Other than its Russian setting, there’s nothing terribly original about The Darkest Hour. Directed by Chris Gorak (Right at Your Door) using 3-D technology developed by effects house Bazelevs, the resulting $40 million alien infestation movie was bumped from its original August release date to Christmas Day in a possible attempt to leech gift cards from those teens who have already seen Ghost Protocol. And while the lush 3D location shots of a desolate Moscow are admittedly stunning, the forgettable characters and paint-by-the-numbers plot threaten to burn the entire film out of your brain mere seconds after you’ve left the theater. Remove the sporadic alien attacks and The Darkest Hour suddenly feels like a Sunday night slideshow of your parents’ summer tour of the Motherland.
After being duped out of a deal by a douchey Russian businessman, a pair of American software designers drown their sorrows in a Moscow night club. When the city is attacked by orange puffs of light, the computer nerds hole up in the club’s basement with a few other survivors. Emerging onto the empty streets of Moscow a few days later, the group begins a city-wide search for safety, while occasionally fighting the orange puffs of alien light that threaten their very existence.
Emile Hirsch serves as the provisional leader of this ragtag group of characters; the bland leading the bland, if you will. And really, the lack of intriguing characters wouldn’t matter so much if this action movie had more…action. But screenwriter John Spaihts (Prometheus) forces us to spend A LOT of time with these jackasses. They talk, plan, shout, hide, run, and then talk some more, and it‘s all as generic as a bowl of soup kitchen chowder. The Darkest Hour could learn a thing or two from Attack the Block, a movie that knows how to use a diverting cast of characters to gloss over a moderate budget. Note to future screenwriters: if your characters suck, nobody will care if they die.
But even if it had strong characters and a memorable story, an alien action flick like The Darkest Hour simply won’t work without a well-conceived creature at its center. And even in 3D, orange puffs of alien light just don’t cut it. We watched alien rays disintegrate humans into ash in War of the Worlds, we watched dumb-ass characters flee extravagant CG effects in last year’s Skyline. At this point, we’ve seen all that The Darkest Hour has to offer before even walking into the theater.