A while ago I wrote a little What I’ve Watched Lately segment in which I discussed Dave Bautista and reviewed three of his movies. At the end of that segment, I wrote that I was a big fan of Bautista and was incredibly interested in where his career would take him. I speculated that his versatility, surprising acting ability, and willingness to take chances would cement his status as a bona fide action star. Nearly two years have passed since I wrote that, so I thought it would be fun to check back in and see what he has done since then, and see if I was right to believe in him.
Hotel Artemis is the directorial debut of writer Drew Pearce, who wrote the screenplay for Iron Man 3 and, more notably in my opinion, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. That filmography is impressive enough, but what really got me pumped for this one is the cast, and a trailer that teased a vibrant style, great dialogue, and fun characters. Check it out and tell me that doesn’t look fun!
So, how did the full movie fare compared to that trailer? Well, it DID indeed have a vibrant style, great dialogue, and fun characters. Add some fantastic acting on top of that and all the makings for a great movie were there. Unfortunately, to me at least, it felt like Pearce (who also wrote the script) was so focused on creating the world of the hotel and the assortment of characters, that he forgot to place these things in an engaging story. That’s not to say the story is bad, it just isn’t as exciting as the rest of the movie.
Hotel Artemis follows the events of a group of people that seek shelter at the hotel, a place for people on the wrong side of the law to seek asylum and medical attention, during a riot in Los Angeles, 2028. I thought this riot would have a larger effect on the overall story but, instead, it is mentioned, then simply used as a plot device. The riot, which is basically destroying the entire city, only exists to show that it’s dangerous for anybody to leave the hotel and give the movie a reason to take place in one isolated location. Pretty weak but, whatever, it works.
Two Brothers, Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) and Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) are involved in a bank robbery that goes bad and in the ensuing getaway, Honolulu is shot, forcing them to seek medical help at the Artemis. They arrive at the hotel and we are introduced to Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her orderly, Everest (Dave Bautista), the caretakers and medical staff of the building. We are also introduced to the other guests, Acapulco (Charlie Day), and Nice (Sofia Boutella), as well as the strictly enforced rules of the Artemis some of which include:
WHILE ON THE PREMISES, NO FIGHTING WITH OR KILLING OTHER PATIENTS.
NO DISRESPECTFUL WORDS OR ACTIONS ALLOWED AGAINST HOTEL ARTEMIS STAFF
NO GUNS OR ANY TYPE OF WEAPON PERMITTED THROUGH THE GATES.
Jodie Foster’s character, Nurse, continuously mentions that it’s, “just another Wednesday”, but I’m not buying it. I mean, how many Wednesdays in the near future are going to have riots that destroy the entire city? I admire her determination to keep things normal and under control, but I would guess that her quote later in the movie, “Things are going to Hell in a handbasket full of blood and shit!” is a more accurate description of the events of this particular Wednesday night.
In her defense, however, despite the shit storm raging in the streets outside the building, things inside the hotel DO seem to be pretty normal by their standards. Until, that is, they receive word that The Wolf King of L.A. (Jeff Goldblum) and his gang, including his son (Zachary Quinto),are on their way to the hotel seeking medical attention. This sets off a domino effect of broken rules and revealed ulterior motives that send the hotel into a tailspin of violence.
Most of the cast is enjoyable to watch, but ultimately forgettable. The two brothers, Waikiki and Honolulu, are the audiences introduction to this world and the hotel, but they aren’t developed enough for the emotional aspects of their story to be effective, and they are barely involved in any action scenes, so what reason do I have to care about them? Jeff Goldblum arrives and commands the screen with his presence like he always does, but he isn’t in the movie enough to truly be impactful. Charlie Day is a talented and accomplished comedic actor and the hilarious dialogue and witty conversations play to his strengths. His character, however, is an unlikeable, rich asshole whose only purpose is to start expository conversations that serve as character development and progress the plot.
Despite those characters shortcomings, there are other characters that are so great they MORE than make up for them. Jodie Foster (in her first time on screen in 5 years) as Nurse is the heart and soul of Hotel Artemis (both the building and the movie). Her character’s arc is the only reason for any emotional investment in the movie. Part of that is that Nurse is the best written and most developed character in the movie, and part of that is Foster’s phenomenal portrayal. She perfectly blends the authority, strength, and emotional detachment of the kind of person that has seen and experienced every possible scenario involved in running a place like Artemis, with the vulnerability that comes from a tragic past and the empathy required to care for people. This isn’t exactly the type of movie I would expect to see Jodie Foster in, but I’m glad she is. In less talented hands, Nurse could have been an over the top cliche, but instead I got to watch one of my favorite performances of the year.
Another standout performance is Sofia Boutella as Nice (pronounced niece). Boutella is quickly becoming a Hollywood go to when they need a female in action movies, and I could not be happier about that. Her combination of lethality, beauty, and charm has helped her steal movie after movie (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek: Beyond, The Mummy) and she does it again here. She plays Nice with such confidence, and such badass physicality during her action scenes, that you don’t even have the option of looking away from her when she’s on the screen. While I did enjoy Dave Bautista’s character more, Boutella EASILY had the best action scenes of the movie. She was once again able to showcase her athleticism and physical acting ability. It’s an absolute shame she hasn’t been given a starring role in her own action movie, but this was another great addition to her filmography, and I’m pumped to see what she does in the future.
Dave Bautista was also a scene stealer as Everest, Nurse’s loyal friend who serves as her orderly, as well as the security of the hotel. Everest could easily have been a cliche, big guy, bouncer type of character who stands around looking mean and intimidating (Obviously he DOES do that. I mean, Bautista can do that in his sleep and it IS a part of the character), but Bautista brings so much more depth to the character than that.
It is hinted that Everest used to not be a very good guy, until Nurse helped him turn his life around. As a result, he is extremely loyal to Nurse and their relationship is a highlight of the movie. He may not always agree with her decisions but he is ALWAYS there to have her back, regardless of the danger to himself. One of the things I really enjoyed about that is that he never tells her no, but he does complain and grumble about it. He’s like a massive, muscular, tatted up child who isn’t brave enough to tell his mom no, but he sure as hell isn’t going to do it without complaining, and it’s hilarious.
His loyalty also puts him front and center in the action scenes. Sadly, his aren’t that great. He has an ok scene where he beats the shit out of three riot police officers with a medical box to protect Nurse, but it is a very short scene and it’s not an especially exciting scene.
The biggest disappointment, however, is his big action set piece towards the end. Everest is making a stand against an entire gang trying to break through the gate in Artemis’ lobby. His preparation for the fight is fantastic. He takes his orderly badge off, says a corny one liner (“Visiting hours are NEVER!”), and gives a great “I’m about to fuck you guys up” speech while grabbing an ax off the wall. All of that is great, and I was SO pumped for the ensuing fight, but it was a huge letdown. If I didn’t know better, I would guess this scene was shot by an entirely different director. While the other fight scenes (especially Boutella’s) are choreographed well and shot coherently, this one is a different story. The whole fight basically consists of a close up of Bautista’s face while he swings his axe at the cluster of intruders. It feels lazy, like there was no thought or creativity put into what should have been a big moment in the movie. That, or budget and time constraints didn’t allow them to do what they wanted to. Either way, it’s a MASSIVE letdown, and it really hurt the movie in my opinion.
Playing Everest isn’t an entirely new challenge for Bautista. I would be lying if I said it is a complex, deep character, and at times it feels like a real world version of his Guardians of the Galaxy character, Drax, but he plays Everest with a gentle nuance that truly brings the character to life. This role supports my opinion that Bautista is one of the more interesting action actors working today. He is an action star that truly can act. He is capable of injecting life into his characters with his larger than life stature and charisma which allows him to star in giant blockbusters, but he can also play supporting roles with a subtlety that makes them feel like real people. That versatility and ability to play characters with depth is what separates him from, and in my opinion makes him better than, other current action stars like Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, and (sadly) Scott Adkins.
In the end, Hotel Artemis simply fails to live up to the potential of its trailer. I wouldn’t say it is a complete misstep for the director, and it did enough for me to be interested in what he does next, but it definitely didn’t hit its intended mark. A below average story with a lot of wasted time on characters we don’t care about is balanced out by a few great characters and an inspired Sofia Boutella action scene to create a slightly above average movie. Not a failure, just an unfortunate disappointment.
RATING: 6 out of 10 (B-)