In the interests of full disclosure: I wanted to like this film. The notion of a production that would play so fast and loose with everything from narrative to the very ethnicity of its extremely famous cast was pretty intriguing – and when it comes to Tom Hanks, I find myself pretty firmly in the “quick to forgive” camp.
And for a while, it IS fun to set your brain loose to bob along merrily on the sea of narrative, but after a while the whole thing sags – you’re likely to notice rather a lot of the 172-minute runtime creeping by.
To be fair, there are things to like – this being a cinematic lucky dip on a colossal scale, there were bound to be one or two bits of candy among the licorice. Many things do look wonderful (stand up, Hugh Grant’s genuinely terrifying cannibal tribesman), and there are some quiet successes in costume design – particularly in the New Seoul segments, where their comparative subtly is all the more appreciated alongside the excessively flashy CG gadgetry and cityscapes. Ben Whishaw, though perhaps hardly stretched by his main role as a dissipated young composer in 1930s England, is always a breath of angular fresh air. Jim Broadbent is clearly having a whale of a time as a range of pantomime villains and particularly as amoral publisher Timothy Cavendish, whose Dad’s Army misadventures provide agreeable quantities of robust slapstick.
The prosthetics and CGI used to change actors’ ethnicities must surely have been developed with jarring incongruity in mind – faces frequently tread an uncanny valley of not-rightness that makes for some amusing guessing games as to just who has hopped races and genders, but sometimes makes it all the harder to engage with their characters.
Questionable accents and geography, even astronomy, provide further howlers – a grudging nod for sheer neck must go to Hanks’ truly astonishing Oirish gangster/writer, who drags the brogue down to dizzying new depths.
The film demands resolution of some form by its very tangled nature, but by eschewing subtlety and ambiguity for ham-fisted, overstated moralising the Wachowskis rob all satisfaction from the shambling, often facile conclusions of the assorted threads. After a slog of such a length (complete with intermission in certain German cinemas), I was craving either clever narrative subversion or genuine warmth, but was delivered cheese. It’s impossible not to admire the film’s ambition, but equally hard to forgive it for not being all that it strives so earnestly to be.