There was a time in cinema when action heroes were unabashedly male. They were buff dudes who beat the crap out of bad guys in ultraviolent ways, tried to sleep with every hot babe in the vicinity, swore, smoked and didn’t apologize for it. They were larger than life and were beloved for their disregard of the rules to get the job done and save the day. These characters don’t really exist anymore. Lockout, however, does an admirable job of resurrecting this testosterone-filled archetype with a main character that’s actually exciting to watch. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of films from the 80’s or 90’s, but it’s definitely a wistful long look at the heyday of action cinema.
In the future, the most secure prison on the planet, MS One, isn’t actually on the planet – it’s floating in low orbit. Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is the daughter of the President of the United States, and she’s visiting the prison on a peace keeping mission to ensure that the prisoners are being treated humanely. When things go awry and the prisoners get loose, the American government hatches a plan to rescue the President’s daughter. They send in former federal agent Snow (Guy Pearce) who feels he was wrongly convicted of espionage against the United States. Fortunately for him, the key to proving his innocence is a prisoner on MS One. So it’s up to him to face hundreds of homicidal maniacs, rescue the President’s daughter and hopefully find the proof that will set him free.
From the very beginning, it’s evident that Lockout desperately wants to capture the charm of action movies from previous decades. By and large, it succeeds. Guy Pearce’s Snow is absolutely refreshing. He’s smarmy, brash and cocksure. Audiences will admire his confidence as much as they find themselves laughing at his pithy zingers. Early on when he’s being interrogated about a contact’s name, Snow replies, “His name is Fuck You. He’s Asian.” Furthermore, his built physique and his experience with firearms allow him to resolve confrontations in much more direct and final ways. He’s everything moviegoers used to have in action heroes, free of all the internal conflict and sensitivity that plague current action movies.
The storyline and pacing are also reminiscent of films from yesteryear. Lockout doesn’t waste any time in establishing the characters and their goals or raising the stakes to extreme levels. The plot would seem absurdly cliché if the entire movie wasn’t trying to be one. Even the main bad guys (Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun) are one-dimensional. Do they need to be anything more? No, it’s an action movie! It’s enough to know that they’re bad dudes who need to die.
Unfortunately, Lockout does fall short in two very important ways and one not so important way. First, there isn’t enough violence. There are plenty of explosions, bullets whizzing by and people fighting, but it all feels very sanitized. When a film offers such an over-the-top character, it’s a shame that the filmmakers didn’t treat the violence in the same manner. This becomes evident with the first major kill as Snow wraps a bad guy’s head with an explosive. When it goes off, there’s not even any blood splatter. Secondly, this kind of movie needs to be sexier if not just outright have sex. As it stands, the movie isn’t sexy at all. Maggie Grace is an attractive woman in a prison full of sex-starved inmates and a leading man who’s likely to hit on any female around, yet the camera doesn’t objectify her in the way that all the men around her do. It feels a little odd. Finally, there are a few extended sequences of horrible CGI work. Not only do they look grainy, but they don’t instill any kind of concern for the characters involved because the experience is too video game-like. Thankfully, these moments are short-lived and rare.
In the end, Lockout is a film that strains against the tastes of modern movie scripts and delivers macho satisfaction on almost every level. Unfortunately, the musclemen who used to blow things up and punch bad guys in the face have been gone for too long, and getting back to that kind of film was too great a distance for Lockout to cross. Still, movies like this are encouraging and hopefully more will follow.