by Kurt Wimmer (wr/dir)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Screen Gems/Sony movie
Date: / Show Official Info /
CAST: Milla Jovovich as Violet * Cameron Bright as Six * Nick Chinlund as Daxus * William Fichtner asGarth * Sebastien Andrieu as Nerva * Ida Martin as Young Violet
It seems almost a waste of space to discuss its plot, when the movie itself seems so little concerned with story: in an "era defined by its fear of diseases," a futurescape where "happy places don't exist" is controlled by fascists whose activities include "the blood wars," an attempt to wipe out the infected hemophages (the infection itself – a bioengineered plague called HGV - has little narrative significance) who comprise half of humanity. A morally righteous resistance, called vampires, includes our heroine Violet, who gave up her normal life to become a killing machine when she lost her husband and got infected all at once, in a compressed flashback sequence that pleasantly echoes the half-page origin recaps familiar to any comic book reader.
And after that, which sets up the first action setpiece, very little of what passes for story here makes any sense at all, unless one considers things in a sort of nonlinear, deconstructed sense. For Wimmer, visual style is everything: this movie's design, its look and feel and sound, are fiercely energetic and creative. Like Sky Captain, Ultraviolet has been digitally treated to such an extent that it often looks as much like animation as live action. Unlike the regrettable Sky Captain, however, Ultraviolet employs such technological trickery with perfect aplomb and assurance. Endlessly detailed, consistently gorgeous, relentlessly psychedelic visuals seethe with digital activity in a manner both assured and entertaining, often surreal, occasionally even lyrical. In one sequence, Violet's white costume suddenly turns all crimson red when she makes a bloody fist – with apparently no other rational justification, or narrative purpose, than the striking visual affect! This might also be the only movie ever made in which the flames spouting from the barrels of automatic weapons are sometimes tinted pretty colors.
Wimmer's designers and cinematographers are all old hands on the Hong Kong scene, and it shows. Unlike most American fantastic spectaculars, Ultraviolet does not slavishly recreate the mise-en-scene of a previous genre hit, or a group of several, in knee jerk sophomoric postmodernism; no, Ultraviolet does not look just like The Matrix, or Star Wars, or Aliens, or any combination thereof. (Or even Brazil, though it has the same cops.) And it looks so good, that its continuous assault of F/X riddled stunts, fights, and chases, never made me feel like I was watching someone else play a videogame. (That happens to me a lot, lately, during action movies.)
And there's Ms. Jovovich - so physically beautiful, her overwhelming presence now so honed and refined (for this kind of thing, which has practically become her career) - that I honestly couldn't tell whether or not she's doing any real acting, here. And I was paying attention.
But though Ultraviolet is great trippy eye candy, and it's a pretty good action movie, as science fiction, as any kind of fiction, it fails, resoundingly. When conventional structure forces him to slow down and let the characters talk, Wimmer throws us bits of story, interesting elements both science fictional and character-related, in much the same kaleidoscopic, assaultive fashion that governs his visuals. He loves cool gadgets, deploying them regularly, like Chandler's endless line of men going through doors with guns. But interesting story elements, subplots or subtexts or supporting characters or whatever they happen to be, are never worked properly into any coherent weave, and the ramifications of the technology the cool gadgetry represents are never properly considered, either.
For instance, during one chase, Violet is equipped with a gravity leveler, which allows her to ride a motorcycle across the side of buildings, and run up walls and across ceilings. Which is pretty neat... except that, considering what such technology would do to society and civilization, it's awful strange that a terrorist would have one on her belt when the guys chasing her don't have one at all. And then, quite typically, the gravity leveler sort of disappears for the rest of the movie.
In fact, every gadget, along with the rest of the plot mechanics, comes and goes fast and loose, as if this movie were shot from a quickly written rough draft of a script, rather than the highly polished piece of work Hollywood usually demands. (All joking aside, this is probably the actual truth of the matter, considering that Wimmer's other job is writing other people's movies – for some reason or reasons, he wrote this one fast, and never fixed it.) The goals and motivations of characters shift wildly, in a fashion most disorienting; the significance and relevance of technology or background politics seem to change up every time there's another spate of dialogue. After a while, it becomes clear that Ultraviolet is a disorganized mess, without narrative drive or unifying theme, staggering through glittering quicksand, to a confusing climax. And since we can't follow the story, for lack of clarity and focus and logic, Wimmer's endless impressive visuals add up to very little, in the end.
This isn't the worst thing you could waste two hours watching, but avoid it if bad science and big plot holes drive you nuts, or you'll want to smack Mr. Wimmer on the head with a rubber chicken by the time it's over. Let's hope he takes the time and trouble to thrash out the writing, next time, because, like Alex "The Crow" Proyas and Brett "Lawnmower Man" Leonard before him, Wimmer's unique sense of style, and obvious passion for science fiction, make him capable of giving us a genre classic, whenever the stars, and the script, are right.