecessary, but they had a point. Audiences love the movie, so who cares what the critics think, and if anything, critics in general seem to project their own desires for the film more than review what is shown on screen. Thus we get glowing reviews for raw, unfinished, low budget movies from young directors with “potential” (seen “Bellflower”? Sucks hog. 72% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!), and frequent unenthusiastic reviews for large budget movies from established directors (by Friday, seemingly, a contrarian review was for Rises being good).
It goes without saying that reviews are subjective. Everybody likes and wants different things in movies. I’m not a particularly cerebral movie viewer - I get that. I just want to be entertained, and there are a lot of movies that aren’t even “good” which fit the bill, but when I read reviews, I find them worthless. In the end it’s not always that I reviewer liked or disliked a movie, it’s why.
Case in point: The Grey.
Reviewers: IT’S SOOOOOOO REAL!!!
Here were have a Liam Neeson vehicle where he plays an Irish professional hunter for an oil company in far north Alaska. He hunts wolves to keep them away from the oil workers, BUT HE HAS A PAST! His woman left him, so he tries to commit suicide with his trusty wolf-killing rifle. He pulls the trigger and it goes click. He’s saved by the same hard primer that saved Denzel in “Man on Fire” (probability: maybe 1 in 1000 or less, for either). With his contract up, he goes to fly home for some R&R. As the plane flies along, creepy oil worker says something creepy about crashing (FORESHADOWING!).
The plane crashes. Somewhere on the order of 10 people live (we’ll assume it was a 737, so maybe 15% survival rate). Here’s Red Flag No. 1: People don’t survive crashes from airplanes that make uncontrolled descents from cruising altitude (in this case, the entire cockpit caught on fire…). They just don’t. You’re going Mach 0.7 at 30,000ft and you become a glorious lawn-dart. No one walks away. Sorry. Side note: this is why I can’t watch “Lost”. They all died during the opening credits.
Anyway the 10 or so people who have survived start dying, and will continue to die for the rest of the movie. One guy succumbs to crash injuries. Fine. Then, although they crashed on a vast expanse of snow and ice, our antagonists show up. If you guessed wolves you get a gold star.
Now if you haven’t seen the movie and are imagining a normal, 80-100lbs grey wolf, guess again. These are the wolves to match the sharks from “Deep Blue Sea”. I was totally anticipating a plot twist where we find out they are from a government breeding program gone wrong. They’re all a good 150-250lbs, black, have green eyes, move like cheetahs, and instead of having less than 10 like a normal pack, seem to be traveling by the value-pack. They’re also unbelievably aggressive. Neeson tells us, “We must have landed close to their den.” (He’ll go on to tell us about each member’s role in the pack throughout the movie, ie “That’s not the alpha, that’s the omega.” Mmmkay.) Remember: SO REAL!
The survivors make camp at the crash scene, where inexplicably, most of the airplane fuselage is still intact. A wolf picks off the female flight attendant who survived the crash, and injures Neeson. Now instead of rubbing two brain cells together and staying with the wreckage (it’s clearly winter - honestly, no one with ANY survival training steps away from the shelter provided by the fuselage in this case), Neeson decides they have to head the treeline on the horizon… TO BE SAFE FROM THE WOLVES! DAFUQ???
Let’s recap: They should have all died in a crash, but didn’t. They go up against uber-wolves. They leave the metal tube protecting them from the wolves so they can be safer without shelter or protection in the wolves’ natural habitat. The crash wreckage with the vast expanse of snow around it (almost like you could land a plane on skis to pick them up), which should be easy to find from the air now doesn’t point to the survivors, because they’re in the trees. The guys are convinced no one is coming for them because “it would save payroll.” Never mind filed flight plans, never mind radar, never mind the FAA, never mind SAR teams. Awesome.
So they all trudge through the thick snow to the treeline. One guy can’t keep pace and predictably gets mauled to death without the other guys noticing until after the attack. They get to the trees around dark, which is when the glowing eyes show up. The “omega” gets sent to challenge the Hispanic dude with the bad attitude (shockingly the black guy hasn’t died yet), and using some ridiculous survival shit (shotgun shells on the end of sticks), they kill it. Morning comes. The black guy dies. Cause of death: “Hypoxia”. One dude says “some guys just can’t take the altitude.” HOLD THE PHONE. Interior Alaska doesn’t get much above ~4,000 ft, unless you’re in a mountain range, which we’re clearly not. For reference, airplane interiors reach 8,000ft pressure altitude during every flight. FFFFFFFUUUUUUUU….
Did I mention it takes place north of Anchorage, during winter and no one has so much as had their teeth chatter yet?
Anyway, the movie has descended into a death march. It’s clear they’re all going to die one by one. They lose one to a fall, one to exhaustion and another to drowning (and all the rest to the omnipresent wolves). The last half hour of the movie are spent down by a river, where the drowning guy drowns. Yes. In running water. In winter. Neeson goes in after him, so he’s wet. Other than his hands being a little red, we really can’t tell he’s cold, but clearly he realizes he’s going to die. In his wet clothes he walks around for minutes before stumbling into the wolves’ den on accident. I’m not kidding. He and the alpha wolf engage in mortal hand-to-paw combat as the move fades to black, but not before we learn that his wife died of cancer and we’re forced to contemplate some allegorical shit about how god doesn’t exist. Fine.
That gets you 79% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
So here’s the deal: It’s not a horrible movie. It’s one of those moves that does $80mil at the box office without most people knowing it exists, and for good reason. It bogs down badly over the last 45 minutes, but it does deal with death and dignity and other topics most action movies don’t. I get and appreciate that people (ie reviewers) like that the protagonists don’t develop super-powers or make miraculous actions to save themselves (remember Anthony Hopkins killing a brown bear with a stick in “The Edge”?). They just die, which honestly, from the second they left the airplane was their fate. But, to call the movie realistic or even believable is just unfathomable.
More than anything I was just disappointed that Neeson didn’t summon his best voice from “Taken” and say to the wolves “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let me go, I will find you, and I will kill you.”