Netflix's Mute: The Pseudo Sci-Fi Head Scratcher That Could Have Been
Netflix has a new sci-fi drama starring Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux. And even with all that star power in the kitchen, Mute is cinematic gumbo that’s undercooked and overseasoned.
(Light spoilage ahead, kinda-sorta, but I hope it doesn’t matter because this one’s a bust, lol.)
Now, I'm gonna start with the pros, cause there were a few pros in this film. First and foremost, the world building is pretty awesome. I'll even go so far as to say the science fiction cityscape that's portrayed in Netflix's Mute is even better, “realer-feeling”, and more appealing than Altered Carbon's.
I still don't like the usage of neon lights. We're not going to be using neon lights in the future. They're energy wasting, archaic pieces of luminous shit from when cyberpunk started rising amongst the sci-fi ranks that have simply stuck around because most people are too lazy to think outside the box and come up with something new. So if you ever see neon lights in content based on an A.C. Hachem novel, know that it does not have my seal of approval. Yes, they’re a component of some classic movies that are part of this genre/subgenre, but great tech-heavy sci-fi has been made without pastel illumination, so fear not, for it can be done, content creators.
Paul Rudd actually does a pretty good job, even though his character is pretty wack and forced. Stereotypical and boring. Skarsgard does an even better job, considering his character has like three lines in Mute and doesn't speak until the last couples minutes of the film. The thought and emotion he's able to convey with only his facial expressions is more potent than what anyone else in the film is able to do using words, so kudos to him for pulling that off.
Before I forget, the score wasn't bad either. Mute's auditory elements were pretty legit, actually. But ultimately, it was all for nothing.
Before I get started with what are my most blatant gripes or cons, I just wanna preface everything and say, the whole film is a clusterfuck and missed opportunity.
All Images: Netflix
There are a lot of things that don't make sense in this movie, starting with the film’s angle as a whole. Netflix’s Mute could be pure rubbish, or an attempt to be fresh, progressive, and anti-formulaic, that detonates before it ever leaves the launch pad. There's some bad acting in there with the secondary characters, and there's also some bad scripting that, if corrected, could have helped alleviate many of Mute's ailments.
Naadirah's colleague from work, the male with the blond hair and the blond eyelashes—he sounds like ass. Most of his dialogue is disingenuous and clunky, like he's skipping sentences. Especially in that first scene where they exit their place of work for a break. Also, the fact that Cactus Bill's friend/lover calls him babe 47 times throughout the course of the film does not give him a unique character identifier, but instead just annoyed the shit out of viewers.
Less is more, bruh. Had he said it a few times here and there, and then said it once more when Cactus was dying, maybe just after flipping the security monitor toward him, that would have been so much more epic than simply abusing the word "babe" by adding it to the end of every third sentence. Super annoying.
Here's a better question though: Why is this a sci-fi film in the first place? I’m somewhat relieved to see it officially listed as Drama/Mystery in some places, but come on, it's sci-fi, or at least it's trying to be. Again, I ask—Why!
What did the futuristic landscape and mild usage of tech have anything to do with the storyline? I mean, aside from the fact that Cactus Bill's buddy is a medical "professional" with a little bit of a specialty in cybernetic limb replacement. Other than that, the sci-fi elements in Mute don't have much of anything to do with the plot. This story could have easily been a present-day story or a period film. It's like the sci-fi has nothing to do with anything!
The main bad men are a couple of surgeons, and some sort of like, brothel/organized-whore-crime-syndicate, that again, has nothing to do with all the science fiction in this film. I mean, I don't wanna say it, but a part of me feels like Mute is just trying to catch cyberpunk's wave and it's pretty damn sad, because first of all, it fails, and secondly, it's Fake Sci-Fi!
There was a robotic stripper in one scene that looked so cartoony that it was far from cool or aesthetically pleasing, and...Near-Future Cyberpunk…Amish Guy? I mean, how do you take the concept of an Amish Dude, living in a flying-car-ass futuristic Germany, and throw in some metal limbs and neon lights, and attempt to carve out even a remote resemblance of science fiction from all of these unrelated elements...
Was this sci-fi non-sense from the get go? Or a bold venture into uncharted artistic territory that simply failed to succeed?
IMHO, Netflix’s Mute attempts to capitalize on science fiction's current mainstream success, under the thinly-veiled guise of cyberpunk, by implanting elements of sci-fi into a film that is not science fiction. You can watch it for yourself and be your own judge, but I'm calling bullshit here.
So we’ve got some bad scripting, some bad acting, some irrelevant shit, and some fake sci-fi—Mute is the type of film that I feel a lot of people are going to be on the fence about. Most people are definitely going to gravitate toward, "This film is unwatchable!" and "Turn this shit off!" and some people are going to see this as, "This is different, this is awesome!".
But for somebody that watches as much science fiction as I do, I think I've developed quite a knack for being able to tell good storytelling within this genre's space from bad, so take it from me—Mute is riddled with holes like the finest swiss cheese.
I mean, it's crazy, that the aesthetic of the landscape was so gorgeously crafted. Some of the most beautiful cyberpunk imagery that somehow strikes a harmonious balance between plausibility in cyberpunk without abusing stereotypes and clichés. So realistic, that I have not seen more quality realism in cyberpunk than I have with this film's aesthetic. Not in Electric Dreams, not in Altered Carbon. Mute's visuals give us all the things we know and love, without torrential rainfall and geysers of steam rising from every damn crack in the ground. Or the 14-story-tall cool but cliché holograms from films like Ghost In The Shell.
(Notice how there wasn't a single daytime scene in Altered Carbon unless you were floating among the mansions in the clouds? Like, literally, 10 episodes of a series and every single urban scene takes place at night time. Like there's no sun in the near-future—we're stuck in a perpetual state of night time in the near-future, or the far future, or whenever for that matter.)
So every time I saw a shot of the cityscape in Mute, it hurt a little bit, because I thought to myself, "Man, this awesome world building is completely wasted on a story that doesn't make any sense." Mute is a Film with Dementia about a Bi/Curious Redneck “Bad Ass” (played by a comedic actor) who’s stuck in Berlin, and an Amish Mute that’s in love with a blue-haired waitress for no apparent reason. Mute’s antagonist’s M.O. is simply a mission to return to the United States (again, for no real reason).
Basically, aside from the few elements that did work, the rest of the film stunk to high heaven.
I wanna say that if you're a casual movie goer or a Netflix binger that likes to stream a lot of relatively random content, more so out of curiosity than anything else, without too much concern for genre, I would skip Mute all together. Not worth your time.
But if you're a hardcore cinephile that doesn't mind taking the bad with the good, or if you love science fiction, you should probably give it a whirl anyway, regardless of Mute's plentiful, bountiful faults.
I think it helps for sci-fi nuts or movie buffs in general to watch bad films, actually. No better way to carve out a cinematic palette and even-more-so appreciate great productions. Besides, there's always that sliver of a chance that you might actually like this Netflix dud for some ungodly reason...but I hope your feelings toward Netflix's Mute will more align with mine.
By the way, Duncan Jones and friends may have dropped the ball on this one, but if you haven’t seen Warcraft, check it out. I enjoyed that one quite a bit.
Before I go, I just wanna say hats off to Netflix for being ambassadors of the genre. Their content is often met with acclaim, and sometimes, harsh criticism, but they dish out a ton of highly respectable science fiction, and don't mind taking risks. I feel as though they're pioneers of fresh, different sci-fi, and I hope they continue to do what they're doing in regards to speculative fiction for a long time.