Science Fiction is one of the most versatile genres both in film, books, and even video games. The ideas and concepts that can be used in a story, so that that story can be considered science fiction; can go from a simple alteration in the way we see the world, or take us to an entire other reality where aliens and humans live together in harmony. The spectrum is huge, and because of it, science fiction elements can insert themselves into narratives and be as subtle as they want to.
However, doing science fiction that is subtle in the way that the ideas are executed can be a double edge sword. For once, this type of execution might lack the impact that people often look for when watching movies in this genre. Something like The Matrix for example is way more impactful, and therefore way more memorable than something like Spiderhead, the new Netflix movie of the week. A film that has a cool premise and solid direction, but never takes its premise to its ultimate consequences.
Spiderhead is directed by Joseph Kosinski and stars Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett, and Mark Paguio. The film is based on the short story “Escape From Spiderhead” written by George Saunders, and tells the story of Jeff, an inmate inside the Spiderhead Prison Facility. Spiderhead is unlike any other prison, as its inmates live in luxury and enjoy somewhat freedom. However, the mysterious facility is also a lab where a group of scientists is testing new and dangerous drugs before they go to the market.
Kosinki is without a doubt a talented director. Just recently he released Top Gun Maverick in cinemas and people are stoked about how visually stunning that movie is, showing jet fighting in ways that have never been seen before in film. His talent to create visually stunning imagery is very well known, and he has often been able to work inside the framework that is allowed thanks to a huge budget. Spiderhead doesn’t reach the budget level of his past production, and thus Kosinki has to find new ways to make his visuals jump from the screen.
The result is a movie that is very well, shot and feels slick in almost every single frame. But it is also a movie that feels tame, that doesn’t allow itself to take any risks. This not only is true when it comes to the visuals but also true when it comes to the storytelling. The script is being penned by Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick, famous for being the writers on the Deadpool franchise. As a collaborative effort, the story and the visuals don’t really amount to anything other than a solid.
The real highlight of the movie is the cast. Kosinski has managed to gather a group of protagonists that brings all of it to each one of their scenes, and the result is that they carry the film from beginning to end. Even when the script gets weak and some of the ideas, are held back for some reason. The actors go that extra mile to make each scene feel like a moment that is important for the story and for the characters.
Miles Teller is having one hell of a comeback and this film becomes his second collaboration with Kosinski after Top Gun Maverick. Teller is an amazing performance, and his stoic nature works very well for a character that is feeling and suffering a lot on the inside. A character that has problems exteriorizing his feelings is hard to play, but Teller manages to do it with ease.
Jurnee Smollett also makes a great impression, by this point the child actor has proven that she is one of the best of her generation. We expect to see her in more projects in the future. Unlike the two other protagonists, her role feels very much underwritten, so what Smollett is able to deliver feels very much like it is coming from her. This is something all great actors do, they elevate the material.
Hemsworth is, of course, the biggest star in the film, and he also has the showiest role. One that places him for the first time in the role of the main villain, and he is having a blast in each one of his scenes. Hemsworth plays with ease a character that has left behind all sense of morality in order to achieve his goals, and seeing the progression of the character throughout the film is both scary and funny at the same time.
Towards the end of the film, the tone makes a 180 on the audience, and all sense of tension is thrown out in favor of a more comedic tone. It is a strange ending and one that doesn’t fit the rest of the movie. Nevertheless, the sudden change in mood can be somewhat explained by the plot, but either way, it is a strange choice.
Spiderhead is very well-made and boasts a great cast of headliners that make the film feel entertaining. However, a weak script that doesn’t take any risks and somewhat lackluster visuals make the movie feel very forgettable. You won’t really remember this movie once the credits roll.