In a world where studios are clamoring to create a hit film based on a video game franchise, Spectral is an odd choice as it appears to be clamoring for a video game adaptation. Aside from the indescribable and dumbfounding longevity of the Resident Evil film series, many attempts have been made to strike big with film-goers, all of them, for the most part, have been surefire failures. Critically speaking, that is. Audiences are still going to see these horrendous adaptations, otherwise, studios would stop making them. Unfortunately, their successes are fairly minute and rarely pan out beyond a single film. This is where Spectral comes in. On first glance, this film moves through its plot like your run of the mill first-person shooter that borrows a little too heavily from James Cameron’s work. While it certainly never strives to expound upon bigger issues, it is actually quite engaging. The biggest downfall of Spectral is how everything shakes out too easily and all of the plot points feel like missions in a video game. Were this a direct adaptation of a successful video game, this would be one of the best productions to date. In the end, this is a big visual spectacle that is pure dumb fun.
The premise of the film is easy enough: Clyne (James Badge Dale, 13 Hours) plays a scientist, who has developed a set of goggles that the military uses to determine extrasensory information on the battlefield. Turns out what he really made is a high-tech version of the sunglasses from They Live. In war-torn Moldova, the soldiers are not only facing enemy combatants and insurgents, now they face what appears to be an enemy of spectral origin the locals refer to as the “ghosts of war”. These ghost-like enemies phase through buildings, bullets, and even the soldiers as they quickly dispatch hordes of US Marines. This is a very high concept, flashy film from a commercial director, Nic Mathieu, so that means Clyne is brought in to make big guns bigger in order to stop the advancing ghost army.
The first act of the film is just a 20-minute rendition of James Cameron’s Aliens with ghosts instead of xenomorphs. Moving on from there, the now stranded marines will have to develop a better weapon as traditional firearms are useless against the ghosts. Once you get to the first big action set piece in the second act, Spectral begins to shape into something that is a bit less derivative, although it does look as though you are watching a friend play a video game instead of watching a movie. Explanations for the ghost’s weakness isn’t really explained, you just have to accept it. The fact that Clyne can manufacture dozens of advanced military weapons in a few short hours in the middle of a destroyed city in Eastern Europe is just something you have to trust in. The suspension of disbelief is an absolute requirement. I am bagging on this film quite a bit, but I assure you, it actually is a lot of fun once you let go and just accept things.
Aside from James Badge Dale, Spectral also stars Emily Mortimer, Clayne Crawford, and Bruce Greenwood. Unfortunately, the supporting cast feels like an attempt to give this film a more prestigious tone than it actually carries as none of these actors are given anything of relevance to chew on. Once the dust settles, it is quite clear that Spectral is a film for people that enjoy the sounds and sights of guns, military action, and Gears of War video games. That isn’t a bad thing as there is still plenty of fun to be had, just expect to forgive a lot in order to find that joy.
Spectral is now streaming on Netflix.