Mill Jovovich (Violet Song-Jat Shariff), Cameron Bright (Six), Nick Chinlund (Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus), Sebastian Andrieu (Nerva), William Fichtner (Garth)
“Hello, my name is Violet and I was born into a world you may not understand. Yes, I was born into a world you may find hard to understand. Trouble began when an American weapons lab discovered an obscure virus that had been around for centuries. They tried to modify it to create faster and stronger soldiers but instead they created a more contagious form of the disease; a strain called HGV (Homoglophagic Virus) and that’s when the disease got out. Everything changed. As previous ages were defined by terrorism, this one was defined by fear of disease. The medical establishment took it upon itself to protect its public, at first requiring victims to wear identifying arm bands, then rounding them up in special camps and facilities, until finally people just stopped hearing from them. The trouble began for me the day I learned I was pregnant: the same day I lost my husband, my future, my life. I contracted the disease and lost my baby. With those few outside I found a resistance, went underground, and began fighting back. And so began the blood wars. Now, the leader of the militant medical establishment running this phobic world is Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus.” – Opening narration.
I pick the movies for this column pretty much at random, based on my whims and what’s close at hand. I try, in general, to switch it up and not do too much of one genre or time period at a time, but it’s hard to consciously avoid all of a similar theme. For the last four reviews I have been reviewing dumb movies: from Beowulf’s inept attempts to be cool, to Helldriver’s over-the-top Japanese weirdness, to Red Dawn’s dumbass alarmist propaganda, I have been mired in a swamp of stupidity and today I review what may well be the stupidest movie ever made: Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet.
If you’re famiilar with Wimmer at all, it’s likely as the writer/director of Equilibrium. Equilibrium is a dystopian movie starring Christian Bale, and while I’ll save most of my comments on it for my review of it, suffice it to say that it’s pretty much a dumb person’s idea of a smart movie. Much of the criticism leveled at the movie centered around the fact that, in spite of its rather intellectual ideas, its action and plot were rather goofy and stupid and that this created a dissonance between what the movie wanted to be and what it actually was. Kurt Wimmer apparently heard these criticisms and decided that the problem was that he needed to make the movie more overtly dumb.
I had never seen Ultraviolet until this column; it was released around the same time that this type of movie was all the rage and I just never had the desire, especially after hearing all the negative buzz. But people are often wrong and I’ve found things to enjoy about some seriously hated movies (I love Thomas Jane’s The Punisher and will go to my grave swearing that it’s the best adaptation of the three) so I decided to just go ahead and take the plunge. Ultraviolet is absolutely as bad as you’ve heard, it may be even worse, and it deserves the hatred it has earned for itself. However, while I agree with the world at large that the movie is bad, I don’t necessarily agree on why.
Ultraviolet begins with an opening credits sequence that features covers to a non-existant Ultraviolet comic series. From this opening sequence to the comic sans font in the opening and closing credits, it’s apparent what kind of look that the film-makers are going for. The colors are all bold and singular, the edges of everything are clearly and neatly defined, facial expressions are exaggerated, movements (especially fight scenes) are jerky and manic, dialogue is clipped and short, and all the actors have had their skin Photoshopped into a pale glowy blur.
This movie is trying very hard to look like a comic book, like Sin City or 300, but the problem is that the stilted nature with which characters move to get those iconic “ripped from the panel” looking shots looks extremely fake, this is why Zach Snyder uses slow motion. Many have pointed out that the special effects, particularly shots of buildings and large action sequences, look ridiculously fake. Many of the action scenes in this movie look like the actors were green-screened into an episode of Reboot. I, however, don’t think this was unintentional or inept, I think it was intended to look cartoonish and fake.
Ultraviolet is going for a very comic book/anime aesthetic and the bubblegum and candy look of the world lends itself to that. That’s why, while I agree with the assessment that this movie is bad, I don’t agree with what’s bad about it. This is a remarkably stupid movie but Ultraviolet’s stupidity isn’t a weakness, stupidity is its strength. Much like Equilibrium, Ultraviolet’s biggest failures come when it tries to make its audience think. When it’s a big goofy spectacle of excess it’s a lot of fun but when it tries to get serious and makes parallels to totalitarian regimes, the holocaust, AIDs, or anything else it just becomes cringeworthy.
There’s not a lot of plot here and when there is it just distracts from Violet running down hallways, her twin uzis belching pink fire, and kicking gas-masked ninjas dressed in all-white SWAT gear:
or armed men inexplicably dressed in glass armor:
It distracts from all the silly masks that the bad guys wear:
It distracts from goofy facial expressions:
It distracts from William Fichtner looking like a gene splice of Shaggy and Scooby Doo:
It distracts from men looking bored as swords magically appear in their hands:
It distacts from Not-Claude Van-Damme:
There is so much spectacular nonsense on display here that it’s very hard for me not to love this movie. I love how, at the beginning, when Violet’s cover is blown her vest turns from yellow to orange for no particular reason as she hits the guy. I love how after mowing down a room full of soldiers, as another wave comes in, katana blades extract from the grips on her guns.
I love the exchange where Nick Chinlund’s Daxus says “I have 700 soldiers here with me, what do you think you can do against that many men?” and Violet replies, “I can kill them.” I love how any time anyone needs to hit a button, open a door, or anything, they shoot it with a burst of automatic weapon fire. I love how Violet’s hair, sunglasses, and clothing continuously change color for no discernible reason.
And I love Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus. Nick Chinlund has played some ridiculous characters but Daxus is just a joy. He’s got a bowl cut and wears these weird tea-diffuser things in his nose. In the big climactic fight scene, he wields a katana with a serrated blade which I’m fairly certain makes it absolutely worthless as a sword. He mugs like a pro and is most of the reason this movie is even worth watching.
It’s not all good, however. Milla Jovovich remains an uncharismatic waste as the film’s lead. She’s certainly good to look at, but I’ve never understood why anyone would consider her leading woman material. It doesn’t seem like it would matter since Violet Song-Jat Shariff (easily the clumsiest protagonist name this side of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath) is little more than a spandex bodysuit and a wig masquerading as a human being, but charisma is necessary when acting talent is in short supply which is why people like Christopher Lambert and John Gries have careers.
Of course, Violet isn’t the worst character in the movie, because Six is. Six is played by famous “that kid” Cameron Bright and is the archetypal taciturn child (there’s that trope again) character who’s there to wring emotions from the audience when they become endangered. Here, Six is a surrogate for the baby Violet lost and the entire point of her quest. He is the plot, and since plot is the enemy of Ultraviolet, Six is the worst part of the movie. Six makes the movie extremely boring and the movie can never quite capture my interest after he enters into it.
Of course, while the action is fun it’s not great either. I appreciate what the movie is trying to go for, attempting physical feats that have never been shown in live-action movies with Violet’s gravity-leveler technology or the way she stores her weapons in little portals secreted about her person, but everything has a weightless feel. You don’t feel the impact of the bullets or the slashes of the sword, it’s like everyone’s fighting with Nerf darts. Violet shoots and stabs and beheads people with nary a drop of blood being spilled, flipping around like a box of paperclips in a clothes dryer. Half the people who die in this movie shoot or stab each other as they attempt to kill her.
Then the cinematographer flies a little to close to the sun with tricks like in this scene where the camera gets a little too happy with playing with the reflections off everyone’s mirrored sunglasses.
The only reason that that isn’t the most egregious shot in the movie is because this one immediately follows it:
Ultraviolet is fun, but it’s just too absurd for its own good while trying to take itself too seriously at the same time. It makes the movie airy and forgettable, so forgettable that I’m pretty sure that its world premier was on a hospital TV with a USA logo in the corner. Sure, about ten minutes of content (including plot details and some added violence/gore) were cut from the theatrical release, but the contributions they could make to the movie are dubious at best. This is a justifiably forgotten film, and though it has some lofty goals and neat ideas, it’s a complete dud.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
“We’re going to die. One after the other, all eight of us. Tins are rusting, so are the cartridges. Nothing grows. The land seems to despise us.”