Ever since the trailers of Edge of Darkness surfaced, there was a nagging sense of déjà vu about the whole project, from the tired lines Mel grumbles, such as "I'm the guy with nuthin' to lose… fasten your seatbelt," to the strong resemblance to the plot of Taken (hero loses daughter, seeks vigilante revenge). Even the film's two posters reminded me of the forgettable Kevin Bacon vendetta-justice thriller of 2007, Death Sentence and another clearly recalls Gibson's own 1999 vehicle Payback.
After watching, I realized Darkness, while perhaps more narratively dense than Taken, is less a movie than an amalgam. The film was, in fact, based on a 1985 British miniseries (and one which is highly regarded). But in the quarter century that has passed, there has been a lot of revenge on the big screen, and Darkness feels like it's cut-and-pasted from any number of superior action flicks that have since been staged. And it all feels constructed merely so we can wait for Gibson to go into his trademarked Fit of Explosive Rage.
Everyone seems game enough, but the film itself descends into almost comic levels of melodrama, featuring mustache-twirling baddies, surprisingly lackluster directing from an accomplished lensman, and dialogue straight out of some early version of Final Draft screenwriting software.
And then there's Mel.
In films like the Bourne pictures, and the aforementioned Taken, the casting of Matt Damon and Liam Neeson was the real coup. We did not really expect them to detonate into full-on bad-ass mode, and when they did, it was all the more exciting. Mel has made a career of doing just that. He's good at it mind you, but we know it's only a matter of time before the internal “eye bulge” switch is flipped and we watch him tear through the cast, firing off bon mots and bullets.
Here, he's Thomas Craven, a straight-edged Boston detective who witnesses the death of his daughter at the hands of masked intruders. While the cops write off the incident as being intended for Thomas, he slowly uncovers more about his daughter's life with a shady nuclear testing plant. There's more, of course. A lot more. But it is perhaps far too much to go into detail here, and quite honestly, far too much for the film's 110 minute running time.
Sure, there are some great quips, some shocking bursts of left field violence, and a dependable performance from Gibson. Yet there is nothing at all unique about the film. It ambles along through the motions and feels calculated and protracted to a fault. While it is easy to understand why Mel chose this as his return to the big screen (if nothing else, Darkness will serve as a memory jog to seek out better, earlier Gibson films), it is hardly one that offers him any distinction.
It's perhaps made even more frustrating that the director is Martin Campbell, responsible for one of the best of the Bond films, Casino Royale. Campbell shows the film's hand far too early when introducing his characters, which deflates any and all tension that is essential in constructing a thriller such as this.
In all aspects, Edge of Darkness runs counter to the roles in which Gibson excels. For casting an actor who enjoys roles that allow him to quickly bubble into unpredictable fits of frenzy, Darkness plays it far too safe.