I had the opportunity to see this again today, this time with a different friend. And I wasn't disappointed at all. From my experience, a second viewing can tell the difference between a good film and a poor one, just like the infamous "test of time". I know it's happened before with films that relied solely on one aspect (most often special effects), which is a major disappointment for me because I dislike getting to dislike films.
Anyway, you'll probably hear a lot of fangirling from me from this point on, though I'll try to keep it to a minimum. Also, since I'm still a big fan of this film, there will be more pictures involved because I took too many awesome screencaps to be able to select just one.
After the Third World War, it was concluded that emotions are the root of all evil. The sole surviving nation, Libria, is run by a single political party which promotes the use of a serum that annihilates all human emotion. To fight the Resistance, gifted individuals are trained in the art of Gun Kata, a form of fighting involving martial arts and use of guns. We follow John Preston, a highly Gun Kata-skilled Cleric, while he attempts to discover the truth behind the silent war between the totalitarian regime and the Resistance.
John Preston, just after opening a can of WhoopAss.
The cinematography and sets are gorgeous. I'll give it to them that while some sets reminded me of Lord Of The Rings and a lot of the action was reminiscent of The Matrix, these worked well together in creating the image of a cold, heartless world that fell into routine. In the beginning, when the world was being presented, it felt like I was watching a science fiction flick from the '60s, what with all the tall, stone buildings. Again, this contributes to the image and it was pleasant, seeing a nod to these "ancient" but still intriguing pieces of cinema history.
The action scenes are top notch and I'm glad they are; if an action film has shoddy action, it's a guaranteed stinker. However, it had me going "awesome!" at every sequence and the pace is so fast it doesn't let you cool off. The fight scenes are stylish, and that's what kept me watching - it was like watching them dance, only with guns and a lot of pain involved.
I found the characters very convincing: after seeing The Prestige, I had been on the fence about Christian Bale's acting, but now I've shifted more towards the Like side. He plays the indecisive part well and despite his not showing too many facial expressions, he made up for it through body language and fighting skill (this time I noticed the character's stiffness disappearing after some events in the film).
What I particularly liked was the way religion was compared to politics, structure and symbols-wise. This is not only obvious from the grades of the officials (Cleric), but also from the way the supreme leader is called: simply Father. Throughout the film there are numerous references to mixing the two domains together, such as the T-shaped windows in the main building (mimicking crosses) or the Libria's flag itself, which combines both the cross and the swastika.
John Preston is pissed and ready to confront Father.
While I loved the action and all, some scenes were too over-the-top for suspension of disbelief (I discussed one of them below, in "The Plain WTF") . However, one can argue that they contribute to the overall feeling of futuristic fight styles, so I can't really talk about anything particularly jarring, fangirl attitude aside.
Like I mentioned in "The Good", an argument against this film could be its lack of originality - anyone with a minor experience in films would think a scene reminds them of a certain film. However, this film was made as a tribute to those films (and a good one at that), so there's nothing bad about it here.
The Plain WTF (spoilers, of course)
There is one scene that instantly sprung into my mind when I got to this section, and that is the one of Preston entering DuPont's office, near the end. Brandt (Preston's former partner) unsheathes his sword and charges towards him, after delivering a cool mini-speech, therefore preparing us for the OMG EPIC BATTLE. However, the battle never takes place, because all Preston has to do is grab his sword from one of the dead bodies on the floor and swing it around a few times; after a few seconds, Brandt falls to his knees, turns his head right and -get this- we see his face slide off. True slap-in-the-face/kick-in-the-ass moment for the audience right here!
Who cares if it's over-the-top, it's frickin' badass!
Brandt: Mind the uniform, Cleric.
[unsheathes a katana]
Brandt: I plan to be wearing it for a long time.
Throwing in another awesome pose just for the hell of it.
Verdict and recommendations
As you can see, I was very pleased after seeing this - that's an understatement, though, I was hyped! I admit I wanted to watch this just because I'd heard of it and wasn't expecting something too bright, so it completely took me by surprise (and I mean that in a good way). Of course, the subject has been done before, many times, but I liked it nonetheless. And that's what it ultimately boils down to: personal preference. I'd say if you liked The Matrix, you'll love this, as long as you take it for what it is: an attempt of retelling an old story using the hype of another one, and certainly not ripping.
Oh, and you should probably see this with at least one friend, so you have someone to go "awesome!!" with :)
My rating: (9 out of 10)
Equilibrium (2002) on IMDb.com