5 Thoughts I Had While Watching ‘The Invisible Man’
What you see is not what you get
Remember a few years ago when movie studio Universal wanted to create an entire Marvel-like cinematic universe starring their beloved collection of classic monster movie characters?
I remember reading that news at the time and thinking “So, Dracula is like Captain America?” I also knew this was a bad idea but the success of movies like The Avengers, where multiple intellectual properties fight each other was too lucrative a prize to ignore. Who can blame Universal executives for dreaming big?
So first up was 2017’s The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise as some Army Dude who learns there’s a secret monster-hunting organization run by Dr. Jekyll, played by Russel Crowe who, too his credit, looks like he’s having fun. Together they fought the Mummy, who is sexy! (I have to mention that Brendan Fraiser’s 1999 action-adventure The Mummy is a fun movie that is easy on the brain and worth re-watching semi-annually.)
Tom Cruise’s The Mummy was supposed to be the first in a series of movies featuring monsters like The Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Bride Of Frankenstein. And Cruise and Crowe weren’t the only superstars attached: Javier Bardem was supposed to play Frankenstein’s monster. Angelina Jolie? The aforementioned Bride. And Johnny Depp was cast as The Invisible Man. This new mega-franchise was named The Dark Universe.
Lol. Just say it out loud. The Dark Universe.
The Mummy flopped, even though Tom Crusie gave it his customary 110%. Then, The Dark Universe really went dark. I’m happy to report Universal is back at it and their new, more modest, adaptation of HG Wells classic sci-fi story The Invisible Man, starring Elizabeth Moss, is extremely awesome. It’s also terrifying. Universal smartly allowed veteran horror director Leigh Whannel to tell the story of a woman fighting off her abuser, the titular translucent psycho. In The Invisible Man, the scares are both timeless and modern. Director Whannel knows people are scared of what they can’t see but he also plays up our fears of being watched.
Although there’s a part of me that wishes problematic hobbit Johnny Depp got to star in a movie where he couldn’t wear scarves or mascara.
Here are five thoughts I had while watching The Invisible Man. I actually had six thoughts, but one of them was just a long, manly scream.
1. “Oh no, I spilled my popcorn!”
I love the entire movie-going experience, especially the pre-show. I am a huge fan of onscreen movie trivia and thunderously loud trailers and those over-the-top promos advertising the theater you’re already sitting in. You know, the house commercials that make bubbly Coca-Cola look like the most delicious and refreshing liquid ever?
During the theater promo before The Invisible Man, I was treated to quick shots of beautiful moviegoers enjoying their matinee. One of those moments included a young man flinching in fear from the movie he’s watching and spilling popcorn all over himself. What a goofball!
Well, readers, a little over an hour later I was that goofball.
There is a scene that may already be legendary. It happens between two people just having a conversation. No jump cuts are involved. I don’t want to spoil anything more (although I am, later, going to spoil ONE semi-important detail so gird your loins.) The scene was genuinely shocking and it made me flinch. Which is why I was picking popcorn off my lap for the rest of the movie.
2. “Is Elizabeth Moss the most successful ‘Mad Men’ alum?”
Elizabeth Moss is one of the greatest actors of her generation. She’s won a Golden Globe for her performance in the underrated Jane Campion mystery-drama Top of the Lake and the best actress Emmy for her star turn in the iconic Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale. Every so often she pops up in unexpected places, like Jordan Peele’s horror epic Us.
And now she’s the lead in a psychological thriller about a living ghost trying to gaslight his estranged wife.
I don’t know about you but she may be the biggest star to come out of Mad Men, the pioneering period drama about swinging 60s ad execs behaving like pigs. Jon Hamm is a handsome leading man with a quirky sense of humor who hasn’t quite found a perfect follow-up role. John Slattery shows up here and there, as does Christina Hendricks.
But Moss is a legend who has made a career playing everywomen in extraordinary situations.
I rewatched Mad Men last year and was pleasantly surprised how it still holds up. In fact, I think it may be more essential viewing in a post-#MeToo world. The show is crueler and meaner now. Hamm’s Don Draper is smaller and more loathsome. And while I knew Elizabeth Moss’s Peggy, Don’s put-upon former protege, was the show’s hero it took a second viewing to fully understand why. She is the only one in the show who truly knows what she wants, and she goes after it. Sometimes she fails. Sometimes she is unethical. But she is always honest with herself.
3. “The moral of the story is ‘listen to women’”
There are two primary male characters in The Invisible Man, and one is an abusive maniac. The other is Aldis Hodge, who plays Elizabeth Moss’s character’s cop friend James. He’s also the single father of teenager Sydney. Aldis’s James is a very good friend of Moss’s character. He lets her stay at his house after she escapes her tormentor. He is sensitive to her trauma and supportive of her healing process. And yet, when she tells him that her dead ex-husband is stalking her and cannot be seen, he does not believe her. At least, not until it’s too late.
There are moments in The Invisible Man where Moss sells how painful it is to not be believed. I know this is a fantastical horror movie but I really felt for Moss as she questions her own sanity. She is constantly being dismissed and it’s maddening. I was really into the movie and found myself most frustrated when Hodge’s character refused to trust his old friend. Yes, I would probably roll my eyes if a bestie told me they were being haunted. But then I’d think “what if…”
4. “Invisible men should be naked.”
Spoiler alert, and I’m serious. If you don’t want a plot point spoiled then, for the love of King of the Gods Zeus, stop reading. So the invisible man in The Invisible Man wears a creepy invisibility suit covered in dozens of tiny cameras that twitch back and forth like eyeballs. It is a wonderfully unnerving costume and I applaud whoever designed it. Bravo. But I prefer my invisible madmen to be naked. Call me a traditionalist, but a proper invisible man tiptoeing about should be gently dangling in the breeze. They should be able to wear clothes, of course. But in order to go full no-see, they must strip and brave the weather. That’s just me.
5. “Holy sh*t, remember ‘Hollow Man?’”
The 1933 Claude Rain’s The Invisible Man features one of the all-time great moments in movie history when his character, his face bandaged and wearing sunglasses, slowly unwraps himself to reveal… nothing. All while laughing like a loon. Great stuff.
There have been other ‘invisible man’ movies but the one I always forget about is Paul Verhoeven’s 2000 shlock masterpiece Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon at his most evil and horny. Verhoeven is, of course, the genius director of Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls. Sigh, four flawless films. He’s a man who understands Americans are base creatures who only like blood and nudity while simultaneously despising Americans for being base creatures who only like blood and nudity. His movies are nasty and funny, lowest-common-denominator and smart, all at the same time.
Hollow Man is The Invisible Man with a hard R-rating. The sexual politics are strictly last century. It features primitive CGI effects that look dated as hell. Although, there is one startling scene where a gorilla injected with ‘invisibility’ serum slowly reappears, starting with his veins and inner-organs, then followed by his skeleton and muscles. This still works, almost twenty years later. As the man who isn’t there, Kevin Bacon is a hotshot sociopath even before he subjects himself to the serum. Kevin Bacon is naked as the invisible man, by the way.
But for all the violence and cutting-edge SFX, Hollow Man follows the original story faithfully. The new The Invisible Man should be celebrated for pulling off two difficult tricks: honoring the source material but telling an original story about modern-day fears.