Dir: Donovan Marsh
They say films reflect the times in which they’re produced. So no wonder I’ve just sat through a violent, militaristic prepostero-fantasy about the brink of World War 3, headed up by an arrogant lunkhead.
But the abject childishness of the plot allows Hunter Killer to hedge its bets in terms of laying blame. Yes, it concerns an unprovoked attack by Soviet forces, but don’t worry, it’s a rogue Defence Secretary who’s gone doolally. Therefore, the manly, wholesome (and let’s be honest, downright dishy) Russian President can remain blameless. So he’s free to be rescued like the despot-in-distress he is, by the eternal saviours of the planet …the USA. Specifically, Gerard Butler. Aaah, Mister Gerard “I’ll get you” Butler… how gleefully reliable you’ve become in pumping out this soggy indoctri-tainment (please see further exhibits Geostorm, London Has Fallen…).
We first catch up with Gentleman Butler hunting deer with a bow and arrow in the Scottish highlands. He’s literally a hunter killer …do you see? Ah, we think, the Scot’s finally playing true to his Celtic roots. But no, the army copter soon scrapes him off the slopes, direct to the sub’s control room, and he’s barking his faux Yankee growl to those unfortunate enough to be trapped in such a confined space with him. Oh, and he couldn’t shoot that stag by the way… the beast’s offspring wandered into view, Butler caught sight of Bambi’s eyes, and he couldn’t slay his dad in cold blood, could he? He’s a hunter killer, but with a sensitive soul …DO YOU SEE?
So, after some deep-sea drivel involving a missile strike on a Soviet sub turning out to be a hoax in order to justify the first throes of nuclear war, in heaves Butler in his phallic DSV, flipping his lucky coin as he goes. Meanwhile Gary Oldman is back on dry land, strutting and fretting his way around the US Military Command Centre, jettisoning all the cred he earned with this film’s polar opposite, Darkest Hour (2017), in one foul-accented swoop.
Talking of accents, this is a world in which the Russians speak English when discussing something pertinent to the story, but when they need to sound menacing, they gabble away in their native tongue. Ooh they’re speaking foreign, it must be terrifying. Hang on, here comes a plot point, better switch to English… The visuals call on perfectly passable CGI, it’s true, but there’s only so much you need to do with a sub tootling along the seabed, all covert like, and the odd torpedo. When it calls for sweeping shots of the full naval arsenal, stock military footage saves the day.
The macho war games that follow all feel hopelessly naff and dated, to the point where you can’t really tell if it’s some sort of tongue-in-cheek homage to Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s long-gone heyday. But such knowing subtlety is surely bobbing on the surface far above this sub-par sub plot. And yet. It does propel along at the required rate of knots to stave off any boredom, ensuring the audience’s entertainment is kept afloat. Just. And perhaps not quite as intended.
Then the credits turn with a tribute to the late Michael Nyqvist. The Swedish actor has passed at a shockingly young 56. His roles are a key reason why the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (2009) and John Wick (2014) are such solid, creditable thrillers. Here, he’s the Russian Captain with a heart; the one who understands the truth, i.e. the Americans are always right. There’s even a hauntingly apposite shot where he bids farewell to Captain Butler with a handshake, the hint of a halo glowing behind his head, thanks to the sun breaking through the distant cloud. It’s a conspicuously eerie, yet heartening coincidence. But it feels damned unjust that such an accomplished actor should end up going down with something as far beneath him as this. R.I.P. Michael Nyqvist.
Meanwhile, Hunter Killer will dive straight to the bottom of the digital bargain bin. And stay lurking in the depths.