Will Theo James be remembered for his latest project, How It Ends?
With three million views on its trailer before its release last Friday, Netflix's new action thriller, How It Ends, is a highly-anticipated project. Directed by David M. Rosenthal and starring Theo James as its lead, the film centres on an unexplained apocalyptic event that separates Will and his pregnant girlfriend, Sam (played by Kat Graham) in different countries. Without flights and connection, Will hits the road with Sam's father, Tom (played by Forest Whitaker), in a brave quest to find Sam in Seattle.
While James has appeared in the Underworld franchise and starred in the 2018 political thriller film, Backstabbing for Beginners, the heartthrob is still best known for his role as Four in the Divergent series that concluded two years ago in 2016. The hyped Netflix release comes at an opportune time for the 33-year-old English actor to heighten his success and renew his presence on screen. But did the film manage to achieve this?
The premise was interesting and the destination was clear. Will and Tom were synergised into a dynamic pair as they united to reach Sam in Seattle. The partnership developed organically to reveal the different layers of love embodied by a romantic relationship and a parental one. Will's logic as a lawyer paired with Tom's sensibility as an ex-marine revealed characteristics that were unique to their own personalities and occupations. Their differences layered their budding chemistry in a growth that was heartening to watch.
Challenges were simplified and solutions were unconvincing. They passed blocked roads easily, found a mechanic to fix their car when it broke down, resupplied at a friend's place en-route and when met with a fork in the path, they somehow knew the right way to go even without a working GPS. The sudden burglaries and natural disasters were overcome with a fast car and lucky bullets. Tom and Will were distressed and tired, but they didn't have to do much at all. The odds were always in their favour.
James stayed in character as Will and revived an act that was devoted and vulnerable. The movie begins with Will's discovery that he was going to become a father to a 'baby boy'. His believable portrayal showed a restraint of anxiety and excitement. We took on Will's emotions during the tense conversation at the dining table with Tom, the anxious phone call with Sam and the pivotal moment in the car when he fumbled with the bullets. James' delivery made us care about the journey that could have been abandoned otherwise.
The film was riddled with clichés and robbed the crucial suspense of the action-thriller genre. We all saw it coming — the last bullet, the sacrifice and the reunion. How It Ends felt like a pre-determined journey with the obstacles breezed over and the victories achieved in shocking predictability. While the film delivers the expectations of an action-thriller with its fair share of VFX, fight scenes and escapes, How It Ends falls short on its narrative and the plot is limiting, even with the promising performances of James and Whitaker.
The supporting characters drew us into their journeys for survival. In a world of crisis, everyone became eclipsed in a desperation that was raw and empathetic. The mechanic, Ricki (played by Grace Dove) carried her character wonderfully through angst, short-sighted visions and teen immaturity. Even the burglars were multi-dimensional — one of them included a woman who stayed with her dead husband in a futile situation.
While the film engaged us with the complexities of survival, it urgently removed characters who were no longer useful to Tom and Will. Ricki's dream for an escape to California from an abusive father was more riveting than Tom and Will's search for Sam. So were the conspiracy theories from Tom's neighbour, Jeremiah (played by Mark O'Brian). We began to root for these characters despite only having glimpsed into their pursuits, blurring the spotlight shone on Tom and Will.
How It Ends is disappointing to say the least. Expanding moments that have been repeated (how many times did we have to sit through Will's clumsiness with bullets and Tom's painful rib injury?) while ditching clever ironies (like Ricki's guilt and Jeremiah's hunches) might have given us a better resolution to the film. James' performance remains sincere, but How It Ends is a thoughtless journey, enticing only in its visuals of collapsing cities and random explosions.