“This has nine,” he smiles.
Well, if it’s a competition, director Jung Byung-gil’s Carter only has the one action sequence. The thing is, it’s two hours and 14 minutes long.
Set in the aftermath of a pandemic that’s turning humans into violent killers, Carter follows the tattooed title character (Joo Won) after he awakens in a bloody hotel room with no memory and a voice in his ear feeding him some very vague survival instructions.
Apparently, Carter needs to find the kidnapped daughter of a doctor who’s discovered a cure for the virus, and transport her safely to facilities where a mass vaccine project is underway. The problem? Carter doesn’t know if he can trust her, there’s a bomb planted inside his tooth (seriously), and approximately three different government agencies and several hundred agents appear to want him dead.
The opening sequence of the Netflix film should give you a pretty clear idea about whether or not it’ll be your cup of tea. After being confronted by a group of CIA agents, Carter escapes through a sauna before being attacked by about 100 people (no exaggeration!), all while the camera swerves and rotates around him, getting increasingly blood spattered as he chops his way through his assailants.
The whole scene is dizzying, fantastically choreographed, ultra-violent, and impressively filmed. It leaves you feeling sea sick and a bit drained — David Leitch’s Bullet Train uses similarly acrobatic camera techniques. It sets the tone for what’s to come.
Give the man a break.
Credit: Son Ik-chung / Netflix
When I said earlier that the film feels like a two-hour action sequence, I wasn’t lying. There is very, very little downtime. Poor old Carter is catapulted from one intense set piece to the next, punching, slashing, and shooting his way through various motorbike chases, car chases, and mid-air gun fights that take place following airplane explosions and lead on to yet more car chases. At one point Carter shoots his way through various enemies while rolling around in the back of a truck filled with grunting pigs; in another scene he hangs from a disintegrating rope bridge, Indiana Jones-style, casually shooting zombies (yes, zombies) attacking from both sides. Through all this the camera follows him like a roving insect, occasionally buzzing round him in a 360-degree loop or zooming into the air for a birds-eye view. It’s technically brilliant and exhausting to watch.
The body count is almost certainly higher than the number of lines of dialogue spoken.
The screenplay, written by the director with Jung Byeongsik, is minimal. The body count is almost certainly higher than the number of lines of dialogue spoken. Scenes of conversation, when they do take place, typically see a new character appearing to feed Carter information, video game NPC-style, before they disappear, sometimes never to be seen again. The story feels like little more than a device to manoeuvre Carter from one shootout to the next.
This isn’t going to end well, is it?
Credit: Son Ik-chung/Netflix
The quantity and scale of this action is both Carter‘s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. It’s all very well done, but there’s just too much of it. It’s a sensory overload that makes that Chris Hemsworth movie Extraction look slow, and not in a good way. Pummelling the audience with constant, intense action makes us eventually numb to what we’re watching, and left me feeling that some more down time and dialogue would have helped me care about the characters and appreciate the fight scenes even more.
Instead, like the main character, we’re barely given time to draw breathe — and the film suffers for it.