Dystopias, of course, are nothing new for Gilliam, from Brazil (1985) to Twelve Monkeys (1995). This one, though, is a little different, in that apart from the glum and monochrome Leth [Christoph Waltz], everybody’s prancing around wearing garish costumes in what looks like some kind of non-stop carnival.
But behind the surface jollity lurks the monolithic all-encompassing Mancom, at its heart a huge pulsating doom-machine straight out of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Its human representative, Management (Matt Damon, this time with hair), singles out Leth as ‘the chosen one’ – but that’s a lot less of a privilege than it might seem.
Helping, or maybe hindering, Leth in his quest come geeky teen-genius Bob (Lucas Hedges), who claims to be Management’s son, and perky sex-bomb Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), who saves him from choking at a party with the Heimlich manoeuvre and then whisks him off to a virtual-reality Hawaiian beach.
There’s a moral behind the black humour, of course, to do with the futility of seeking universal answers – positive or negative – rather than accepting life as it comes. But whether or not you buy that, the reward here is seeing one of cinema’s most original and creative mavericks on fine form.
The future as candy-coloured paranoid nightmare: not quite Gilliam’s best, but still the most satisfying movie he’s made for years.