By now the term “dystopian future” almost seems redundant, at least at the movies — when was the last time you saw a film in which the future wasn’t dystopian? Audiences can swan-dive down that familiar sinkhole once again in “2067,” an Australian sci-fi adventure that’s the first directorial feature from Seth Larney, whose visual-effects background is evidenced in a good-looking production that gets a lot out of its design aspects for the buck.
In the realms of storytelling and character interest, however, this stock “can our protagonist save the planet that humanity already wrecked?” tale proves less resourceful, bogging down in convoluted, low-boil intrigue despite taking place in both the titular year and 25th century. Though Larner gets sole screenplay credit, publicity materials note involvement of at least four other writers. The result is a movie that seems unaware just how generic the should-be-distinguishing details of its earnest eco-cautionary tale have turned out.
Unfortunately, viewers will be aware, as “2067” lands as the kind of enterprise in which actors do not succeed in making their roles feel more personalized than “Hero,” “Loyal Buddy,” etc., unhelped by dialogue as mind-dulling as “What makes you think you’re gonna find what you’re looking for?” “I have to!” RLJE is releasing to a mix of U.S. theaters and virtual platforms on Oct. 2, simultaneous with a home-turf opening.
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A brief prelude of reportage limns the global ravages of climate change, as fires, floods, deforestation and so forth make one nation after another “go dark.” In those that retain some semblance of society, suicide protestors shout, “Oxygen is not a privilege!” before self-immolating. But it is a privilege, its artificial substitute manufactured primarily by private company Chronicorp.
Ethan Whyte (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an ordinary laborer, whose work in tunnels alongside best mate Jude (Ryan Kwanten) has something to do with maintaining the power sources that now fully extinct plant life and other natural systems can no longer contribute to. Nonetheless, everyone is at risk of the illnesses triggered by deprivation, including Ethan’s blood-coughing wife Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik). These are the death throes of a species that is, it seems, imminently doomed.
Inexplicably summoned to see Chronicorp’s CTO (Deborah Mailman), Ethan is surprised to learn he is Luke Skywalker — or rather, yet another ordinary fella who turns out to be “humanity’s only chance.” It seems the scientist father (Aaron Glenane) who disappeared when he was eight had developed a time machine, and now said machine is not joking when it relays a message from the future reading “Send Ethan Whyte.” (You, however, will probably laugh anyway.) Thus our hero is “thrown” 407 years hence hoping to find “a cure” for ailing Earth that can save his wife — and the rest of humanity.
2574 turns out to be jungle-y, which is good, but also full of Halloween-type skeletons, which is bad. There is a sealed structure to which Ethan eventually gains access (by which time Jude has joined him), and unfortunately we spend way too much of this distant future within the rusty old lab it contains. As elsewhere, everything inside seems to be all about Ethan and his dad, with holograms conveniently revealing past secrets (including a stolen bit of “Batman” origin story), and much unexciting discussion of whether the past can indeed be changed or we’re still screwed.
It’s your basic “The fate of the entire universe somehow rests on your nondescript shoulders, son” concept, and scrawny, boyish Smit-McPhee does not provide much heft or charisma to carry that burden. Nor are the variable supporting players given much to work with. You can tell “2067” has some rather lofty aspirations. But its ways of realizing them are too frequently pedestrian, from the banal dialogue to the notion that our savior might ultimately need reassuring that daddy really loved him. (Admittedly, such was also the end of the cosmic rainbow for Jodie Foster in “Contact” — and a distinct letdown there, too.)
When it’s not stuck in that lab, the film offers up some neat CGI futurescapes and real-world scenery. There’s an attractive general polish from DP Earle Dresner, production designer Jacinta Leong, and other contributors. But it remains the tragedy of our cinematic era that it is apparently easy to conjure up impressive visual elements, yet conversely very hard to write a screenplay that doesn’t feel indifferently sewn together from several prior better ones — or in which people feel like rounded individuals rather than genre stick figures.
Though during the narrative itself, Kenneth Lampl and Kirsten Axelholm’s original score sometimes seems a bit much for the onscreen action, their final-credits accompaniment has an aching beauty. It’s suggestive of a much more mournful, poignant film — one “2067” may well have intended to be at some point. Instead, we get a mashup of influences as diverse as “Stargate,” “The Time Machine” and “Silent Running” in which nothing feels very personal, let alone original.