All spectacle and no substance in this wonky action flick
A filmmaker cannot please everyone. The element of subjectivity is probably the deepest and most unsettling part of the cinematic experience. Some are bound to like a movie; some don’t. However, there must be universal standards of objectivity that can guide the classification of a film.
That’s exactly what The Office’s Dwight Schrute delivers in the episode where Pam gets pregnant and feels bad about her appearance. And they exist. By those standards, the new action movie Carter on Netflix is woefully short. Dismal execution, a hollow core, and a lack of organization and direction lead to his downfall. Ultimately, it’s only made for a certain type of viewer who enjoys action movies that keep your brain at home and just want a stress buster.
Whether Carter induces or reduces stress is debatable, but let’s talk about the plot first. John Woo plays the title character, who wakes up naked in his bed surrounded by a special ops team. Carter has a mysterious sign of the cross on the back of her head and can’t remember anything. not how he got there, who he was or what happened the night before.
The team demands to know the location of Professor Jung, who is formulating a breakthrough cure for the DMZ virus plaguing the world. Carter uploaded a video holding Jung hostage. Suddenly, a phone rings in his jacket closet. He answers it and the voice orders him to give it to one of the members. The phone explodes; the room too, but Carter is able to escape with the help of the same voice, implanted in his ear.
Clearly something is going on as he battles hundreds of criminals and assassins to do what the voice tells him to do. From there, Carter embarks on a manic chase story that breaks the boundaries of conventional cinema with familiar story elements including exposition.
Surprisingly, the majority of the film takes place over the course of one day, albeit within the confines of a backdrop narrative stretched over years of political turmoil and enmity between North and South Korea. Their rivalry has been the subject of many efforts in an attempt to bring out something more than meets the eye.
JSA (Park Chan-wook), The spy gone north (Yoon Jong-bin), and Escape from Mogadishu (Ryoo Seung-wan) are good examples. Also in Carter’s story, he plays an important role. The manner in which he manifests himself, however, does not raise many surprises but is instrumental in shaping Carter’s background.
It’s an essential tool used for character development, while providing the plot with enough tension to sustain the effort. Jung Byung-gil also cleverly uses the ambiguity of Carter’s allegiance to position him right in the middle of our judgment. We’re not sure what to make of him in that regard.
When her daughter becomes involved in the mission, there is an emotional vulnerability for Carter. We sympathize with a father who seeks to save his daughter at all costs. This feeling is probably what becomes the most compelling feature of the pursuit. The CIA also heavily dictates the end result. The tangent introduced in the middle of the film vaguely resembles that of Netflix The gray man. With so much information and moving parts, Jung’s job becomes more complicated as he tries to tie it all together.
Even we as viewers struggle to understand the trope of double and triple agents that is overused by Gil. Not knowing who belongs where is a thing. But pointing the needle at literally every single person in the universe is completely bonkers. There are so many shifts in priorities and shifts in focus that Carter – the movie – gets delirious after a while. It seems like the lack of clarity really takes the film away from materializing into a cohesive, substance-driven narrative. Once you’ve finished it, there’s probably some backtracking to fully understand what just happened.
The most annoying thing about it, by far, was the drone fire. The cinematography was really disappointing in the sense that it was overused. Some shots are served well using the technique. It certainly makes these situations easily manageable. But what Carter does is keep falling back on it to make the movie a video game. There is no craftsmanship or nuance in the way the story is told.
Carter stays true to its label of being a hard-core action movie. There are so many murders and stranded men that anyone who enjoyed Hulu’s Princess last month would be treated well. For others though, Carter is probably best avoided.