“Stargate” should be much, much better than it actually is. Its interstellar-travel narrative is rife with exploratory potential, loaded as it is with imagination and grandiose implications for the human race, not to mention the kind of first-rate special effects only top-bidder money could buy at the time and an operatic, majestic score that underscores the narrative’s reach. But somehow, it just never really comes alive, beginning with the sharp contract in the casting of its leads: Kurt Russell is a marvel of charisma, confidence and machismo as Colonel O’Neill but he’s ill-paired with the lifeless, charmless James Spader, who is the cinematic equivalent of a limp noodle here. (It’s hard not to wonder how an appealing, nerdy-brainy actor like, say, Matthew Broderick would have brought the role to life, but as it is, it’s like watching fireworks get rained out right before launch). There’s also the strange case of Jaye Davidson, whose Ra is by the most fascinating thing about the movie but is introduced more than an hour in, and by that point we’re too bored for his enigmatic, visually striking appearance to register. There are some really cool moments and captivating elements here and there, but it’s like director Roland Emmerich seems more interested in showing off his wonderfully ornate sets and his access to the best special effects money can buy than populating his movie with enough likable, interesting characters to get the audience invested in more than his storyline’s flash-and-bang aspects, and sidelines his most interesting performer in the process.
Rating: ★★★ (out of 5)