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With: James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Siddig, Reda Kateb, Celyn Jones, Yusef M-Al-Afghani
Written by: Erin Dignam, based on a novel by J.M. Ledgard
Directed by: Wim Wenders
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 112
Date: 04/13/2018

Submergence (2018)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Deep Bloat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Veteran director Wim Wenders is comfortable with taking risks and has never been pigeonholed, but his movies have rarely been as static or as flat-out boring as this depressing, message-heavy romance.

In Submergence, two people meet at a Normandy luxury beach hotel. James (James McAvoy) is an MI6 agent posing as a water engineer, and Danielle (Alicia Vikander) is a bio-mathematician who intends to save the world with secrets she hopes to find at the lowest depths of the ocean. James is about to attempt to secretly infiltrate a terrorist cell while claiming to help build cleaner wells, and Danielle is preparing to board a small submarine for an extended dive.

But before they embark upon these duties, they fall in love. James is captured, held prisoner, and tortured, while Danielle — who knows nothing about his being a secret agent — pines for him and wonders why she can't reach him. At a crucial moment, the power in the sub goes out, and James, simultaneously uses a final trick from up his sleeve. Will the couple connect?

Submergence is certainly lovely to look at, especially with stars like Vikander and McAvoy, and it has a swirling, sweeping music score to help. But, perhaps due to its heavy water-themed dialogue and imagery, it never sparks to life; it's all wet. The characters are idealists, but they never connect on an emotional level. Worse, Danielle allows her pining to overshadow her work; she becomes defined by a male character.

Wenders tells the story slightly out of chronological order, heavy with flashbacks, and the three sections tend not to work well together. The romance scenes at the beach hotel are talky and pokey. Danielle's scenes preparing for her dive and fretting over James are one-note; the actual dive is so brief and anti-climactic that it's shocking.

And James's scenes are meant to play like a spy thriller, but actually lacking any thrills. (They are both "submerged"... get it?) The ending is vague, but in a bad way. Coming from the filmmaker behind such vivid movies as Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire, and Buena Vista Social Club, Submergence is a surprising dud.

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