'Spiderhead' is a great example of what happens when a great director in Joseph Kosinski is made to work with a bad script.
Kosinski is the king of Hollywood after the roaring success of 'Top Gun: Maverick', and 'Spiderhead' has been positioned by Netflix as a victory lap for the director - it's a shame the director didn't pick a script befitting of his obvious talent for visuals.
'Spiderhead' is a science fiction thriller from the 'Top Gun: Maverick' director that concerns a number of medical trials being carried out on test subjects in a mysterious, yet gorgeous remote locale.
The problem with 'Spiderhead' lies entirely in the screenplay from 'Deadpool' scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick.
Everything that is annoying about their scripts - obvious needle drops, characters having too much self-awareness about their situation, not knowing how to write a third act - are all present here.
Indeed, Reese and Wernick opt for a more cerebral approach to their script with 'Spiderhead' with the film adapted from a short story that was printed in the New Yorker, but the pair simply do not have it in them to do subtlety.
In the hands of a better set of writers, 'Spiderhead' could have been a solid Michael Mann or Peter Weir-style thriller about the folly of man, but instead comes across as an Alex Garland knock-off with all the depth of an English Leaving Cert short story.
For a film that clocks in around an hour and 40, the pacing can only be described as erratic.
Scenes establishing character motivation and story drag on for a smidge too long, and explaining the ins and outs of the story are given the short shrift.
Granted, not every film needs to be like a David Fincher film where every single t and i is dotted, and there's nothing wrong with leaving a bit of ambiguity for the viewer to chew over, but with a central premise this intriguing it's a shame the script can't connect the dots.
In the sci-fi genre more than any other genre, there is a lot of room for ambiguity, but only up to a point.
'Spiderhead' is like when you rent a book out from the library and someone has drawn stickmen on the side of every page.
Chris Hemsworth continues to demonstrate that he's willing to show audiences he isn't just the handsome action hero from the 'Thor' movies, and indeed Hemworth's role here has more in common with his role in Michael Mann's 'Blackhat' than 'Avengers'.
Hemsworth is a fascinating presence in 'Spiderhead' as the all-seeing eye with a nice pair of glasses and taste in music, and the Aussie manages to sell the audience on the more loopier elements of the story based on sheer charisma.
In the hands of a lesser actor, audiences would turn against the film a lot quicker, and that is a testament to Hemsworth's strong performance.
Kosinski's lucky charm Miles Teller is well-cast here as a smarmy test subject, and his ability to fly off the handle and ramping up emotion is well cast here.
Teller's squirmy disposition works well here, and he serves as the audience eyes and ears for all the mysteries 'Spiderhead' has to offer.
If you walk out of 'Spiderhead' with a marginally positive view of it, it is most likely off the strength of Hemsworth's and Teller's performances.
On the directing front, Kosinski is a deft hand at visuals, and the film is a lot better off for having a gifted visual director like him behind the wheel.
Kosinski has a Kubrickian style of scene construction, with every frame of the screen filled up with something the viewer can keep an eye out.
The director opts for a sterile and clean Apple-style visual pallette that feels thematically appropriate for the themes of technology gone amok.
The film is at its best when it goes full Michael Mann and shows us shots of self-serious men on a mission in gorgeous locales.
Without the three amigos of Kosinski, Hemsworth and Teller, 'Spiderhead' easily could have sunk to the bottom of the Netflix algorithm.
The trio manages to give 'Spiderhead' a sense of gravitas the film frankly does not deserve.
If there was ever a movie that cried out for a 'Twilight Zone' style twist that pulls the carpet out from under the viewers, it was 'Spiderhead'.
Instead, the film opts to go for the obvious route of absolute power corrupts absolutely.
When the film touches upon themes such as control, the world of ethics in medical trials and what it means to be truly free, the film going for the most obvious route seems like the easy way out.
In short, 'Spiderhead' is like having a drunken friend regale you with the story of their epic 2-week holiday in Ibiza; half the details are entirely incidental and pointless, and there may not have been a point to the story to begin with.