I was a little conflicted coming out of Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block. On one hand, I was exhilarated from having experienced an hour and a half of pure fun and entertainment. On the other, I was disappointed by the fact that pure fun and entertainment doesn’t seem to be what people want anymore, and that this movie has been relegated to art house status almost immediately upon release, simply because its lead characters don’t sound like they were raised inside an Arkansas chicken coop.
Here as they say, is the poop: A group of young London hooligans are rudely interrupted by a falling meteor as they attempt to mug a young lady. They discover quickly that inside the meteor is the very first extraterrestrial visitor to earth, a monumental historic moment that moves them so profoundly that they decide to beat the shit out of it. They realize quickly that the alien wasn’t alone, and soon are forced to defend their council estate from a race of hideous alien creatures that seem to be focused solely on young black men. No, not the Kardashians.
Lets talk about character for a minute, since that’s really what makes this movie work as well as it does. The alien invasion itself is mildly clever, but without it happening to this specific group of people, it wouldn’t rate a second look. Or even a first one. One of the things about American action movies is the sheer simplicity of the characters. There are no shades of grey anymore in American movies, only black and white. It’s that rare sci-fi or action movie that features characters with actual flaws. Even the two best American sci-fi movies of the year ( Source Code and Super 8 ) feature only good guys and bad guys, with no main characters displaying any level of real complexity. Any “bad” decision by the hero is fixed almost immediately, and usually wasn’t so “bad” in the first place. Even the constant tinkering with forces beyond his comprehension done by James Franco in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes were done for a great reason, with the absolute best of intentions. And our villains aren’t just villains, they are screaming, raging psychopaths, who only exist to be the foil of our heroes.
Real life isn’t like that, and thankfully, movies like Attack The Block aren’t either. In Moses, young actor John Boyega creates one of the most unlikely, yet thoroughly interesting and charismatic action heroes I’ve seen in years. Although a case could be argued that his harsh upbringing somewhat entitles him the life of minor larceny we see him living at the beginning of the film, Moses never once asks for our pity. In fact, not even at the climax of the piece do we get a real apology from him. Because words mean nothing to this character at all, only actions. He has a code. It’s a unspoken one, and one that is somewhat unresisting to even minor scrutiny, but it’s a code nonetheless: Nothing matters except the block. He has no real family of his own, and so he creates one out of the neighbourhood he lives in. That his fellow citizens don’t appreciate their residence in the same way he does is irrelevant to him. The block matters. If you’re part of the block, you’re familiar. You can be dealt with. If you’re not? Then you’re the enemy.
And because in his mind he is somewhat responsible for the horrors that have been visited upon his beloved block, it’s up to him to vanquish them. Let’s not give too much credit here. He doesn’t become a “good” guy all of a sudden. No volunteering for the Peace Corps for Moses. He starts the movie as a cocky, rebellious teen, and he ends it in much the same way. What he’s doing here, is what he always does, and that’s eliminating threats. He’s taking care of his mates. But because this is a movie, he does learn a lesson here, and it’s an oldie but a goodie: Actions have consequences.
There is some mild nitpicking to be done here, but it shouldn’t be enough to sway you away from the film. The aliens are about what you would expect from a movie that cost $13 million dollar to make, and their design is more about practicality than it is about adding to the pantheon of major alien monsters. And while there are many fine acting performances in this film, it’s the only actor you’ve actually heard of that really doesn’t need to be in the piece. Nick Frost plays a hapless drug dealer whose only purpose for being in the movie seems to be so that American audiences can have at least one person on the screen that they’re familiar with, even if it’s in a “I think I’ve seen that guy in something” kind of way.
I said in my title that Attack The Block is one of the best action movies you’ll see this year, and I’ll absolutely stand by that. It’s minimalism reminds me of early John Carpenter films, and it really is a breathtaking action movie. It moves along at breakneck pace, with a brilliant script full of believable dialogue, and some of the strongest characters you’ll at the theatre this year. In short, it’s everything that people say they want in an action movie.
So why aren’t you going?