When a film’s style is described as ‘comic book’, it tends to be critical shorthand for superficial and two-dimensional, if also colourful and kinetic. Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet is the apotheosis of this style, and wears its comic book status on its sleeve, not only because of its lurid, CGI-enhanced colour palette, impossibly fast-moving action and adolescent obsession with girls, guns and alienation, but also because its opening credit sequence plays over mock-up comic book covers featuring a graphic version of the titular heroine blasting and slashing her way through numerous perils.
Near the beginning of Ultraviolet, Milla Jovovich is heard declaring in voice-over: “Hello, my name is Violet, and I was born into a world you may not understand.” You will not understand it only if you have not already encountered the not dissimilar cyberpunk futureworlds of Blade Runner, The Matrix and Aeon Flux, not to mention Jovovich’s own The Fifth Element and Resident Evil – and if you have not, you are probably in the wrong target demographic for this film anyway. Kurt Wimmer’s breakthrough feature Equilibrium (2002) was already an unabashed rip-off of The Matrix as filtered through concepts borrowed from the dystopian novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Farenheit 451, but it had enough good ideas and fine performances to stand up on its own.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ultraviolet, where Jovovich’s astonishing physique, B&D-lite wardrobe and athletic moves make a poor substitute for character, and where every single plot element appears to have been leeched vampirically from other, better films, losing its soul in the process.
In the late twenty-first century, a manufactured virus has escaped that turns those it infects into superpowerful mutant ‘haemophages’, but once in their bloodstream it also eventually kills them – unless of course the repressive regime of Vice Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus (Nick Chinlund) kills them first. One of the few haemophages left, Violet (Milla Jovovich) intercepts a package rumoured to contain an antigen that will wipe out the rest of her race, and finds in it a strange young boy named Six (Cameron Bright). With everyone from Daxus and his armies to the rebel haemophages led by Nerva (Sebastien Andrieu ) wanting the boy dead or alive, Violet becomes both his protector and avenger as she races, with the help of the haemophage scientist/armourer Garth (William Fichtner), to solve the mystery , find herself a cure and kick some righteous butt.
Wimmer has claimed that Ultraviolet is his attempt to reimagine John Cassavetes’ Gloria (1980) as a comic book action adventure – something which might sound impressively audacious had it not already been done in, say, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Lon, Man on Fire, Unleashed and Kill Bill: Volume 2, all of which are over-the-top actioners featuring a cold-hearted protagonist who is tempered by contact with a vulnerable child. Yet the development of Violet’s increasingly maternal feelings for Six is too by numbers to hold the attention – and with nothing new to bring to this plot-type (apart from genetically engineered vampires, themselves borrowed from Blade and Underworld), all that remains in Ultraviolet is the blank spectacle of endless videogame-like flights and fights.
There is only so much entertainment to be had in watching Violet mow down one roomful after another of anonymous opponents who all seem to surround her in exactly the same circle formation that makes them such easy targets, and her climactic showdown with ‘boss’ Daxus distinguishes itself from what has preceded only in that it takes place in near total darkness, so that we barely see it at all.
Undemanding, unengaging, and glaringly unoriginal, Ultraviolet gives real comic books a bad name.