- Directed by Nic Mathieu
- December 9, 2016
A special ops team must stop a seemingly supernatural force.
Military science fiction for me is usually entertaining even if it is ultimately bad. Something about guns and bombs and otherworldly stuff connects with me. I have heard Spectral was an attempt at a Blackhawk Down-like film. I do not think it quite gets there but is rather much closer to The Darkest Hour with an unseen, nearly supernatural threat and some questionable science used to explain it all and solve the situation.
This movie never reaches scary, but it certainly reaches intriguing and exciting. There is plenty of action mixed in with a mystery that has an answer that’s equally cool and disturbing if you think too much about it. The a mystery of the story even has a few red herrings before you get to the truth. I truthfully was expecting something perhaps a bit like a serious Ghostbusters but what we get inside instead was much more science-fiction through and through.
DARPA researcher Dr. Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale) is essentially our hero here. He is bothered that he is making stuff that can kill people rather than just protect soldiers. It’s DARPA! Military technology tends to have multiple uses. He’s caught between his conscience and doing what he must do as part of his job. Presented to him is a mystery caught on a piece of technology he helped design so he takes the challenge.
What helps this movie is that nobody overtly hardnosed or ridiculously entrenched in their particular position. They are all relatively reasonable individuals including the military unit which Clyne spends much of the film with. General Orland (Bruce Greenwood), the leader of US Army troops deployed to fight in the Moldovan War is doing his duty but not blinded by his military role for reasons. Fran Madison (Emily Mortimer), the CIA officer who directs Delta Force operations in Moldova’s war-torn capital, has her job to do but by the end of the story is reluctant to actually do it.
James Badge Dale and Emily Mortimer both look believable in their respective roles. I can buy James Badge Dale (is ‘Badge’ a middle name?) as a scientist even in the real world and I can believe Mortimer as a CIA agent. They’re not ridiculously attractive or James Badge Dale (I do not know what to use as a last name because I could see ‘Badge Dale’ being a last name) for his part is not jacked like he’s going on to leg day at the gym. And they handle their material very well.
As do the military units that they are with. I’m no expert on military gear or the general appearance of soldiers, but they do look like they have been out in the field and been battle hardened. And this helps sell this fiction presented in Spectral.
Bruce Greenwood falls short a little bit for me. I’m not sure if it’s his look or what specifically but it is something involving him. He does well but I would buy him more as a colonel. He looks more like a bargain basement Richard Dean Anderson in SG1 than he does a Norman Schwarzkopf. Not overly harmful but rather my personal issue.
Stories of people dropping dead and of ghostly sightings on goggles strongly imply a supernatural threat though Agent Madison is more of the mind at first that it is active camouflage (think the Predator suit). The truth of what is going on is equally cool and horrifying. The things they are encountering are actual the prototypes of a new weapon from the old Moldovan regime using Bose-Einstein condensate. What is that? They explain it in this film (at least their version of it). If it works like that in reality I do not know.
Science fiction tends to play fast and loose with the science, but they do enough to make this feel plausible. They give a solid enough explanation that is believable even if it’s all fiction. That mixed in with something very real world and there’s an air of authenticity to it all. I guess you could call the end product science-fiction ghosts or even some kind of weird science fiction zombie driven by pain. These are 3-D printed creations attached to human nervous systems (JUST the nervous systems). And they may even be suffering.
There is an atmosphere and style to this movie. In other words, it is cool. And you need that in something like this to make it go down smooth. That is despite the heavy use of slow motion. It never becomes funny or harmful to the narrative but does get dangerously close to just that. Mathieu does a good job with the action and creating an eerie if not supernatural atmosphere.
I did draw some issue with this military force pushed to the brink of defeat being able to manufacture so many brand new types of weapons to fight a new type of threat. It did strain the credibility they had built up even with the introduction of fantastical science. It is a bit of a cliché in movies. I can buy one but arming an entire force is a bit much.
This is nothing deep but it is very well made. There is enough meat to entertain. They create a logic for the characters to follow and they do not violate it too much. The science that leads to the solution is used from start to finish but not shoved in your face.
Spectral is a great piece of science fiction. It has action and excitement and good characters and will please the viewer. If you are looking for a good actioner this is certainly for you!