Midnight Special isn’t all bad news.
Just turn on your TV these days, it’s not terribly hard to find. I’m guessing the first and the second Friday of November are going to be a successful weekend for theaters. It’s been a while since any film has gathered such a lightning rod of media attention for less reason. On first impressions, though, it doesn’t look much better than the poorly reviewed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
First impressions are significant because there’s so much distance from the original to this new entry in the series. Somewhere in between the first film and this one is the time frame between Inside Out and Finding Dory. That’s certainly the case here. Director/writer Jeff Nichols, especially in what is said to be the climax, offers little in the way of thrills. The desperation comes through instead. It’s less a contest between the governments to lock down Florida and more so a desperate standoff between the forces of law and sanity and some sort of supernatural force.
The action is so out of the ordinary, and the characters so flat, that it’s hard to latch onto much of what happens. Maybe it’s just that I don’t really care that much about the characters involved. I liked Ethan Hawke as much as I did John Lithgow in Overbrook’s 2015 disaster pic, Collateral Beauty. I also like Hawke more than I did the Terminator sequel Terminator Genisys. He’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he gets good work here and doesn’t really quite offer much in terms of nuance.
There’s not much chemistry between him and his co-star, Kirsten Dunst. That’s also true of the new characters. We meet them and then only a few seconds later discover the truth that has kept them trapped there all this time. Michael Shannon is less than charming as the government official who looks the other way because he needs them to win. The very decent Laia Costa does her best to come off as feisty with little to show for it. Adam Driver is completely wasted as well, and has essentially nothing to do.
That’s not to say that other sequences are insipid or that this film isn’t still visually impressive. The writing is at least moderately strong and makes some effort to have fun with the supernatural elements. Director/writer Jeff Nichols gets things moving enough in the first half hour. It’s after that that all of the various concepts and subplots fall apart. It’s not because they were terrible ideas, but because it’s clear they weren’t as developed as they needed to be to make them work.
Without much more than this first forty-five minutes, I’m leaning toward a failing grade for this one. I believe the power of nostalgia will pull fans of the franchise into theatres. It’s fun to see more scenes from the original. Is that enough to take the loss of Christopher Nolan, who helped make the original such a success? I have no idea. Maybe he wasn’t all that good an influence.