In the most frustrating, self-negating way, it feels like “12 Monkeys” is two separate movies indiscriminately jammed together. The first half is absolutely brilliant, from a shared thematic, structural and narrative perspective, not to mention a visual style that’s instantly striking, recalling Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “The City of Lost Children” and pointing to 1998’s “Dark City” at the same time (with plenty of references to director Terry Gilliam’s own “Brazil,” natch). Additionally, Gilliam extracts an impressively effective, poignant performance by Bruce Willis; the performer doesn’t always do it for me and I often find it hard to root for him, but here, he seems engaged and inspired by the material, and he manages to deliver one of his few powerful dramatic performances. Problem is though, by the second half, everything falls apart and the movie takes on a structure more akin to Hollywood mainstream action movies, like car chases and races against time and last-minute reveal after last-minute reveal that end up sapping the movie of any of its momentum or propulsion by constantly delivering ‘one more’ ending. By the time the credits roll, you realize that the movie has deflated like a balloon because its ideas sound absolutely fascinating… but Gilliam doesn’t seem to know how to shepherd them towards any sort of satisfying resolution. But, all that shit-talking out of the way, there’s no denying the power of the first half: It’s just so distinct, hypnotic and spellbinding that it’s hard not to get swept along with it, even if the narrative is unable to sustain its own propulsive, provocative ideas.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)