Released: 27th November
Seen: 4th December

So, fun story, I’ve had several opportunities now to go and see Terminator Dark Fate. I’ve had the time, the screenings have been local and I’ve even planned on it… I just can’t be bothered. A week ago when I saw Arctic Justice and Countdown on the same day, I planned on seeing Terminator that day too but ended up not bothering with it because it just didn’t seem like it was worth my time… but Arctic Justice and Countdown? Oh, those I had to go see. Same with Addams Family and Knives Out, I planned on the day I saw those to end with me seeing Terminator but after Knives Out, I just didn’t have the interest to stick around to see it because my day was already officially perfect and I didn’t want anything to ruin that (seriously, if you haven’t seen Knives Out then go see Knives Out and thank me later on). 

Last night I was determined, I was going to go see it. The screening would be at 9:30, I could finally see it and give my evaluation… and then I ended up seeing 21 Bridges which I knew nothing about but at least knew I might give a damn about. Am I alone in just having no real interest in another Terminator movie? I’ll have to force myself to go see it soon, maybe later on this week unless I decide to do something exciting like floss my teeth. Anyway, I’m telling you this because I don’t have much good to say about 21 Bridges, I just thought it was amusing that I’d rather go see movies I know are bad or mediocre compared to the latest in a franchise that hasn’t been good since 1991.

It’s sad to say that 21 Bridges is nothing more than mediocre, but it never really aspires for anything above that. The plot is so basic that I’ve seen episodes of Law & Order that do it. The entire idea of a cop going through internal affairs due to repeated issues but is the only one who can solve a particular case is one I think they do once a season, or they did when Stabler was a regular character. In the case of this movie, the reason internal affairs is involved is our main character Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) has fired his gun in several shootings that have been justified, but still questionable. The case? A bunch of cops got shot while seemingly making a drug bust and they were killed by two kids running away with 50 kilos of coke. It’s not like they do anything elaborate either, they fired a gun a lot and shot about seven cops. Bad? Hell yes. Reason to shut down every bridge going in and out of Manhattan? Who cares, it’s not like they use that gimmick at any point in the film.

The films main gimmick, and its title, are derived from this moment where the main character demands that every bridge in and out of Manhattan (of which there are 21? I don’t know, I don’t care enough to research). The idea being that the movies bad guys, Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Raylor Kitsch) won’t be able to leave the island and, therefore, will be easy to catch. Theoretically, this would also mean that the 1.6 million people living in Manhattan would be, understandably, upset about being locked off with two cop killers and maybe we could have a discussion about the power of the police force? Nope, they do this all at 1 am until 5 am so the streets are so empty you’d think it was 28 Days Later. Why even do a plot that involves locking a large number of people on an island if you’re not going to do anything with that? You had a perfect setup for some mayhem or some drama where the people of the island want to get off but can’t, or maybe the entire city helps find the killers or… SOMETHING!

What’s even worse about it is that they make a big show of blocking everything off, but the two main bad guys don’t even seem to notice. It doesn’t change their plans, they never try to figure a different way off the island. The way to use this trope is to have them try and work out how to get out of Manhattan and not put this pointless time limit on them, as long as they aren’t caught by 5 am then they’re good. Considering that they have to take the drugs to a dealer to sell them, launder the money and get new identities before they even consider leaving the island, the gimmick never concerns them. It never matters to the the bad guys that they can’t leave the city. Shutting down all of Manhattan is a thing that happens but it doesn’t matter to anyone in any way, it barely even seems like an inconvenience. It’s a big deal intellectually, there is something kind of horrifying to think that a group of about five cops can just decide, on the spot, to lock down an entire city… but it never impacts the main plot.

What does impact the main plot is the internal affairs issue where our main character has a history of fatal shootings. This too could be a great way to comment on the myriad of police shootings of unarmed black men by obviously racist police officers (because shooting an unarmed black person who literally didn’t even move is racist, if you wish to argue with me on this topic then go right up to the top right of the screen where a little red X is. Click that and leave your message) but then you realise that they’re not going to do that, even though it’s right there to have a grand moment where our main character points out that white cops who shoot people don’t get this kind of scrutiny but he does and there I go actually thinking through what could’ve been done with this premise because, in reality, they use the internal affairs to lampshade how everyone else is a bad cop. 

See, there are several scenes where other cops greet our main character by explicitly saying “I’ve heard you shoot and kill bad guys. Good, I hope you kill the guys we’re looking for now” and that is the reddest of red flags that there is something up with everyone. It’s so blatant that I was able to sit and point to a character, describe out loud (ok technically I spoke in a whisper, there were two other people in the cinema) what they would do and I was correct. They made it impossible to even be remotely shocked by what would happen because they basically have characters screaming “THIS IS WHAT I PLAN ON DOING BY THE END OF THIS MOVIE” with every action. There is no suspense, I can call all of your shots because I’ve seen them all before and there’s nothing new here.

This isn’t to say that there’s anything particularly awful. There’s a ton of missed opportunities, but everything is still adequate enough that the film doesn’t outright suck. The acting is pretty good, as it should be with a cast like this. The standout is easily Stephan James who just keeps proving he’s an incredibly engaging and charming performer no matter what he does. Honestly, the only one who didn’t do anything that caught me as that impressive was Chadwick, who I know can be an insanely cool and fascinating performer because I saw him do it in Black Panther but here? I just got nothing out of him, nothing that was that exciting or interesting. When I can replace Black Panther with just about any other actor and get the same story and performance, there’s something amiss here. 

21 Bridges just isn’t good, but it’s also not bad. It’s a journey of missed opportunities or unrealised potential surrounded with some competent (though not memorable) action scenes and occasionally good performances by actors who should be above this. It’s watchable, you could spend 99 minutes with this film and be aware that you watched a movie of some kind and had an acceptable amount of fun watching a piece of entertainment. You then would probably forget it the next day because it doesn’t do anything special or particularly interesting at any point. If you want to see Chadwick Boseman in a movie and you’ve seen his other work enough times that you can quote it backwards then maybe break this one out. It’s no great loss if you miss it, but at least it doesn’t hurt to watch. It’s barely acceptable… and still, something I chose to watch before a sequel to a series that should’ve died years ago, I really need to get on top of fixing that.

One thought on “21 Bridges (2019) – Bridge Over Tepid Water

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