Submergence (2017)

Love Has No Limits

German filmmaker Wim Wenders has had a helluva run, the auteur responsible for a string of existential hits that spanned from the mid 1970s to the ’90s, some of which include Wings of Desire (1987), Until the End of the World (1991) and Paris, Texas (1984). Since then, however, his work has been errr … how’s the best way to put it … less than stellar, his films bogged down by droopy pacing and outright pretentiousness. Sadly, those hoping that Wenders would one day make a comeback shouldn’t get their hopes up as his latest flick, Submergence, is a sluggish art-house weeper that even its well-matched stars Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl (2015) and James McAvoy, Split (2016), can’t save from sinking.

Based on the novel by author J. M. Ledgard and adapted by screenwriter Erin Dignam, who penned Sean Penn’s appalling The Last Face (2016), Submergence sees Wenders attempt to tackle topics of espionage and scientific discovery whilst trying to tell the story of two star-crossed lovers, the once-great moviemaker capping things off with a half-baked finale that should satisfy no one. Our story follows idealistic SIS agent James More (James McAvoy), whom we meet in a Somali cell, where he’s being held captive by Al-Qaeda. While locked up, Jimbo recalls his whirlwind romance with bio-mathematician Danielle ‘Danny’ Flinders (Alicia Vikander), whom he met prior to the mission. Through flashbacks we discover that James lived a double life, working as a spy for the British Secret Service whilst posing as a water engineer. After he’s tasked with going to Somalia to hunt down a terrorist that’d been working with Osama bin Laden, Jimmy takes a trip to Normandy for some R&R before heading on assignment, where he meets Vikander’s Danielle at the luxurious resort at which they’re both staying.

Clean hands, sound bodies.

Turns out that Danny is a professor who’s prepping to go to the Arctic Circle, where a submersible will take her down to an uncharted part of the ocean (where life forms live in absolute darkness) to gather specimens for scientific research. Naturally, the pair hit it off; they spend hours in each other’s arms, blabbering in painstaking metaphors and referencing water. McAvoy, at one point, even asks his co-star what her favorite body of water is — yep folks, it’s that bad! Anyhow, the twosome eventually go their separate ways, planning to reunite once their individual tasks are complete. And so, Danielle spends the bulk of her time working her way up to that big deep sea dive, whilst James, despite his undercover guise as a well-digging expert, gets arrested at the compound he’s out to infiltrate and thrown into a filthy prison, where he’s routinely beaten by Islamic terrorists.

Unbearably paper-thin and outright dull, Submergence spends most of its 112-minute runtime following the dreary McAvoy and Vikander, who are basically in two separate movies (their missions prying them apart from one another), the former merely staring into space and the latter constantly checking her phone to see if she’s received any missed calls or texts from the spunky Scottish dude she’d just met — riveting stuff indeed. There are a few ‘okay’ bits in amongst the drivel, mainly when the couple are together on their ‘honeymoon-period’ in France’s northern coast, enjoying the seaside (and surrounding WWII relics) or huddled together near a warm crackling fireplace. It also helps that the cinematography by Benoît Debie, Enter the Void (2009), is somewhat agreeable. Just don’t get me started on the pompous soundtrack by composer Fernando Velázquez, Crimson Peak (2015), who clearly thinks he’s scoring the next Bond movie.

… sometimes an easy pun is staring you right in the face.

Mercifully, headliners James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander are decent enough, even if their dialogue is somewhat vomit inducing — James, who’s an MI6 agent, mind you, actually claims that he sees beauty in a terrorist’s faith (as if!). There’s also another part where Vikander lists the five layers of the ocean in a seductive tone, using phrases like ‘twilight zone’ as if it’s meant to be tantalizing (honestly, this entire section had me rolling my eyes). And while Vikander and McAvoy are solid enough performers in their own right, their interaction never hints at anything above slight attraction, even though they’re supposedly ‘submerged in love.’ Of the remaining cast, Alexander Siddig from Fox’s Gotham (2017) kinda stands out as a doctor who supports jihad but is at odds with their violent practices, whilst Celyn Jones, Set Fire to the Stars (2014), shows up in a couple scenes as one of Danny’s colleagues.

Part prison thriller, part undersea adventure and part romance, it’s surprising that Submergence winds up being so bland, boring and blah, especially when considering the calibre of talent involved in the project, coupled with its source material, which is (apparently) supposed to be pretty good. If you want my advice, I’d say stick to Wenders’ classic stuff and leave this lifeless turd at the bottom of the ocean where it rightfully belongs.

1.5 / 5 – Poor

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Submergence is released through The Backlot Films