Carter ★★★★½

"Hardcore Henry" by way of "Victoria".

In a lot of ways, the name maketh the movie - that is, whether people even notice your movie and how enticed they're likely to be to see it. I follow movie news and release schedules pretty regularly, but I don't know if anyone mentioned "Carter" was coming out soon, or talked about it last week as something to keep an eye on, or what, because that title grabs no attention whatsoever. I saw the ordinary poster a couple times but didn't care to learn more. The only reason I watched this was a recommendation capsule review by the great Vern. Point is, "Carter" is a really bad name for any movie, let alone a ballistic, simulated one-take action epic. I'll do my best to spread the word, though.

This is one of the most insane action movies I've ever seen. Granted, I love gimmicks and often rate on a curve in favor of them so consider the source here, but that's only because non-gimmick movies, aka most regular movies out there, can be so interchangeable and lazy. "Carter"'s hook is that it all looks like it's happening in one continuous shot, a gambit that has been tried a few times in movie history already, but not for 132 minutes of over-the-top violent mayhem. "Hardcore Henry" is the closest comparison, also a stupendous thrill ride that more people should see, but "Carter" tops it by going huge and gymnastic on everything - honestly it makes me want to adjust my recent ratings of "The Gray Man" and Michael Bay's "Ambulance" a little lower, because while they brought some large scale, drone-happy calisthenic intensity to the genre, "Carter" simply tries like 10x harder to astound you. If I'm laughing out loud every few minutes from incredulity with an urge to applaud, especially in 2022 after so many epochs of action cinema should have dulled my senses, then you as a movie are doing something profoundly right. This is "Mission: Impossible" sequels / "John Wick" level brazen audacity.

And the first thing critics will harp on is the post-production stitching; this isn't really a one-shot movie, just made to feel like one through what are dozens if not hundreds of glued-together shots flowing into each other, and the execution can be extremely jerky, wiggly, noticeably awkward with the unnaturally shifting speeds of camera movement. Plus the CGI effects, while strong and well-integrated to a degree (it's a long movie; even if only 70% of this is seamless and impressive, that's a higher quantity of quality choreography than most movies), are pockmarked by some badly fake-looking fire/explosions and straight-up cartoon-quality digital compositions of soaring bodies and rolling helicopters. But that's in-between tons of footage that does look real and defies belief, like how do these shots follow people falling off buildings all the way to the ground? How do drones dart in and out of tiny spaces like this? How does the camera do a hundred vertical loops around people skydiving and shooting at each other? It was a massive undertaking to put this all together, I'm sure, and it reminded me of Cameron's "Titanic" in that not all of the fx work is perfect but the cumulative effect remains stunning. If it all looked fake and cheap I wouldn't be singing the movie's praises, so please trust me that it doesn't. Just sometimes, but you gotta admire the pure symphony of hyper-active motion in every fight/chase sequence.

And even if the edits are plain to see, the point is to create and sustain urgency, which the movie accomplishes with suffocating stamina. Even the "Raid"s weren't as nonstop as "Carter". It does pause now and then for exposition but that blending of shots to suggest it's all one extraordinarily long scene from beginning to end changes your temperament so that it never feels like the movie's taking a time out. If most of the movie is a PCP-addled sprint, the non-action scenes are still a brisk walk, whereas in a regular movie they'd be complete stand-stills, if that makes sense. It's like Michael Bay directing "1917" but with more focus on death-defying stunts and bold technical acrobatics than testosterone-jacked posturing. This thing is manically restless during the fights; it's the closest thing to a movie version of a rollercoaster. With plenty of nauseatingly gruesome violence to reassure us that this hasn't been market-tested and sanitized (you get to see several seconds of the hero plowing an enemy's face against the road while hanging from a speeding car until it's sanded down to a pulpy stump).

The story and characters: negligible. Who cares. Means to an end. The action: unbelievable. It's more than filmmaking can realistically pull off as of 2022, but they go for it anyway, and I fucking salute them for it.

Bonus: a suspension bridge showdown. One of my favorite movie motifs.

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