The most consistently compelling thing about 2067 is star Kodi Smit-McPhee’s face itself. The kid from The Road is all grown up now, with striking, deep-set blue eyes set so wide across his face that he looks a little bit like Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movies, reimagined as a male model, with an impossibly long neck and pronounced Adam’s apple giving him a condor-like quality.
He seems futuristic or otherworldly, which fits in 2067, set in a fittingly depressing vision of the future (are non-bleak futures even possible to imagine in 2020?) in which climate change has killed all of Earth’s plants. This has lead to an oxygen shortage, and the artificial oxygen the world’s remaining humans have been forced to subsist on is causing a mystery sickness. Wow, climate change and a pandemic? What an imagination, writer/director Seth Larner! (Do you think he hired Kodi Smit-McPhee just so he wouldn’t have the goofiest sounding name on set?)
McPhee plays Ethan Whyte, who lives in future Australia, where most of the world’s remaining population has fled to escape climate catastrophe, and works as some kind of tunnel rat (a “fogger” in 2067 parlance, an occupation it never entirely explains) alongside his adopted brother, Jude (Ryan Kwanten). Outdoors, everyone wears gas mask-type breathing apparati, and desperate urchins murder each other for puffs of sweet, sweet air. Ethan has a wife named Xanthe (the words “Xanthe Smit-McPhee” echoing through my brain uninvited), played by Sana’a Shaik. For her birthday, Ethan gives her a breathing mask, a gift apparently so lavish that she feels compelled not to accept it at first. When she finally does it makes her cough up blood, almost always a harbinger of terminal illness in movies.
Whyte, who has a mysterious iron cuff attached to one wrist that he seems embarrassed of, later gets Shanghai’d by some agents and told by a corporate functionary (Deborah Mailman) that he’s been selected for a special mission. It turns out Ethan’s now deceased, absentee physicist father (Aaron Glenane) — who permanently bolted the cuff through Ethan’s wrist when he was just a boy — had been developing a time machine. They’d been able to send radio waves 400 years into the future. The waves bounced back, in the form of a cryptic message, “SEND ETHAN WHYTE.”
It turns out they have just enough juice to squirt Ethan into the future and maybe find the key to saving humanity (the future folk must surely know-how, considering they’re both alive and capable of texting), but no plan in place for how to get Ethan back once he jumps ahead. So it might be a suicide mission. Will it be worth abandoning his wife in order to potentially save her, humanity, and the rest of this movie?? I’ll let you guess how that one plays out.
It’s an intriguing setup, and 2067 has the world-building and production design of a much more expensive movie. It seems to have all its Macguffins in the right places, and yet, the writing is so vague and the characters’ motivations so murky that the actors end up flailing, trying desperately to breathe life into lines like telling Ethan has to “have faith” for the umpteenth time. Ethan’s father (via flashback) also compares people to the stars in the sky, leading to an eventual explanation that does little to justify the metaphor. Music swells and characters scream at each other (Smit-McPhee often in a feline strangle) but it’s hard to tell what exactly they’re so upset about. The conflict seems imposed. 2067 is an epic score in search of epic action at times.
Ethan’s buddy Jude seems like he might be evil, yet the actual words he says are those of a caring guy (maybe it’s the American accent). Even worse, Jude and anyone who knows Ethan as more than an acquaintance have a terrible habit of calling him “Ethie.” Between the constant repetition of “Ethie” and “Xanthe” I was worried my brain might be getting a lisp. Am I hearing this right or do I have a hearing impedimenthie?
In the end, the timeliness of 2067’s premise is matched only by the clunkiness of its execution. It zooms straight from a convoluted conflict to an ending so headslappingly stupid that the characters in the movie actually call it “the deus ex machina.” Even that doesn’t quite do it justice. I suppose I could just tell you, but that would ruin the suspense.
‘2067’ opens October 2nd in theaters and via VOD. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.