There is a high chance you won't like Gamer. Actually there is a high chance it won't gain many positive reviews or fans. That isn't because it's a bad film, mind. It's because it is an excellent film hidden behind conventionality and tried tropes making it hard to like. Look behind the veneer of the B-movie action tropes, and you will find an almost perfect indictment of the current world we inhabit and our fascination with voyeurism.
Indeed, it is the ambition of the film in trying to make a pinpointed statement about everything around us ripe for commentary that sometimes makes the film seem too top-heavy, which neither the genre fans nor the action junkies will like. It isn't mindless, but as a parody of the mindless, you can see it that way. It is hard to make a film like this, and harder to try and get
it, which is why I am not holding this film aloft my shoulders heralding the coming of important cinema.
Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (credited simply as Neveldine/Taylor) have made a film that doesn't feel timeless. No, it is a film that could only have been made in this decade. It is absolutely contemporary, and as good science fiction should, it not only feels extrapolated from our current technology, but also from the way we consume it, and dare I say it, the way technology shapes us.
Nowhere else does it drive more home as in reality-TV-obsessed India. Gerard Butler is Kable, a champion in a reality first person shooter death-match - televised and controlled by augmented players. His wife is a virtual plaything in a parallel industry. This dual mastery of Sex and Violence to subjugate the masses is run by Ken Castle (an almost maniacal Michael C. Hall, great to see him having so much fun). Highly profitable and exploitative, utilizing our society's biggest growing obsessions mixed with the age-old voyeurism that we have honed, the realities seem real and a logical place for the world to go to.
What is most original about this take is that the film imagines what the role of the working class would be in this future, something usually left out of films about the dependence on a virtual reality. The working class are dehumanised and forced to work as bots in this system where capitalism offers only two choices - pay to play, or be paid to play.
Little details abound in the film that comment on various aspects of the culture we have fostered and what it means for these characters. Being an exploitative action film that Gamer is, it is able to go places where a normal dystopian science fiction drama couldn't (or wouldn't). With a slightly long running time, it gets a little tiring for a film that has so less by way of plot, but it never feels less for atmosphere.
The action itself is great and visceral. There are some chunks of the action in first person, which work the least. They are great as commentary, but the drawback of that viewpoint in film is that you don't have the spatial awareness that necessitates and augments the same view in FPS games. Regardless, there is plenty of blood and gore for the genre fans, and it works much, much better than godawful Transformers
Ultimately though, the film's weirdness runs out, and it falls back on the standard tropes of taking down one evil individual to liberate society from the malaise it has wrought on itself. Making Castle the bogeyman has its fun moments (mostly because Hall is hamming it up the wazoo), but ultimately detrimental to the film's statement.
Further damning the film with its genre tropes is the narrative plot point of Humanz - hackers who truly believe that Castle's dual control via the games (Slayer and Society) is evil, and who fight to sabotage it. They are a rag-tag underground resistance in every sense, and again, while fun, make the film appear not novel or innovative.
Which is entirely counter to the film's brilliant details and well thought-out world. It is a pity that a film that delivers such a singular indictment of society is so beholden to cliche. Ultimately, Gamer is not your standard action film with boobies, but neither is it a wholly original vision till the end. For my part, I loved the atmosphere and food for thought the film provided me with.
Unless you are a serious science fiction fan or a B-movie action fan, the recommendation to watch this film comes with its caveats.