I like a LOT of TV and movies. Even movies like Extinction. So, I thought I’d tell the world about it on SoManyShows.com.
Paul’s Picks Origin Story
The whole concept of “Paul’s Picks” came about during a debate between Caroline and I. I argued in favor of the cinematic merits of childhood favorite, “Summer Rental“. She thought “The Great Outdoors” the superior John Candy flick. I convinced her to rent my pick for family movie night, and we watched it, with me chuckling all along to the lame, familiar jokes. The rest of the Daley crew? Not so much.
Then Caroline gave me the business (something she does often) about Summer Rental having been one of Paul’s Picks during my days as a video guy. I had no comeback. She nailed the fact that I do in fact like some questionable stuff. And then I tell other people how great they are. We decided I should write completely unqualified opinions of movies and TV under the banner “Paul’s Picks” using that as my justification. So, there we are.
Since So Many Shows covers TV, I’ll stick to made for TV programming, and non-theatrical materials created by popular streaming services like, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Since I find something to like in just about everything I watch, don’t expect my reviews to resemble other reviews. I like what I like and I spoil what I spoil. I hope you’ll at least like the way I tell you about it. As for how regularly one might expect to Paul’s Picks… Let’s call it between weekly and a Rick and Morty style release schedule.
Paul’s First Pick: Extinction from Netflix
Released: 2018 from Netflix
Director: Ben Young
Written: Spencer Cohen, Brad Kane
Starring: Michael Pena, Lizzy Caplan, Mike Colter
The concept: A family struggles to survive an invasion from the stars.
Plot Nutshell (SPOILERS!)
I’m always up for stories of survival versus an alien menace. A fly on the wall at Casa Daley would catch me re-watching 80s Transformers or V episodes, or movies like Battleship, The Thing, or Cloverfield. If it’s got team ‘Us’ pitted against an alien ‘Them’, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve seen it. All of these shows feature a very familiar story. We meet people we like. Something huge and horrible comes to town. That horrible thing kills some of those people we like. The people we’re left with have to fight or escape the invaders. The preview for Extinction looked like something that would fit neatly into that familiar box.
For most of the movie, it does. Lead character Peter’s (Ant-Man’s Michael Pena) dreams / flashbacks make this story different, though. In the movie’s first act, Peter dreams of an attack in which he and his partner/spouse Alice (Lizzy Caplan) survive a vicious, science-fictiony onslaught. Although he only gets little drips and drabs at a time, he’s pretty sure they have to mean -something-. (There usually needs to be a “The One” in stories like this.) Too bad the dreams freak him out and make him fall asleep at work (where he works with Luke Cage, err, David (Mike Colter)). Then, during a party at Peter’s house, his city gets attacked in a way that looks just like what happened in his dreams. Aw, jeez, Rick. Now we have to wonder if he can tell the future, or what.
We don’t have to wonder for very long though. After the requisite number of people we like get killed or hurt, the movie’s plot twist gets revealed: our heroes are actually robots and the invaders are red-blooded humans like you and me. Well, me at least. I think. You see, the intelligent machines in Extinction decided to forcibly forget the first time they fought off us pesky humans. So, if I were one of Peter and Alice’s friends, I wouldn’t even know about my inhuman innards.
After that, it’s pretty standard “escape the bad guys” action.
Paul’s Take (Additional SPOILERS!)
I liked the twist, but not the timing. The trouble I had with this reveal is that it felt rushed. We’re told the humans-are-bad-guys twist at about the one hour point in a 90 minute movie. If you like robot stuff, then you’ve hopefully seen HBO’s Westworld. Think of how that show weaves its disjointed narrative in a way that elegantly reveals the true nature of host (robots) and human characters at -just- the right moment. Audience surprise and delight follows when Westworld does it. Extinction desperately wanted to do that. It just didn’t. It’s like the filmmakers put more emphasis on the big, action-packed escape than the single story point that made this “us vs them” somewhat unique. It’s too bad.
On that same note, the movie toys with with the old Frankenstein-ian theme of “what do owe our creations”. The one primary example we have in which a human soldier helps Caplan’s character could go either way. I’m sure the writers and director would favor the idea that the soldier’s humanity won out and allowed him to see past his hate. I would argue that helping Alice was the only way he survived the day. Other than that, humans just bomb and shoot our robotic children. Go team human!
The cultural amnesia also bothered me. Why would an entire society just decide to forget the one war they fought in? And an enemy that could come back at any time? That plot point makes sense to create some tension early on, but then disintegrates some storytelling credibility when the all-knowing voiceover explains it to us. Why wouldn’t they program themselves with a magic word that would re-enable the buried memories? No, it’s much better to just let the enemy attack with a completely ignorant populace unable to defend itself. Cuz forgetting is easier.
Also under the heading “missed opportunities”, you should also file the lead actors. Viewers will recognize Michael Pena from many roles, but most recently for his work in the Ant-Man movies. Although too much comedy can detract from an action movie’s tone, the best ones usually have some pretty good one-liners. Extinction? None of that. Straight up drama. When you get a guy like Michael Pena, you have to let him use his strength for comedic timing to enhance the character’s likability. Pena’s Peter really didn’t have very much of that. He wasn’t unlikable. But I didn’t care too much about him either. As for the Alice character, Lizzy Caplan has earned much better parts than this. Either cast a new face in such an unimportant lead role, or give Caplan more to do.
Mike Colter is in the movie too. For about three minutes. He’s the one guy, David, that knows everything, but plays almost no role in the movie. Yes, he holds the train for our heroes, but wouldn’t it have been interesting to have cultivated the character’s historical perspective a little more? Think of Teddy in Memento. Is he a friend or is he not? Is he actually the antagonist? When well done, characters that know more than the protagonists make stuff like that very ambiguous. Really, I think it was a way to get Luke Cage in another Netflix property and in another bunch of Netflix previews to coincide with Luke Cage Season 2’s recent release. I get it, but I hope no one watched it expecting to see a lot of Mike Colter.
You’ve seen movies like this, but the twist makes it a little different from the rest. There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes, but you could watch a couple Westworlds instead and scratch nearly the same story-itch.