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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Hunter Killer movie review: dead in the water

Hunter Killer red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
The Hunt for Red October as made by a Michael Bay wannabe who can’t even rise to the level of giving-a-propagandistic-crap. Absurd geopolitics and laugh-out-loud clichés abound; tension and excitement do not.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Here is a thing that I am increasingly dealing with in the latter years of the second decade of the 21st century when it comes to studio moviemaking: Which awful aspect of the movie itself and everything in its orbit — casting, production, marketing, etc — should I be most angry at? Or do I have enough rage to spread it around? (Spoiler: I have a lot of rage.)

I mean, for starters, Hunter Killer is like a remake of The Hunt for Red October if Michael Bay directed it, except not even Michael Bay, who at least evinces a certain level of technical flair even if it is almost always deployed in the most painfully jingoistic and propagandistic ways. The only noticeable reaction Hunter Killer provokes, apart from extreme boredom punctuated by moments of laugh-out-loud ridicule, is a strong desire to watch The Hunt for Red October again so as to remind oneself what real submarine suspense feels like. How was this allowed to come to pass?

Which awful aspect of the movie should I be most angry at?
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For this is Red October as made by a Michael Bay wannabe who can’t even be bothered to rise to the level of giving-a-shit-if-only-in-a-terrible-way that propaganda represents. Who is this Donovan Marsh who directed Hunter Killer and who isn’t even trying to make us feel anything? He’s not actively engaging an unthinking patriotism; he’s not riling up a testosterone-fueled actiongasm; he doesn’t give us characters to care about on even the basic hey-they’re-marginally-human-so-I-should-feel-something scale; he’s definitely not arousing an intellectualism surrounding the — *ahem* — preposterous geopolitical situation his story exists in. How did this guy, with only a few micro-budget projects in his home country of South Africa to his name, score this sweet studio gig? Is this yet another example of a white man who somehow makes the leap to major projects with big stars and big budgets on the basis of almost nothing, while nonwhite men and women of all colors with serious track records cannot get their projects made? Only to give us a movie this screamingly mediocre? It sure looks that way.

This is not Photoshopped. This really happened.

This is not Photoshopped. This really happened.

I could also Hulk out about the fact that Hunter Killer star Gerard Butler held a press conference at the Pentagon this weekwas allowed to hold a press conference at the Pentagon this week — in order to promote this movie. The US military has a long tradition of supporting Hollywood as long as the movie-product makes it looks good, but I’ve never before heard of anything like this. Is the US government literally nothing more than celebrity-fucking reality entertainment now? Jesus Christ.

Of course the Pentagon wholly approves of Hunter Killer, which “partner[ed] with the US Navy in nearly every aspect of the production,” according to the film’s production notes quoted at IndieWire. (I was not permitted to attend a press screening — I did ask — so I didn’t snag production notes, which are typically made available to critics and other film journalists in connection with such events.) Based on the apparently sub–Tom Clancy novel Firing Point, by George Wallace and Don Keith — which I have not read, but just look at the movie version — Hunter Killer positively fellates the US Navy with its depiction of Butler’s newly promoted sub captain Joe Glass, who ain’t no fancypants Annapolis grad but a grunt who worked his way up through the ranks to the level of badass renegade patriot to whom the rules don’t apply that he is now. He doesn’t trust the suits in their plush offices back in Washington, but the grunts under him shouldn’t think he’s gonna let them get away with anything, either. Anyone who doesn’t love and respect him already will love and respect him by the end of the movie, he’s just that great. He loves the smell of whatever submarines smell like in the morning, which probably isn’t very nice, but is very manly.

“I would like to have seen Montana...” “Dude, I’d like to be in Montana right now. Anywhere but in this movie.”

“I would like to have seen Montana…” “Dude, I’d like to be in Montana right now. Anywhere but in this movie.”

(There is one woman on his boat, the USS Alabama, who gets to speak, very occasionally and extremely briefly. She is basically Lt. Uhura and doesn’t say anything other than the sub equivalent of “Hailing frequencies open, sir.” Better that they hadn’t bothered with a token woman at all.)

Anyway, the fantasyland alt-reality that USS Alabama takes place in is one in which the American president is a woman (Caroline Goodall: A Street Cat Named Bob, The Dressmaker) — who appears in one scene and seems to be a reasonable leader — and the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko) is Definitely Not Putin but he’s also not American and hence must be depicted as pretty ineffectual. He gets coup’ed over by his military minister, Admiral Dmitri Durov (Michael Gor: The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Bridge of Spies), and has to be rescued by fucking American elite soldiers secretly on Russian soil in order to avert the World War III that Durov wants to start for some inexplicable reason. This is some America roolz! Everybody else droolz! shit the likes of which we have not seen from Hollywood since the Cold War and should have stayed dead. But it’s, like, subtle, as if the lack of Bay-esque Stars-and-Stripes in the slo-mo breeze at the golden hour makes it any less pure agitprop.

Every line of dialogue is painfully awkward exposition, roaring bombast, or utter cliché.
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That’s far from the only embarrassing crap here. There’s also a lot of bad FX: Pretty much every time we see the exterior of the Alabama on the surface, it looks like Butler and his determined grimace have been green-screened in next to it. Pretty much every time we see the exterior of the sub underwater, it looks miniature. Still, that would be forgivable if there were any excitement or tension in the submarine action, such as the “let’s navigate the impossibly dangerous underwater terrain using only our intuition” scene that insults the Red October sequence it is kinda-sorta lifted from. One bit in which the officers of the Alabama are trying to determine whether another sub was torpedoed involves some physical evidence that wouldn’t stump Encyclopedia Brown, yet the film acts like Glass’s deconstruction of it is proof of his naval genius.

“I can’t believe this movie actually made it to the big screen. It’s seriously just a made-for-cable thing from 1997 starring Dolph Lundgren.”

“I can’t believe this movie actually made it to the big screen. It’s seriously just a made-for-cable thing from 1997 starring Dolph Lundgren.”

Every line of dialogue is painfully awkward exposition, roaring bombast — mostly delivered by a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour, Child 44) as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — or utter cliché. Sometimes the clichés aren’t spoken but are conveyed by mere “meaningful” looks between hackneyed excuses for characters: I guffawed at one nod of the head that could be taken to mean “Go on without me” only if everyone involved somehow meta-knew precisely what sort of story they were in the middle of. That nod could have meant, by the guy nodding it, “Oh, cool, I see you’ve got my back, which is great because I need some help here,” who was then quite surprised to be abandoned by his friend.

Michael Nyqvist (Frank & Lola, John Wick), as a Russian sub captain, does his dignified best to channel Sean Connery, but he doesn’t have a lot to work with; nor does poor Linda Cardellini (A Simple Favor, Daddy’s Home 2) as an NSA honcho whom the script seems to be continually demanding that she justify the expertise and authority it has allegedly imbued her with. They both should have just given a terse little nod of “Go on without me” and left Hunter Killer to fend for itself.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.


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red light 1.5 stars

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Hunter Killer (2018) | directed by Donovan Marsh
US/Can release: Oct 26 2018
UK/Ire release: Oct 19 2018

MPAA: rated R for violence and some language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, language)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I wouldn’t mind a good naval action film. But it seems we get either this, or Kursk – which may not be this kind of gung-ho crap, but loses all its tension for me because I know what happened. (Maybe it’ll manage to be good in spite of that.)

  • Danielm80

    (Spoiler: I have a lot of rage.)

    And that’s why I continue to subscribe to this site year after year.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Feminism. Benghazi. Hillary. Leftie-loosies. Social Justice Warriors. Liberals. Bernie Sanders. Blue Meanies. If not for movies like this, the terrorists win.

    Also remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule.

    * Drinks a glass of water very quickly. *

  • Sally Kimball

    Encyclopedia Brown. Now that’s a name I’ve not read in a long time. A long time. How dare you insinuate that Leroy is easily stumped? I am not amused. Otherwise, a very entertaining review – I’m going to steal that misinterpreted “go on without me” gag if you don’t mind.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’m guessing Ms. Johanson is more a fan of the fictional character who obviously inspired your user name.

    And yes, I, too, was a fan of the Encyclopedia Brown books back in the day.

  • LaSargenta

    Hey, totally off-topic…there’s a poet who goes by Wikipedia Brown on Twitter.

  • just the trailer alone looked terrible, the set designs implausible (like they converted an office room into a spacious sub command), and little in the way of interesting characters. It doesn’t even look like a decent PARODY of Red October, if they were trying for that.

  • How dare you insinuate that Leroy is easily stumped?

    Aww, I wasn’t implying that! But he *is* a child, and certainly not one well versed in undersea naval battle forensics. Anyone watching this movie who’s read an Agatha Christie novel could “solve” the “mystery” that allows Captain Joe Glass to demonstrate his genius. It would be too elementary for a plot point in *Law & Order.*

  • Rosco Tex

    What was up with the weird racist rant in the middle that was completely un-needed this person should be fired!

  • Mike Will

    Anyone that doesn’t enjoy this movie, Hunter killer, is stupid or high. I just saw the movie, it was Good, A lot of Action and a great ride. Don’t listen to these Assclowns that most likely never saw the movie, Everyone coming out of the movie liked the movie

  • If by “weird racist rant” you mean my complaints about white male privilege in Hollywood, then LOL.

    I shall proceed immediately to firing myself from my own site.

  • You’re adorable. Does mommy know you’re using the computer?

  • Mike Will

    Does your mommy know you didn’t make the rent, sucking and swallowing on the corner, like she taught you. Back to the corner, TROLL

  • A great tense action-pack movie, that SHOULD have gotten better reviews!

    You’ve got your military covert operation, with nuclear submarines, political intrigue, double dealings, double crossings, solid acting, from both Butler and Oldman!

    It’s worth seeing, worth the ticket and most definitely worth the 2 hour plus watch!!!!!!!!! And if I might add, it’s mostly DEFINITELY a man’s movie!!

  • Stacy Livitsanis

    Despite this movie’s big warning sign saying ‘Do Not Watch’, I will check it out once it’s on home video, as military propaganda movies are fascinating, even with the abhorrent jingoism. Actually, examining the nature of the jingoism is precisely why I find them fascinating. I won’t be watching this for entertainment value. (And my mum will love it. Anything set in a submarine)

    It’s curious to note the differences between U.S. and Chinese military propaganda. A month ago I saw Operation Red Sea, a big scale 2018 Chinese action movie in the tradition of Black Hawk Down or 13 Hours, but vastly superior to them. The portrayal of the elite military team was notably different from most “America is awesome” films. No toxic masculinity or hypocritically and disingenuously contrasting the nobly soldiering Real Men with those limp dick pen-pushers in their offices who don’t know how to Get the Job Done in the Real World. While women were still a minority, those who were there were respected and participated. If China can make movies like that, then I for one welcome our new overlords. (As this is an online comment, I feel obligated to add that that last line was sarcasm) I loved it in spite of it being blatant state propaganda. I can still enjoy non-US gung-ho movies. Purely my bias, but the deep-fried Americanism is so thick in these things it’s suffocating.

  • Capt. Tomorrow

    Uh, pard’n me, ma’am, but your slip is showing. It’s the USS Arkansas, NOT the USS Alabama. Great action flick, though the plot is laughable. You’re probably confusing this with the Denzel Washington submarine flick, which featured the sub Alabama. The plot for that also was laughable, with the crew divided and all pointing guns at one another in one scene. Hunt for Red October was a great film also, but had too many scenes with assumptions that just aren’t real.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Hunt for Red October was a great film also, but had too many scenes with assumptions that just aren’t real.

    What assumptions are you referring to?

  • I’m not confusing this movie with any other movie.

  • You have a low opinion of men.

  • MBKUltra

    Do we need SJW talking points in film reviews all the time?

  • RogerBW

    Given how absent they are from most of the other reviews you can find, yes, yes we do.

  • Bluejay

    She would say yes, and I agree. Luckily for you, these ideas aren’t in ALL film reviews “all the time.” There are plenty of non-feminist reviewers for you to read. If you don’t like what you see here, move along, kiddo.

  • 1000 percent absolutely.

    Once again, I am astonished that there are people who don’t think social justice is worth fighting for, and are proud to say as much publicly.

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