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PopGap #11: Equilibrium (2002)

PopGap #11: Equilibrium (2002)

Written by dorrk
01 December 2015

Peer Review: Ranking the movies and the rankers who rank them.

I thought I had never heard of Kurt Wimmer's 2002 dystopian thriller Equilibrium prior this month, but it turns out that I listened as the podcast Film Sack covered it at length over two years ago. It obviously didn't make much of an impression on me. To be fair, it's not the kind of movie I'm likely to take note of, and I probably never would've sought it out on my own, and I can't say I found much to appreciate in its absurd premise, half-ass plot, or nonsensical action. But it looked nice, kind of, sometimes.

Set in a near-future where emotions have been outlawed, Equilibrium stars Christian Bale as the wizard-like king gladiator of the "Grammaton Clerics" — the authoritarian government's elite squad of soldiers charged with confiscating art and other items of inspirational/sentimental value, and executing anyone who fails to take their required multi-daily injections of a feels-suppressing drug. After discovering that his partner (Sean Bean) is a closeted "sense offender," Bale also goes on a covert emosh bender of his own, eventually joining an underground rebellion against the ludicrous overlords and their lunatic plan for ending "man's inhumanity to man" by removing their humanity.

Equilibrium is one of many sci-fi pot boilers based on a stoned-riffing "what if" scenario that shouldn't pass even the most lackluster scrutiny. Wimmer, however, doesn't let his irreconcilable concept stop him: he doesn't even try to make sense of it; he just throws a series of familiar dystopian tropes into the blender and presses the lowest-power setting. Not only is Equilibrium unbothered with realizing its own premise with any degree of thought or consistency, Wimmer also throws away any semblance of physical credibility within the first four minutes — on multiple occasions Bale stands dead center, surrounded by adversaries with automatic weapons at point-blank range, and kills them all with amazing inefficiency and yet never taking evasive action — establishing that his movie is 100% about mimicking the surface style of The Matrix while failing to make that style work as part of a coherent world. All of this could succeed as camp, like the wild Shoot 'Em Up, but Wimmer takes it all so deadly seriously that it isn't even fun to watch (well, one moment near the end brought a huge laugh out of me; is that how it was intended?).

In some ways Equilibrium is solid: visually, there are some beautiful (to the point of being precious) moments; the set design is, at times, near-ambitious; the acting is generally OK (if you don't count the constant grins, scowls & nervous twitches from all these people who are supposedly emotion-free — looking at you, Taye Diggs); but all of these moments are, at best, deeply derivative of better movies. the naked aping of The Matrix is only the most obvious, stretching past mere influence to the point that Equilibrium is practically a Matrix cover band. I'm not a big fan of sci-fi, and especially these types of weird-but-grand gimmicks that never make a lick of sense; I have no love for The Matrix or Blade Runner, but I am still impressed by the massive efforts that went into their unique visions. Equilibrium is just a poseur.

Flickchart user thelastdisciple has a particular taste — stylish gun combat — that partially explains how Equilibrium is ranked as his 4th favorite movie of all time (higher than The Raid 2: Berandal at #62? John Woo's Hard Boiled at #720?). Even though Troy Duffy's unhinged warning sign The Boondock Saints is his very favorite, the presence of the three original Star Wars movies and a couple by Quentin Tarantino in his Top 20 eked him into this month's list with a compatibility score of 919. My ranking of Equilibrium at the less-generous #2740, in my bottom 16%, drops his score a whopping 257 points to 1176.

PopGap #11: Equilibrium (2002)

Trailer for Equilibrium (2002)