Julia Hart’s latest superhero epic makes every conceivable choice, and thus, no choice at all.
So, when creating a film about a recovering addict, should their moment of triumph be represented in a series of flashing colors similar to that of a drug trip? Is it advisable for a movie to carefully combine the subtleties of addiction and a broken familial structure with the bombast and visual spectacle of a superhero movie? And is it appropriate for characters to begin declaring their backstory right at the point of highest tension, when the climax is about to begin?
These were the questions I posed while viewing Fast Color, Julia Hart’s baffling attempt to combine every movie ever made. The film begins in medias res, as many thrillers do, and unfurls with your typical clichés. The protagonist, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), after a brief diner breakfast, fraught with tension, barely escapes a creepy, bespectacled man, who claims to want to study Ruth’s powers. During her escape, she returns home to her family, her now-estranged mother and daughter, who are wary of her due to her prior addiction and abandonment.
Only, hold up, that’s not the actual beginning of the movie. The movie actually begins with a bit of narration, describing how it hasn’t rained in years, causing the earth to suffer an incredible water shortage. This water shortage provides much of the background of the movie, while adding a rather unnecessary bit of world-building. In the world of the film, shops appear low on supplies, and constantly offer water at exorbitant rates, but when we see the way characters using the water, it often feels haphazard and contradictory to the tone the film is attempting to establish
For instance, early on in the movie, Ruth has to clean some wounds on her wrists. She purchases a half-gallon of water and then, over a sink, dumps the water carelessly on her arms. In a world where we are constantly told how little water there is – one character has apparently never been given the chance to swim, despite the nearby pond – these scenes remove any sense that the world is actually coming to an end. Characters treat water as a valuable commodity, offering it almost as one would offer a glass of wine, but no one’s ever complaining of suffering from the effects of dehydration.
And once we delve into the superpowers, the crux of the film, things only become more confused. Ruth and her family come from a long line of women with superpowers, notably the ability to turn objects into dust or fragments before reassembling them. Ruth, however, has been unable to control these powers for a long time, owing to some strange form of epilepsy. Her seizures, whenever they strike, cause massive earthquakes in the surrounding area. It’s explained that her addiction was meant as a salve for the seizures, but frankly, the explanation feels more like a hand-wave, and a means of justifying the character’s flaws, rather than anything else.
Now, the visual effects that accompany the superpowers are impressive. The first time we see Ruth’s mother, Bo (a compelling Lorraine Toussaint), dismantle a cigarette, glowing ash and all, it brings the movie a sense of calm and serenity that never really comes back, but unfortunately, the powers are a one trick pony. There’s an impressive sequence with a bowl midway through the movie, and when Ruth finally experiences the aftershocks of what it feels like to control her powers, the 2001-esque sequence of kaleidoscopic colors provides a true sense of awe.
Unfortunately, towards the end of the movie that this film, it becomes incredibly clear that the film has no focus. For all of Ruth’s struggles, when she finally gains control of her powers, she’s shepherded off to the side while Bo deals with the film’s antagonists. Any character growth feels separate from the main plot, and the film ends with a piece of sequel-bait that would feel more comfortable in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
And ultimately, this film’s lack of focus reminds me of how other films have tackled the same topics with more clarity. Several Marvel films have used addiction as a background element, though they always understand themselves to be superhero movies first and addiction movies separate. Logan had scenes regarding the disintegration of family and self-hatred, and for the first two acts, kept the focus on that. Fast Color, on the other hand, jumps back and forth between these foci regularly. One minute, the movie has a superhero training montage, the next, an estranged mother and daughter attempt to reconnect, and then we’ll have Ruth reciting the Serenity Prayer, a popular mantra for those in recovery, to herself. Each of these options could have created something entirely new and exciting, if only the film took any of these steps with confidence.
The film hits theaters this Friday.