Duncan Jones's Mute dropped on Netflix today and unfortunately, it looks like it will go the same way as Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox in terms of critical reception. Currently holding a mere 5 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, critics are calling the film "insipid," "airless," "dissapointing," and, more to the point, a "disaster."
Meant to blend the cynical noir of Casablanca with the neon-soaked cyberpunk world of Blade Runner, Mute was in the works since Jones (the son of David Bowie) graduated film school in 2001. And even though it evolved from a small-time Guy Ritchie-inspired gangster flick to a futuristic hardboiled mystery, the director's passion project looks like it won't be anything more than that, though it stands to reason it might still find a few fans who are hooked on the director's output.
This could be a truly "zoinks!" moment for the director of sci-fi triumphs like Moon and Source Code as well as the studios who would potentially bankroll his features; they might be second guessing him from here on out. Jones has certainly had fluctuations in his career, both good and bad. Source Code (91 percent) was better-received than critical fave Moon (89 percent), but then Warcraft (28 percent) was a major disaster. Has this golden boy of genre fallen from grace?
In the face of a movie titled after a guy who can't talk, critics are making it loud and clear just how much they dislike the thing.
Here are some choice excerpts from critics:
"The one thing Mute has going for it is Jones’ vividly imaginative sense of world-building. Like Ridley Scott with Blade Runner, he fills every corner of the screen with something cool to look at. And the fact that the director, who happens to be the son of David Bowie, decided to set the film in a future-shock Berlin (where Bowie lived while recording his most seminal albums in the late ‘70s) no doubt has a personal resonance for him so soon after his father’s death. But you get the feeling that Jones spent so much time conjuring his movie’s groovy universe that he was all tapped out of ideas when it came time to write a tale worthy of it." -Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly
"The main problem with Mute is that it doesn’t use its technologically-advanced backdrop to say anything new. There are hints of a war in Kandahar via a news video, problems with cloning, and a large number of American soldiers going AWOL, but other than those brief glimpses, co-writer/director Duncan Jones (Warcraft, Moon) has created a world that feels empty." -David Griffin, IGN
"Mute, a spectacularly blown shot at redemption. In the parallel universe where everything’s gone right for Jones, this long-labored-over passion project would have been his magnum opus, an idiosyncratically imagined futuro-fantasia worthy of the Blade Runner comparisons it so shamelessly courts. But while Jones has never been lacking in ambition, here that quality seems more like a willingness to “go for it”. The depth of his creative commitment hasn’t turned shallow, but it has been applied to a collection of perilously bad impulses." -Charles Bramesco, The Guardian
"What is Jones trying to say with Mute? One would hardly guess this over-congested generic exercise came from the same mind as the elegant, almost minimalistic Moon, which made far better use of all that went unsaid. As if intending to untangle its many mixed messages, Mute ends with a dedication to the director’s recently deceased mom and dad, Marion Skene and David Jones (better known to the world as David Bowie), although its feelings on the subject of parenthood seem deeply conflicted, at best. And yet, Netflix has given Jones the resources to express himself. If only he had done the same for his characters." -Peter Debruge, Variety
"As in his big-budget fantasy dud Warcraft, Jones demonstrates no knack for grand spectacle. His sweet spot is in more cramped points of view, and Mute’s Berlin only comes alive in a few sequences that glimpse the city handheld from the front seat of a car, with tanklike garbage trucks rumbling by and towers looming overhead—a cool, interesting way of showing the audience an elaborate futurescape on a limited budget. But the film ignores all the potential commentary and conflict in its pulpy, hyperbolic premise (tradition technology, urban contradictions, etc.), offering only trivialities, superficialities, and contempt. It has as little to say as its protagonist. Possibly less, even." -Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Justin Theroux, Paul Rudd, and Sam Rockwell, Mute is now streaming on Netflix.