Equilibrium (2002) — 1984 meets The Matrix

“I’m not feeling! He is the one who’s feeling!”

PoolMan’s rating: Wow, and I thought *I* had a bad reaction to prescription drugs!

PoolMan’s review: Egad, how I’d hate to be the man who tried to create a science fiction movie about guys in leather running around having slow motion shootouts after the release of The Matrix. Now listen, before you go running off to the Forums to complain about how PoolMan is comparing Equilibrium to Matrix when you just posted three messages about it just last week and why isn’t he listening that crazy Canuck jerk, understand that I mean this in the nicest way.

Equilibrium, to start with, is an interesting if unoriginal story. It borrows so heavily from Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and any of umpteen more Orwellian tales that you can’t help feeling like it’s handing out storyline IOU’s. Mankind suffers his way through World War III and decides collectively that the only way to preempt yet another worldwide conflict is to remove the source of that conflict. And since killing everyone won’t help matters, so they go for the next best thing: Getting rid of emotions.

A drug (the humourously named Prozium) is created to be taken on a daily basis that removes all traces of the highs and lows of the human experience. There is no anger, no greed, no resentment, no guilt — but there is also no happiness, no passion, no love. The world is an array of greys on a cold canvas. To enforce this awkward new peace, an order of Clerics, called the Grammaton, are created to be the ultimate in emotionless law enforcement, capable of insane martial arts and gun related combat. Experiencing any emotion (known as a Sense Offence) is a pretty sure way to have one of these guys bust down your door and shoot you on sight, or to throw you in a crematorium while still unfortunately breathing.

One of the highest ranking members of this order, a Cleric named Preston, accidentally misses a dose of his Prozium, and quite naturally starts to feel. He gets entangled with an underground resistance group bent on restoring human emotions, and ultimately has to fight his way up the ladder to eliminate Father, the creator of this strange system.

There is a lot to love here, but it’s just something of a shame that it doesn’t come together so well. Christian Bale, as Preston, is actually remarkably good. His reactions to the widening of his own senses and feelings is very powerful, and he does a wonderful job with it. Scenes of immense power, like the shooting of a cage full of dogs, or the incineration of famous works of art and living, breathing people, are stunning in their gravity. However, the sum of all these parts is a whole that’s just a wee bit short. Characters inexplicably flip flop their motives, and the ending leaves an awful lot to be desired. Predictability rules the day here, which might have been okay if this were just an action flick, but the first half of the movie makes it clear that it wants to be cerebral and intelligent.

But again, drawing comparison to the Matrix is at least partly valid, because for such an initially clever movie, there is unforgettably good action here. The Clerics are trained in the way of the Gun Kata, a method of firearm combat that emphasizes the use of a gun in a way that statistically predicts how a gunfight will turn out, giving the Cleric a chance to remove himself from the most likely path of return fire, increasing his own lethal capability. Translated, Preston leaps, dodges, rolls, and strikes in every direction will firing two handguns in opposite directions at once, overcoming seemingly impossible odds with grace and speed. The sequences of the Gun Katas are beautiful, but rare and short, often over in a matter of seconds. And for all their remarkable style, they will unavoidably remind you of the bigger, better, and longer gun fights of the Matrix. It’s not fair, I agree, but it’s true. I highly suggest you try as hard as possible not to let your thoughts drift to Neo while these sequences are in motion, because they really do deserve to be appreciated.

For all they accomplished with a relatively chump change budget when compared to the Matrix, you can really feel the bottom coming out of the purse towards the end. I got the distinct impression that someone realized they didn’t have enough money left to pay the roadies and decided to wrap shooting as quickly as possible before a REAL fight broke out. Fight against all the guards? Over in ten seconds. Sword fight against the only true adversary we’ve seen all film long? Over in LESS than ten seconds. Gun kata against one last, final opponent? Over in a minute or two, and the editing will be such that you can’t really see what’s happening (despite being a truly beautiful display of martial arts talent). It was FRUSTRATING to think that such a good leadup and story is wasted on what feels like the end of a PlayStation game. So much accomplished, so much wasted.

The story is cut and paste from a dozen well known and well tread sources, and if you feel remotely satisfied with the ending, you’re a much more patient person than myself. But there’s still a lot going for this movie, and one definitely starts to understand how this movie is gathering the cult following it’s getting. Equilibrium is a pretty good movie, but it carries the unfortunate burden of being created about ten years too late to be the revolutionary movie it could have been.

Justin’s rating: PoolMan is Big Sister

Justin’s review: As the fickle person I am, I often carry prejudices against actors over to new films, tainting my expectations of those movies. If an actor or actress has done me great wrong in the past (me, personally; they all know me and some have personal vendettas), then it takes them a lot to get out of the doghouse in a new movie. Whether willingly or forced by threats aimed at his pet parakeet, Christian Bale was etched into my memory as the abhorrent force behind American Psycho. It didn’t help his case that he’s featured in yet another stone-faced, emotionless role in Equilibrium, but I put down my Enemies List and picked up the objective pen of wily criticism nonetheless.

As a huge film, Equilibrium would have failed. Yet as a smaller, niche-aimed flick, it thrives. As the book 1984 is one of my gilt-edge favorites, I delighted in the dark and oppressive world that Equilibrium creates. Instead of a communist Big Brother, we are ruled over by Father and his Vulcan backup dancers. It’s a world where one extreme — that of anger and war — has led us to another: that of a ban on all emotions, everywhere, to ensure the survival of humanity. People are given mood-suppressing drugs, the city is made bland and uninteresting, and all art, emotions, literature, and freedoms are quashed like a stinky little bug. The point is driven in rather firmly during the first ten minutes of the movie — both freedom and forced peace are double-edged doohickies.

One might wonder how an entire cast of actors can act, given that they’re not allowed to show any emotions (unless, Equilibrium excepts, if the script needed a little punching up in certain scenes). The answer to that is to split the film up into two halves: the first half concentrating more on revealing this brave new world of bland interior decorating to us, and the second half allowing characters to break out of their shells and start emoting all over the place, often with rapid-fire technology.

As a Cleric, Preston (Bale) is the epitome of stern librarians: marching around, lecturing how great society is now that no high school student is forced to suffer through The Great Gatsby (it’s SYMBOLISM, yes, we get it, but it still is a horrible novel), and shooting anyone with overdue books. Overdue in the sense that all books needed to be turned in yesterday to be burned. Preston misses a dose, realizes what a colossal dork he’s been, and spends way too much time being pleased with simple feelings, like sneezing and turning a lightswitch on and off. Yes, Preston, things are fun to feel, but… Preston, we have a movie to do! No, Preston, don’t touch that! Stop feeling up that statue and let’s get back on the… Sigh. Fine. I’ll come back in ten minutes.

After the prolonged and somewhat-pointless fights in Matrix Reloaded, I dipped deep into a well of great refreshment in Equilibrium, as the battles were short, sweet, and oh-so-cool. They had purpose, they had style, and they are definitely something that you’ll be using the rewind button on alot. Preston doesn’t need a construct program to do that crazy thing he do; he just needs to flick his wrists, pop out two guns, and go to town at hyperspeed. Happily, there’s no bullet-time sequences, and the director shows a wise discretion in minimizing cuts in the action scenes. As a result, the gun-kata and sword fights flicker by very fast, but in such a way that your brain can get a grip on what’s going on without needing to slow it down for ya.

I can see why Equilibrium was shunned by critics and audiences as being a pale imitation to The Matrix, but they don’t understand that it wasn’t trying. It’s different and a little bit special in the head, and I’m more than glad to extend the hand of cult friendship to this video store orphan. Come on home, we got hot cocoa waiting for you.

Clare’s rating: So the whole movie is constructed on a premise that makes absolutely no sense. But it’s also got Christian Bale’s nipples. In other words, I ain’t complaining.

Clare’s review: Okay. This movie was crap. I can’t pretend it wasn’t. I tend not to be overly nit-picky when watching science fiction movies or movies set in the future. Because no movie can get it completely right. However, when there are glaringly weird problems with the entire framework around which a plot is built, I tend to notice and notice vocally.

The introduction to this movie goes like this: In the near future, as a means to avoid a fourth world war, all the people who survived world war three agree that the only thing that will help save humanity is to suppress all human emotions. If nobody gets angry or jealous, then nobody gets crazy and wants to kill, kill, kill. I guess if I were feeling generous I’d just shrug and say, “Okay, that’s highly unlikely, but I’ll go with it.” Unfortunately, it actually made me laugh out loud. I figured there would be more to the introduction after that. Like, “… the world agrees to suppress all human emotions. But once they realized how completely impossible that would be, they decided to do this other thing we’re going to base the whole movie on instead.” Unfortunately, the emotion eradication thing was actually the entire set up for the film, so I had to go with it.

Here’s the other super-sized problem with Equilibrium. It’s all about the deadening of emotions. Only all the characters who are supposed to be on drugs to make them unfeeling citizens of the future all talk about how they feel about things. They have ambitions, hopes, fears, interests, desires, motivations, secrets, a lust for power etc. etc. etc. So even if I was willing to buy that the entire population of the world would be down with injecting themselves in the neck with medication every day, the medication clearly doesn’t work. So where does that leave me? Not particularly caring much about what happens next. That’s where.

Now, let’s just step over the crap heap that is the plot of this film and try to concentrate on the other elements of the movie that might be worth your time. Namely, it’s packed super tight with super tightly-packed actors. There are several exchanges between Christian “Hot Oiled Torso” Bale and Taye “Sexy Body” Diggs where I was somewhat fearful that my head would explode from all the gorgeousness in front of me. Add to this man stew my ongoing obsession with You Know, THAT Guy! William “Yummy” Fichtner and the always stunning Emily “Hot Pants” Watson and I’d say it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing, I want to watch!

In addition to this, some of the fight scenes, although widely compared to the ones in The Matrix, are pretty well done. And although the material is shaky at best, the actors do make a good go at trying to deliver meaningful characters amidst the caved in ruins of the script. And as much as I think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with good things to mention about Equilibrium, the wardrobe and set design was pretty excellent (although also somewhat contrived from The Matrix) as well.

It’s not a TERRIBLE movie, but it’s certainly not great either. If it came on any of my movie stations, I’d probably watch parts of it again. But those parts would most likely contain either Christian Bale killing a bunch of guys or Christian Bale’s half naked body. Other than that, you can keep the rest of it.

Kyle’s rating: It’s a mythical best-you’ve-never-heard-of film!

Kyle’s review: Here’s my movie review of Equilibrium: It was cool. It’s not quite awesome, though it has gallons and gallons of gravy-like potential floating in its boat. What? Anyway, the true grace of Equilibrium is that I had only scarcely heard of it, thereby having very low expectations, but then I heard about it and decided it was worth seeing, so I did, and it was really cool. Christian Bale is cool, and so is Sean Bean. Emily Watson has scary eyes. If I met her in person, I’d be like “nooooo!” and I would run away from her freaky x-ray eyes.

This review is going to make no sense. I’m sorry for that. See, Equilibrium is about blah blah blah, you know what, you’ve probably already heard about it. I mean, most of the gang already reviewed it, so by this point you’re seeing this review and going “Dude, I already rented it based on those other guys and gals, and hey: that movie sucked!” But hopefully that didn’t happen.

In fact, maybe I should start over.

Equilibrium is a cool movie, with a lot of potential. Some of the potential is used to great extent, some is left untouched but adds to the overall texture of the viewing experience. The cast is strong and the concept is fun, but they needed more of that cool gun-fu stuff. Yea, baby!

See, originally, I was going to be like “Hey, isn’t it weird how you hear about every new movie anymore, and there are no surprises at the theaters or the rental stores?” But then, hey, Equilibrium is a big surprise! Uh, go watch it! But maybe I’m wrong. Plus, it’s tough to write “Equilibrium.” I keep writing Equilibirium, with like 10 “i”s in there. Argh!

Okay, you know what? The whole point of this, really, is that Christian Bale is going to be Batman, and this is a good look at how awesome he will be in that role. It sounds like I’m in love with Christian Bale. I’m not, mind you. In fact, I’m not sure I’m spelling his name correctly. It doesn’t matter. Just know that Christian Bale is going to be Batman, and this movie is a fun rental. Maybe you could buy it. I don’t want to, but you might. Rent it first, just to be sure. Alright. Thanks!

Sue’s rating: Warning: Prozium’s side effects are rare but may include: abdominal pain, headaches, constipation, incineration, lead poisoning and summary execution if not taken in prescribed dosages. Please talk to your dictator and see if Prozium is right for you.

Sue’s review: Dystopian societies always give me the willies. Actually lots of things give me the willies: silverfish, bats, Mary-Sue in all her tedious incarnations, being sneezed on via tracheotomy tubes, sour milk, roadkill… I could go on all day, but then I’d probably spend the next three nights sleeping under my bed sucking my thumb. But dystopian societies are certainly on my chart of things generally best avoided. That’s the point I’m trying to make. I read “1984″ in 1980 and chewed my fingernails for the next four years. Darn you, George! “Fahrenheit 451,” “Brave New World,” yeah, been there, done that, wrote the essays. Shudder.

Equilibrium is right up the ol’ Orwellian alley. In order to avoid conflict, the population of Libria voluntarily engages in a strictly scheduled synchronized shooting up of the great leveler drug, Prozium. Prozium is apparently supposed to trim off the metaphorical fat of emotional extremes, leaving behind a leaner, healthier, infinitely more boring psyche. To augment this, everyone has to listen to the titular leader of the country, Father, constantly explaining just how great it is that they’re all doped up to the eyeballs. He’s on television, he’s projected onto buildings and blimps, he’s even piped into elevators — which on reflection would be better than Muzak, but not by much. And just to make sure everyone stays in Serenity Valley, anything that has the capacity to elicit a basic emotional response is eradicated — art, music, snow-globes, pets, ugly wallpaper, un-medicated people, you name it. They either shoot it or char-broil it. Makes you wonder why they’re allowed to raise their own children. Make you wonder HOW they go about having children.

Anyway, the hero of the story is one John Preston; father, family man, patriotically cold-blooded killer, master of the “gun-kata” form of martial arts, and stone-faced hunka-hunka burnin’ love. (Mmmm, Christian Bale.) His job is to hunt down and destroy all those emotional trigger points mentioned in the last paragraph, and he’s very good at it. Then he inadvertantly misses a dose of joyless juice, has a nightmare (with a sweaty chest!), watches a sunrise, fondles a bannister, and voila, he’s a soppy mess under the sort of emoting onslaught that normally only a legion of Care Bears could produce. Suddenly, he can feel! Suddenly he likes puppies! Suddenly he’s really awfully sorry that his wife got barbecued! Suddenly he’s wanting a little payback and he’s got an industrial sized can of whoop-uh-donkey at his disposal. Serious, serious whoop-donkey. Take my advice. Watch it for the whoop-donkey, if for nothing else.

For a movie that gave me no expectations other than the projected enjoyment of slobbering over Christian Bale, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I dug it. The pacing was good, the action scenes were well done and parceled out in sufficiently tasty portions, and the acting was nicely crafted. Good looks aside, Bale has got serious dramatic chops, and he handled the arc of his character from homicidal automaton to puppy cuddling softie to puppy cuddling homicidal automaton masterfully.

Sure the story has been done before, but this version is still clever enough to satisfy. It works even though it probably shouldn’t — but the widespread emotional constipation would be hard to write any other way without turning it into a zombie flick. The bottom line is that this is a really nice rental choice for a relatively overlooked action movie.

Didja notice?

  • The onscreen destruction of the original Mona Lisa… that’s pretty bold.
  • I thought Clerics weren’t allowed to use edge weapons! (ba da DUM)
  • The rebel leaders talk about how if they can just destroy the day’s supply of Prozium (with bombs already in place), human nature will overthrow the government before more can arrive. So why don’t they just do this? Why bother assassinating Father?
  • Hahaha… look, Preston and Brandt “face off”!
  • So they needed to use someone who could feel to accomplish their goals. Okay. But Preston came off the dose by accident.
  • The muzzle flashes of the Clerics’ handguns resemble the Tetragrammatron emblem.
  • Where exactly is Libria?
  • Poor Sean Bean. He gets all the good characters who have to be axed.
  • In certain scenes, the muzzle flash of the pistols and rifles fired by the Clerics and guards will reveal the Tetragrammatron insignia.
  • Apparently, yelling and being upset don’t constitute “emotions”
  • Devil children! Devil children!
  • In American Psycho Christian Bale plays a man with no emotions who tries to fool everyone into thinking he feels things. In Equilibrium, he plays a man with lots of emotions who tries to fool everyone into thinking he doesn’t.
  • In the beginning of the film Bale’s character has a waxy veneer that makes him appear even more android like. As he stops taking his medication, the veneer disappears too.
    Considering the population shoots needles into their necks every day, shouldn’t they all be sporting monster hickey-type bruises?
  • Apparently imminent, underwear-soiling, mortal fear is not one of the emotions covered by Prozium’s warranty. Just check out the faces of the stormtroopers every time Preston starts slaughtering their co-workers.
  • The guy in charge looks like a pudgy weasel.
  • Given the choice, surely being shot on sight is actually more humane than being arrested, going through Libra’s version of “due process” and being roasted while fully conscious. Just one reviewer’s opinion.
  • The puppy is a Bernese Mountain Dog.
  • The size of the poetry book changes between scenes.
  • Isn’t it sad when a man loses face in front of his employer?

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