The look is called super-saturation or over-saturation. It’s when the colors are all bled out, or excessively sharpened, and it’s normally done to connote flashbacks or sentimentality. In Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet it is everything, every single sequence, every frame. It looks incredible, but unfortunately, it means absolutely nothing.
Believe me, I wanted – at times frantically – to like Ultraviolet. While the plot is entirely reductive, the acting painfully amateurish, most of the special effects uniformly crummy, Ultraviolet is breathtaking to watch. At times it looks like a 3rd generation bootleg of some ultra-obscure New Wave music video (perhaps, Experimental Projects’ “Glowing in the Dark” – try tracking that one down), at others like goofy outtakes from Kill Bill Volume 1. The film rampages wildly through neon infused colors and minimal THX 1138 styled sets, Matrix stunts, and gaudily shot sentimental close-ups. The entire film is an uncanny buffet of cult culture – we’ve got everything from Grant Morrison to Max Headroom, Tron to the Wachowski’s Doc Frankenstein comic book, Iggy Pop’s abs to Cassavetes’ Gloria, all stuffed into a weirdly affected plot. Article continues below
Ultraviolet’s future America is inhabited by two types of people, people who are infected by a “kick-ass” virus and have special abilities (like basically gallivanting about as though they hopped out of a Hong Kong kung-wire-fu film) and the rest of us. The special people can do all sorts of Matrixy things, like run at bullets and dodge them, flip off of buildings and land on their feet, and wield samurai swords as though they were extensions of their own bodies. The rest of us just make totalitarian speeches against the mutant “others.” You know, the hip versus the nerds. As the nation teeters on the brink of civil war, only one mutant (Milla Jovovich) – infected and sexy for dramatic reasons – can save the world when she finds a young boy in a suitcase. (Yeah, a suitcase.) Oh, right, and the mutants are all vampires. Kind of. Seriously, I'd explain this better but I couldn’t figure it out.
The acting, as mentioned, is terrible, but there are a few honest performances buried here and there. The critically undervalued William Fichtner (Go) breathes a little life into a barely sketched role and Nick Chinlund (Chronicles of Riddick) is suitably nasty as the germ-phobic Daxus. But both Fichtner and Chinlund look like they’ve wandered onto the set from somewhere else. Only Sébastien Andrieu, as the mute Nerva, really looks the part.
Wimmer directed the sleeper hit (and equally post-Matrixy) Equilibrium and before that wrote screenplays like The Recruit and The Thomas Crown Affair. But the films he’s directed are nothing like those hits. When he’s behind the camera, Wimmer is obsessed with highly-stylized action sequences. Equilibrium was entertaining because his approach to these sequences was tempered with intelligent plotting and gutsy artiness. But mostly it was a vehicle for Wimmer’s patented Gun Kata, a martial art that combines traditional karate moves and guns. Wimmer was disappointed in the appearance of the Gun Kata sequences in Equilibrium, Ultraviolet is his true vision for the art. Sure, it looks cool, but ultimately it’s nothing you haven’t seen a thousand times.
And that’s the big problem with Ultraviolet; it’s all surface. Wimmer has talent to burn, and he’s got more than enough ideas for ten sequels to Ultraviolet, but he’s unfocused. Like the earlier, and tonally similar, Aeon Flux, this film sinks quite quickly into a garbled mess of whiz bang and wouldn’t-that-be-cool. And it ain't.