At 9:09 last night, I saw an advanced screening of the film 9. While I certainly enjoyed watching it, I couldn't help but leave the theater feeling like I'd been duped.
As I mentioned before, this film definitely has a unique visual style that sets it apart from most of the CG we see today. The steampunk aesthetic doesn't get much mainstream attention (as is the case with most sub-genres of science fiction), but I appreciated the intricate and impossible technology in this film, resembling a dark extrapolation of something out of a Jules Vernes novel. You can tell that (creator/writer/director) Shane Acker loves this stuff, and he put a lot of attention into every design. So much, in fact, that I began to suspect the plot existed purely to serve the visuals and not the other way around.
While there are some impressive action sequences, they slowly start to feel repetitive and lose their immediacy, especially since I was never quite sure why I cared about these potato-sack creatures. They hop around saying things with great conviction, and I kept waiting to buy it. Things get unintentionally ironic in the last act, when we find out that machines turned evil because they lack a human soul - a weird sentiment from a film that's all computer wizardry and little emotional investment.
Even more disappointing are the moments in which we see what could have been. When #9 (voiced by the ever-breathy Elijah Wood) finds the dead body of the scientist who created him, essentially a fallen god, he does little more than politely pat the corpse on the head. Meanwhile, #1 (voiced by the ever-awesome Christopher Plummer) gets off the hook far too easily, and his cruel dictatorship (and silly bishop hat) never really get dealt with. Essentially, the film brushes over anything that could have lent some depth or gravity.
In a lot of ways, 9 feels like a shallower Wall-E: a post-apocalyptic tale that isn't warning us about anything, but at one point felt obligated to. You know, through that thing called a "plot." So while I can applaud the daring production design, I'm disappointed I was lead to believe the entire film would be equally unique.