It’s been an interesting summer for sci-fi pulp fiction. With Leigh Whannel’s Upgrade taking critics by storm, and now Drew Pearce’s Hotel Artemis hitting cinemas this weekend, there’s a wealth of futuristic action for moviegoers to choose from. While the two films differ in both tone and execution, each has enough to recommend, with Hotel Artemis making for an intriguing addition to the mid-budget action oeuvre.
Writer Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) makes his directing debut with Hotel Artemis, a film set in a fictional criminal enclave of a near-future Los Angeles. In 2028, LA is in a shambles as mobs roam the streets following the privatization of pretty much everything, including the water system, which has led to a citywide shortage that spark the kind of riots that have to potential to bring a major metropolis to its knees.
In the midst of the madness, a pair of bank robbing brothers (Sterling K. Brown and Bryan Tyree Henry) get involved in a heist that’s gone sideways and find themselves in need of medical assistance. This is where the titular Hotel comes into play. The Hotel Artemis is a members-only medical facility for high-rolling crooks and villains, run by the absurdly named The Nurse (Jodie Foster), who is assisted by an affable but nigh invincible orderly named Everest (Dave Bautista). When the brothers, soon coined Waikiki (Brown) and Honolulu (Henry) for purposes of anonymity, stumble into the Artemis, they find themselves in the midst of a bad night gone worse as The Nurse breaks her own rules to help an old friend.
Also wrapped up in the madness are fellow patients Nice (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Acapulco (Charlie Day, Pacific Rim), who don’t see eye to eye on anything and threaten the sanctity of the institution with every move they make. The scene gets further confused with the intrusion of the Hotel’s benefactor, the ridiculously named The Wolf (I’ll let you look up the actor on your own, it was a pleasant surprise for me), who is in dire need of medical care, guarded by his maniacally one-note son, Crosby Franklin (Zach Quinto). It’s every man for himself as The Nurse attempts to make sure nobody dies when the fur starts to fly.
In spite of its futuristic setting, Hotel Artemis feels like a throwback, almost like an action-noir full of pithy dialogue and twisty plotting. For the most part, the science fiction elements are relegated to making the medical treatments mostly automated through computer scans and whatnot in order to let the audience believe that a Nurse could pull it all off. Production design emphasizes a kind of ’40s LA chic, and the Hotel Artemis itself looks like a time capsule in the middle of a city in collapse.
While the film positions itself as an action film – and there are most than enough gun shots and explosions to earn that title – it’s the dialogue and characters that sell it for me. Waikiki and the broken down Nurse are empathetic characters just looking for their way out, while Boutella’s Nice does a fine job of reminding me why I enjoyed her performance in Kingsman so much. She’s an agile action powerhouse, easily dispatching men twice her size in a manner that I found not only believable but terrifically satisfying. Equally endearing in a supporting role is Bautista, proving that his scene-stealing Drax the Destroyer was not a fluke. Bautista’s Everest is the heart and soul of this film, deflating the overwrought tension with a quick joke, but never soft enough to let you believe that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tear you in half if he needed to.
I really enjoyed Hotel Artemis, my biggest complaint is that it feels too much like a segment of a larger story to be completely satisfying. I was reminded of 2012’s Dredd, essentially a bottle episode set in a much larger universe. The modest cast is trapped in a single location and fights their way through a small number of adversaries to a modest goal of continued survival. The problem is that with Dredd we were at least aware that a universe existed outside of this story, whereas in Hotel Artemis that outside world isn’t as clear. A small gripe in an otherwise very entertaining potboiler.
Hotel Artemis isn’t going to dethrone Upgrade as the low budget sci-fi action film of the summer, but it works very well alongside it as another option for fans of a certain ilk. It feels as though it could take place in a similar universe as Blade Runner, though I’d never dare to compare the two directly. However, take Blade Runner and strip it down to 3 or 4 characters locked in one room and make ti slightly dumber with more focus on action and less on philosophy and I think you get the idea. There are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon, Hotel Artemis is a perfectly charming and entertaining way to pass the time.