Get out your clockworks and gears. We're reviewing Hugo!
Hugo is directed by the amazing Martin Scorsese, has an all-star cast, and has some of the most beautiful visuals of any movie this year. But is it a well-oiled machine, or is it just a jumbled mess of shiny parts?
Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in a Paris train station, keeping the clocks running. After his father's untimely death, the only thing he has left is a strange wind-up automaton. He steals parts from a shop owner (Ben Kingsley) while befriending his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and is constantly dodging an evil station agent (Sasha Baron). Hugo starts out on a journey through which he'll discover something he wasn't even looking for.
This movie has amazing visuals. All the clockworks and machinery are intricate and will have steampunk fanatics in a frenzy. The mood and setting is so engrossing, you just want to live there, and the action sequences can be incredibly engaging. This is a movie that uses 3D perfectly. The intro sequence, in fact, introduces you to all the characters while barely uttering a word, much like a Pixar movie. It's wonderful.
...And then, you get into the story.
From the previews, Hugo seemed like a harrowing tale of adventure and mystery, but in execution, it's long, slow and just all over the place. I find it hard to figure out what the main story is or what the main goal is supposed to be. Is Hugo trying to unravel the mystery behind his father? Is it about the toy shop owner? Or is it about the train station itself? It feels like it's trying to do all these things at once and it just doesn't add up. It's much like a collection of Pixar shorts. Sure, they're pretty and nice, but they just don't gel. I guess I wanted it to be A series of Unfortunate Events while it wanted to be Amelie, but it ended up being something entirely different.
The whole point of the movie seems to be focused on the automaton (which, from the trailers, I thought for sure was named Hugo), but it's barely even used. Halfway through, it goes in a completely different direction. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it plays like a love letter from Scorcese to a forgotten era we rarely consider. It's incredibly interesting and beautiful, and strangely, even has some truth to it. But it's just disjointed and doesn't fit with the movie they've been leading up to. It all adds up to a slow narrative with an anticlimactic ending.
This could easily be called "A Series of Unfortunate Coincidences". Things just seem to happen at the exact moment they need to happen without any explanation. I feel like they were going for an everything-fits-together-like-a-clock feel, but since the reasons for which things happen aren't explained, it doesn't feel connected at all. For instance, there's this one scene in which Hugo and Isabelle are reading a book in the library, when, at that exact moment, they are noticed by a professor who just so happens to be the author of the book. How did that happen?
I thought they were going to go more in depth about how everything's connected, especially with his father's strange death, but they never do and it's never explained. Even the characters they introduce so simply and wonderfully in the beginning don't really have much use. They're just there to have their little stories that have nothing to do with the main plot. It doesn't help that many of Hugo's problems could easily be solved if he'd just speak up a bit, and there's no reason he doesn't.
"What are you doing in this train station with no parents?!"
"I keep the clocks running. I've been keeping them running for months."
"Oh, well, uh, thanks for that, I guess."
"Yeah, you probably owe me payment or something."
Of course, just because the story is disjointed doesn't mean that the actors don't all act the hell out of their parts. Ben Kingsley is always a pleasure and he gives a grand performance as a beaten old man. Chloë Moretz is quickly becoming a favorite actress of mine and almost overacts her part. And when did Sacha Baron become a real honest to goodness actor? Did I miss that? Even Butterfield has a few moving scenes of his own.
It's a beautiful film with stunning visuals and sequences and some of the best 3D of the year. Film buffs will probably love it, but don't expect a great story.
THE GOOD: Beautiful setting, great sequences, clockwork and machinery is fun.
THE BAD: Long, slow and disjointed story.
OVERALL: I'd recommend seeing it for the visuals alone, and seeing it in 3D is not only worth it, but has a kind of meta effect you won't realize until you watch it, but it's only ok. Not worth a second viewing.
ONE SCENE METAPHOR: Throughout the movie, we see the lady who runs the coffee shop flirting with a train station patron. They never really have any audible dialogue, but it's clear they really like each other. The only problem is the coffee shop owner's dog can't stand the guy. It's a silly and cute story and I could easily see this as a standalone short, which is odd because it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie.