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One thing you wouldn’t expect from the violent breakdown of society would be for it to be an utter bore. Yet that’s the big twist at the center of How It Ends, Netflix’s latest (alleged) action thriller. Even Earth’s destruction can be a slog.
David M Rosenthal’s film, based on a Black List screenplay by Brooks McLaren, begins as romantic fare. Will (Theo James) and Samantha (Kat Graham) are going to have a child. Will, a successful young lawyer, takes a deep breath and flies from Seattle to Chicago to sit down with Samantha’s father Tom (Forest Whitaker) and “ask for her hand”.
Tom is pompous and aloof. An ex-marine who transitioned to the high paying defense industry, he sits in his high-rise apartment basking in formality and vague alpha male frustration. (“Don’t use that kind of language in front of my wife!”) He’s impossible to deal with, but once some sort of event happens, his military training kicks in.
All power and communication shuts down, first out west where Samantha is, and then in Chicago, too. There’s talk of strange storms in the Pacific and a heatwave in Europe. Tom is going to drive to ensure the safety of his little girl and, dramatically turning to face the wuss-ass city slicker sleeping with his daughter, he has “only one question: are you coming with me?”.
The two men hit the road to double white knight-it in this Cloverfield meets Taken scenario. They’ve got cash and Tom can speak “winner’s code” to any military roadblock they find. But lawlessness is just outside the city limits and soon they are fighting for gasoline. Will has never held a gun before, much to Tom’s scoffs, but after some initial scuffles he starts to prove himself worthy in a fight.
How It Ends is a laundry list of the paranoid male power fantasies that, when social restraints buckle, burst to the forefront. This is a topic ripe for investigation, but Rosenthal is more interested in pedestrian action scenarios. There’s precious little originality to any these sequences. Another showdown on a bridge, more hillbillies in a truck. (Admittedly, some of the transitional shots on the journey look nice. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in particular, is quite picturesque.)
After a particularly nasty scrape with bandits, Tom and Will limp into an Indian reservation, and pick up Ricki (Grace Dove) a sharp-tongued mechanic. She livens things up a bit and offers some commentary about the US military’s appropriation of Native American names for their helicopters which, I must confess, is something that has never dawned on me before.
This does nothing to advance the rescue plot, or to determine the root of the nationwide (global?) catastrophe, but the fact that this throwaway line is the most interesting thing in the movie ought to tell you something.
Funnily enough for a movie called How It Ends, the conclusion is utterly preposterous. I don’t like to spoil specifics, but I guarantee that four out of five viewers will cry “that’s it?” at the film’s final scenes. That is if they make it that far. (As a Netflix premiere, the temptation to pick up that remote and watch virtually anything else will be great.) How It Ends isn’t just unsatisfying, it is a downer. Whitaker is going through the motions (we’ve seen him much better) and I hope for James’s sake this is an example of he, too, coasting on partial effort.
There’s a moment towards the end, just when we ought to be getting to the bottom of many of the film’s mysteries. “Well, in the end it really doesn’t matter,” our hero concludes. That just about sums it up.
- How It Ends is now available on Netflix
Source: The Guardian
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