It’s as if Mark Wahlberg, his lined visage increasingly resembling a perplexed potato, learned nothing from the blank ignominy of his “performances” in previous big-budget sci-fi spectacles Planet of the Apes and, er, Max Payne. And maybe include The Happening in that too (Transformers doesn’t count, since even all-round reprobate Shia La Boeuf made no visible dent on their appeal either way). As such, pairing him with the blandest of journeyman action directors on Infinite was never going to seem like a sterling idea, particularly with a concept so far removed from of either’s wheelhouse.
Occasionally, Wahlberg has justified his movie career; he’s one of those actors who can be surprisingly effective cast well, often in supporting turns (The Departed) or opposite an effective co-star (2 Guns). But ask him to service traditional star headline parts and you’re left scratching your head at whoever thought this was a good idea.
Occasionally, Antoine Fuqua has also justified his A/B-negative-ish directorial status, although I think even his much-feted Training Day would have been considerably improved by someone with a little more aptitude for character. Several of his pictures – Olympus Has Fallen, the first The Equalizer – have displayed a decent B-movie hack diligence, but others have left him entirely adrift (Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Southpaw), and I shudder to think how undeservingly lauded his forthcoming Will Smith slavery drama Emancipation is sure to be.
Ironically then, actor and director’s prior teaming, conspiracy thriller Shooter, may have been one of their mutually best efforts. One assumes they got on reasonably well, hence this rematch fourteen years later. Given that both must be held equally blameworthy for the piece of hot garbage that is Infinite, I doubt we’ll see them together again for at least another fourteen. Naturally, D Eric Makiranz is the ultimate culprit for writing the appallingly titled The Reincarnationist Papers in the first place. Also deserving vilification are Makiranz’ avid fans, since he apparently begged them, through the first page of the book, to get his novel a movie deal. And it worked.
Of course, the undiscerning Hollywood exec (meaning most of them) is going to look at a movie about immortals and chosen ones with super powers involved in a plot to wipe out all life on Earth and fail to conclude how derivative and redundant it is. Rather, he will surmise how many other movies with all or some of these elements made an absolute mint. For all its ricketiness, the original Highlander managed to invoke an occasional sense of the poetic, and benefited greatly from the MTV stylings of Russell Mulcahy, the soundtrack contributions by Queen at their most anthemic and the eccentricity of an eclectic cast. Contrastingly, the recent Netflix offering The Old Guard was entirely pedestrian in approach and delivery. The concept of immortals fighting the (or a) fight, seemed tired and worn. Infinity only serves to double down on this.
Those two prior offerings essentially carried a “gods among us” element, by virtue of their super power. Somehow, Maikranz has figured simply remembering your past life is a sufficient hook in this regard, and that those who can, if not quite a Dalai Lama, are pretty special in themselves, what with their “perfect memory of all their past lives”. Even when, like Marky Mark, they can’t recall.
Hollywood has always been bashful about getting serious with spiritual concepts, keen to proffer a blanket of pseudo new-age Christianity from the likes of Michael Tolkin or Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, Deep Impact, etc). Nothing too taxing. Nothing to really make you think. So it is with the Infinites, where these guys (and girls), despite having perfect memory of their past lives, seemingly have none of the in-between states. At least, that rather fundamental part goes entirely unmentioned. The closest we come is a conversation between Nihilist (yes, he’s called that) villain Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Believer (yes, he’s called that) good guy Bryan Porter (Toby Jones), in which the former indignantly exclaims “I’m tired of faith. God must show me his face”.
Thus, Infinite tackles the infinite in an entirely prosaic, inelegant fashion. By throwing hardware or CGI at it. About the sum of wisdom or spiritual experience we’re privy to are the superpowers of Evan McCauley (Wahlberg), the reincarnation of Heinrich Treadway (Dylan O’Brien, so pixely-looking I wondered if he weren’t Wahlberg with a CG facelift). We learn that – somehow – he mastered physics-controlling super skillz in a past life, yet despite walking along the wing of a plane in flight (having previously landed his motorbike on it), he still manages to drown by falling into the ocean. Couldn’t he just have floated? Perhaps he simply knew the way the Hollywood tide was swelling, and that it would be better in the long run if he was reborn Indonesian.
Possibly Wahlberg, being a Catholic, nixed any serious-minded discussion of reincarnation. Most probably, it wasn’t there to begin with. Mark is obviously the first person you think of when looking for someone to play an aging, aspirant, Neo-esque type, after all. And he gets to pose as a blacksmith and, rather than undergo a vision quest, receive shock treatment (drowning) in order to jog his missing memories.
The basic duality of Infinite’s reincarnationists finds the Believers protecting and seeking to further the growth of humanity (most of this seems to involve shooting shit and blowing it up), while the Nihilists, led by Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), see the power as a curse; “He needed a way to stop reincarnating. He wants it all to end”.
Indeed, there may (again, I’m doubtful) have been something a little more searching beneath all this, questioning the essential reincarnation doctrine, and whether it is indeed characterised by the (favoured) uphill spiritual development of humanity. “The wheel keeps turning and we can never escape” argues Bathurst, sounding not unlike a gnostic recognising an essentially hellish realm, one presided over by an entrapping demiurge.
As such, he may have a point with his deadly Egg (although, not having any actual insight into God’s machinations, his obliterated essence will as likely be reconstituted in yet another replica of the earth, stir and repeat). While he was Rupert Friend, Bathurst made a device called the Egg designed to kill every living thing; “If there’s nobody left alive, there’s nobody to reincarnate into”. Rather like our current Elite’s chosen methodology, the Egg attacks life at the source. DNA. In this case, undoing the very fabric of existence. Treadway stole the device (and we learn, ickily secreted it in himself). Quite why Bathurst couldn’t commission another Egg is unclear, but being very angry does give Chiwetel and his mighty beard ample opportunity to overemote. Which, frankly, Infinite needed more of. Anything to alleviate the indifferent slop of it all.
Bathurst – “the apex predator in our world”; amazing how many Hollywood movies have one of those – also has a device called a dethroner, which prevents the reincarnating from incarnating again, storing their souls on a chip. Now, avoiding the intricacies or lack thereof of how this device would work, it represents an interesting transhumanist gateway idea in itself. Presumably, those on the chip are inert, but one might be minded to populate a virtual world of souls imprisoned on microchips, trapping them in successive incarnations in an entirely removed realm, splintered from a home realm already one step removed from source. Some suggest this has already happened in some way, shape or form.
Infinite is populated by the usual predictable supporting types. Sophie Cookson (ditched by Matthew Vaughn in the second part of his testosterone-fixated Kingsman series) makes negligible impression as Evan’s sidekick, which was probably the only way the producers figured Mark would make one: through inverse proportions. There’s no romance with Evan, as Nora’s soul mate has been dethroned.
Johannes Haukur Johanesson hulks into frame with a beard mightier even than Chiwetel’s, and hulks out of frame again in an absurdly stupid scene where Evan decides to stand and fight against overwhelming odds. Kovic agrees to stay too, but then persuades Evan he’s too important to die, by which point, precious fleeing time has been lost, so Kovic says he will stay and give them time to escape. A contender for the stupidest of all stupid self-sacrifice scenes in any movie ever.
Jason Mantzoukas is the slightly comedic boffin character Artisan, ensuring that even the unreconstituted Wahlberg (which, I suspect forms a key part of his fan base) gets onboard the woke train: “First, I resent the gender labelling” Artisan announces, presumably alluding to some axed backstory of femme-ness.
There’s the odd half-decent scene. The job interview screaming out for an HR department, where Evan doesn’t get the role because he was institutionalised and also suggests strong arming bad clientele isn’t a bad thing (the thrust that past indiscretions should be consigned to the past is very Mark). And the scene where Evan delivers a katana to a local gangster/meds dealer is nicely played and shot.
Mostly, though, Infinite is borderline incoherent dramatically, little more than a series of action non-sequiturs, most involving dreadful special effects and a sense that something or someone went amiss somewhere. Did the budget get struck? Why does Rupert Friend appear – barely – in one scene (the aforementioned flashback)? How did Fuqua get away with that terrible rap track (Campfire Legends Never Die) during the opening chase, fulminating as it does zero energy for an action scene. The relentless barrage of ineptitude continues to the point of the stupefying climax.
Whether Paramount+ made anything from Infinite is anyone’s guess. Presumably, they sold streaming rights elsewhere and made sure to break even, so it likely means it will do better than if it had seen the light of day in cinemas (and by that, I mean in pre-plandemic cinemas). Disney’s currently facing a similar dilemma, hoping there’ll actually be an audience for super-woke The Eternals. I guess they can always rig the figures again if there isn’t.