The question many of us were left pondering after last year’s Geostorm — a disaster movie in which Gerard Butler played a genius meteorologist who solved climate change by bombing the weather — was where on earth the Scottish action star could possibly go next.
The answer has turned out to be even more of an eyebrow-raiser: a submarine-set action thriller that skews so strenuously pro-Russian — imagine Crimson Tide — its plot might as well have been emailed in from the Internet Research Agency’s Saint Petersburg HQ. Butler plays Joe Glass, a sub commander who takes his crew on an off-the-grid, death-or-glory mission to save the life of the handsome and dynamic Russian president, who is such a sweetie that his name is literally Zakarin.
Frankly, if the staff at the Kremlin’s branch of Trolls R Us aren’t ultimately responsible for this, they must be kicking themselves: imagine spending five years sowing widespread confusion and dismay through a labour-intensive social media disinformation campaign, only to discover a Gerard Butler film can get comparable results in two hours flat. Perhaps Putin didn’t catch Gods of Egypt, though in fairness he does seem more like the Olympus Has Fallen type.
Viewers familiar with Butler’s accent work in the past may be lulled into a false sense of security by a sequence that introduces his character silently hunting deer in the Scottish Highlands. Yet infuriatingly, he still turns out to be American. Soon enough, Commander Glass is being helicoptered to the naval base at Faslane, where he is given command of an attack sub and tasked with discovering what befell a US patrol vessel that recently dropped off the grid in Russian Arctic waters.
Meanwhile, a Navy Seals ground team led by Toby Stevens parachutes in to investigate further, and discover a military coup that looks likely to spark World War Three, and which can only be snuffed out with a full-hearted team-up, in which the Russians are given unlimited and unsupervised access to US military intelligence systems. Whatever it takes!
“We’re no different, you and I — we’ve been down here together for our whole careers,” Butler’s Glass muses to his Russian counterpart, another sub commander played by the late Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist. Speak for yourself, Ger: Michael was in the fourth Mission: Impossible, the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy and John Wick.
Meanwhile, back on land, a transparently Clinton-esque female US President played by Caroline Goodall reasserts the film’s knack for bad historical calls, while Gary Oldman appears from time to time in The Pentagon’s control room, with his voice box locked on bark.
The pacing seems intentionally designed to break your spirits, with a climactic set-piece that rages on forever, despite being comprised of nothing but shouting and torpedos. It makes Crimson Tide look like a masterclass in international relations.