Action films are a way to cut through the tedium that rules our lives and feel an adrenaline rush from the safety of the couch. Those actioners that get right to the point and manage it with characters we care about are those dearest to our hearts. Few can manage this feat, and so there is an imbalance to story versus bone-shattering activity; often a gimmick is needed to excite a lulled audience. Equilibrium invented a martial art that is as ridiculous looking as it is awesome. This is far from a perfect movie and it labors with an unnecessarily fussy backstory and carries the portent of a death sentence throughout.
This background material is an elaborate and unnecessary structure upon which is hung the awesome concept of gunkata. It’s like adorning your balls with peacock feathers – impressive but weird and kind of offputting. So, GUNKATA. All caps suits it. The idea is that the gun is just an extension of your fist like you can punch across the room and through the liquefied faces of your enemies; at the same time, you position yourself in such a way that the enemy is statistically unlikely to hit you with return fire. This is an excuse to use kung fu choreography moves while shooting the shit out of a roomful of thugs while wearing cool fucking suits. If this were two solid hours of exquisitely fought scenes full of perforated extras, it would rank up there with Citizen Kane or, dare I suggest it, Robocop. As it is, the backstory gets nearly all the screentime, and it is a doozy. In the future, a fascist regime takes over and bans all emotion with the use of mood stabilizing drugs and executions for anyone who grins or pops a boner. There is a message about the importance of emotion to human life that is heavy-handed in ways that approach Shoah. It makes for an intriguing narrative, but I would have been happy with ‘this bad guy is an asshole – get him’. The idea of GUNKATA needs to be put in as many movies as possible, including holocaust dramas. Of note, the practitioners of GUNKATA are called Grammaton Clerics. They dress better than priests, that’s for fucking certain.
Hilariously, the opening narration is done over superimposed text in case the viewer is deaf or has trouble following the spoken word. And each word… is followed by… a… … long… pause. Intended to hammer home the pants-shittingly ominous tone, it comes in handy as a long enough break to eat a handful of potato chips without missing crucial info. I appreciate it when movies have this built in feature, and it shows the director is a fucking genius. In the opening scene, the Resistance is concealing some paintings, banned materials in this gray era. The fighters are made up of what seems to be thousands of random guys in the uniform of normal clothing. If they wanted to blend in, they would wear the cool suits like everyone else, and pretend to be bored hipsters. The lead Grammaton Cleric, played by Christian Bale in full Batman form, rolls in and kills everyone in the room with his eyes closed. Statistics killed them, actually. Bale was just the deliverer. The tactic of positioning yourself in a way that decreases the odds of being hit apparently means walking in the dead center of any room or hallway like you are fetching the paper.
He experiences a pang of conscience when his colleague turns out to be palming his medications and must be killed. Played by Sean Bean, it is a twist in that he didn’t get a chance to betray anyone before getting two to the face. Bale proceeds to palm his own meds and discover the joy and pain of emotion, and this isn’t as bad as it sounds. He is surrounded by potential enemies that could out him at any time as a ‘sense offender’, including his new co-Cleric Taye Diggs (smug is apparently okay as far as emotions go), the heavily armed soldiers that accompany him, and his own son. The leader of this regime is played by Robert the Bruce as the excessively… pausing… douche. There are double-crosses and revelations that fit in okay with the story, but the real reason we are here is the GUNKATA. We get the occasional sweet but brief kill zones, but at the end excrement becomes substantive. Bale goes fucking apeshit and kills a building. I mean, he kills everyone in it, but doesn’t stab the floor or anything. Bullets fly and the Cleric flips about and when he is out of bullets a sword does the talking. In a revelatory moment, he faces the pretty motherfucker that is Taye Diggs and severs his most prized aspect. The final boss battle is by turns awesome and funny as Bale and Robert the Bruce get slap happy with guns in close quarters. Even as you think to yourself “This is retarded”, you will have a grin plastered to your visage nonetheless.
I learned nothing about the value of human emotion or the importance of culture in bringing humanity to an inhumane world, but I did internalize the need for more GUNKATA in movies today. Just think of how this could improve nearly every film you encounter. Kate Hudson rom-coms would suddenly be splattered with impossible amounts of blood and Kate’s head would go flying to the joy of the watching crowd. Feel-good dramas about racism in the South would be punctuated by badass mofos in Afros and cool suits showing the man that bright red is the only color that matters. Remakes of 80s nostalgia products would pulsate with unce unce and ear-shattering gun battles. Footloose might have been palatable if the final high school dance were to end in tragedy as Lithgow’s preacher walks into the place in a cool suit and delivered his fuckoff evangel and arterial gushers.