All show and no substance in this shaky action flick

A filmmaker cannot please everyone. The element of subjectivity is probably the most profound and irritating part of the cinematic experience. Some will like a movie; others not. However, there must be universal standards of objectivity that can guide a film’s rating.

It’s exactly what The Office’s Dwight Schrute suggests in the episode where Pam gets pregnant and feels down about her looks. And there they are. By those standards, the new Netflix action film Carter falls tantalizingly short. Pitiful execution, a hollow core, and a lack of organization and direction lead to its downfall. Ultimately, it’s only intended for a certain type of viewer who likes action movies where you can keep your brain at home and just want a stress reliever.

It’s debatable whether Carter causes or reduces stress, but let’s talk about the plot first. John Woo plays the title character, who wakes up naked in bed surrounded by a special forces unit. Carter has a mysterious sign of the cross on the back of his head and can’t remember anything; not how he got there, his identity, or what happened last night.

The team wants to know the whereabouts of Professor Jung, who is developing a breakthrough cure for the DMZ virus that is sweeping the world. Carter uploaded a video of Jung being held hostage. Suddenly a phone from the closet in his jacket rings. He answers and the voice orders him to give it to one of the members. The phone explodes; also the room, but Carter is able to escape with the help of the same voice implanted in his ear.

Something is evidently going on as he fends off hundreds of criminals and assassins to do as the voice tells him. From there, Carter spirals into a manic chase that pushes the boundaries of conventional filmmaking with familiar story elements that make up the exposure.

Surprisingly, most of the film takes place over the course of a day, albeit within the confines of a narrative setting spanning years of political turmoil and enmity between North and South Korea. Their rivalry has been the subject of many endeavors trying to elicit more than meets the eye.

JSA (Park Chanwook), The spy has gone north (Yoon Jong-bin) and Escape from Mogadishu (Ryoo Seung-wan) are some great examples. It also plays an important role in Carter’s story. However, the way it manifests doesn’t create many surprises, instead playing a crucial role in shaping Carter’s background.

It’s an essential tool for character development while adding enough tension to the plot to keep the effort going. Jung Byung-gil also intelligently uses the ambiguity in Carter’s loyalty to place him squarely in the center of our judgment. We’re not sure what to make of him in that regard.

Carter becomes emotionally vulnerable when his daughter becomes involved in the mission. Our hearts go out to a father trying to save his daughter at any cost. That sentiment is probably the chase’s most compelling feature. The CIA also heavily dictates the bottom line. The tangent introduced midway through the film is roughly similar to Netflix’s The gray man. With so much information and moving parts, Jung’s job becomes more complicated as he tries to tie them all together.

Even we as viewers struggle to understand the double and triple agent trope used excessively by Gil. Not knowing who goes where is one thing. But pointing the needle at literally every person in the universe is completely insane. There are so many shifts in priorities and focus that Carter – the film – gets delirious at a certain point. It seems that the lack of clarity really keeps the film from materializing into a consistent, substance-driven narrative. After you finish it, you’ll probably need to rewind in parts to fully understand what just happened.

By far the most annoying part was the drone footage. The cinematography was really disappointing in the sense that it was overused. Some shots are well served with the technique. It certainly makes these situations conveniently manageable. But Carter keeps going back to it to make the film look like a video game. There is no craftsmanship or nuance in how the story is told.

Carter stays true to its label of being an action film through and through. There are so many murders and washed up men that those who enjoyed The Princess from Hulu last month would be treated well. For others, however, Carter is probably best avoided.

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