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What’s the Story?

It’s Groundhog Day inside the Matrix! With terrorism!

Cap’n Colter Stevens wakes up on board a train, which is weird, since the last thing he remembers is flying a helicopter in Iraq. After eight minutes the train blows up and he finds out he’s been recruited into some top-secret military programme that uses quantum physics to transport you into someone else’s short-term memory (eight minutes’ worth) .

 

What’s the Problem?

People need to chill the hell out and just take a second here

Yes, someone set off a bomb on a train and are threatening to set off a nuke in the city within a few hours, but here’s an idea: rather than yelling at him for failing his mission then sending him back in without briefing him, why don’t you adequately explain the frakking mission to Colter? Like he keeps asking you to do. He might be more motivated to succeed if you tell him that millions of lives are at stake rather than telling him “Don’t worry about those people dying of the train; they’re not important”.

"You want us to tell you what you're doing? Why would we do that? It's not like millions of lives are at stake. Oh, wait..."

For that matter, they play it deliberately vague at the start of the film, presumably to keep up the suspence. It doesn’t work for the audience, though, partly because it’s a shit-poor strategy and partly because everyone in the audience knows what’s going on from the trailer and partly because the audience isn’t stuck in the moment like Colter. When Colter gets all angry and confused and refuses to play nice, I start wanting to shout at the scream to get on with it.

(To his credit, Colter seems to do this on the second pass, assuming it’s a training exercise.)

It’s all Quantum 

As I understand (and remember) from the technical terms, everytime they engage Source Code (not “the Source Code”, by the way) it creates (or at least messes with) a parallel universe and puts Colter inside someone’s body in that parallel universe for the eight minutes before his death. Which, if they’re creating these universes, means they’re basically creating people so they can die to learn about them, which seems unethical. If they’re just transporting Colter into a universe that already existed, they’re really messing with Sean Fentress (the poor bastard whose body gets snatched and who is deprived of the last eight minutes of his life). Doesn’t Sean have some human rights you shouldn’t be violating?

Time Travel

Colter’s a bit of an idiot. Has he never seen an episode of Sliders? Because for pretty much the entire film he doesn’t understand that there’s a difference between parallel universes and time travel, and keeps trying to affect things in his home universe. It doesn’t work that way, buddy, and you’re annoying anyone who’s seen Sliding Doors by not figuring that out.

It’s Awesome

Actually, this isn’t a critique. Once it’s all been explained and we understand what’s happening and (sort of) how, Colter gets down to the business of finding who put the bomb on the train and who’s going to detonate Chicago later today, and we can have some fun with this. By this stage Colter knows the Horrible Reason he was chosen for the Source Code project, and yet he doesn’t stop bitching about how much he doesn’t want to be part of it.

Why not? Why wouldn’t you want to jump into parallel universes, solving crimes, and saving the world?

Trigger Happy

Colter accuses about a dozen people of being the terrorist during this film, and shoves guns at or punches most of them. When he finally finds who is responsible, that character has little to no motivation and – worst of all – was a guy that I’d spotted the first time through and thought “He’ll come back into it. It won’t be him, that’s too obvious, but he’ll come back into it.”

Nope. It was that obvious. Sigh.

Gun? Check. Pointing? Check. Now ask if he's the terrorist. You'll get through all the passengers eventually, Colter!

Are they together?

Possibly a small point, but for the first half or more of the film I assumed Sean (the poor sap on the train whose body gets Colter’d) was dating Christina (Michelle Monaghan). Apparently not. They’ve just been riding the train together for ages and she wishes they were dating.

Pictured: The poses and facial expressions of two people who are clearly not dating.

Maybe I assumed they were together because every time he died Colter had flashes of her in date-like spots – parks, cafes, staring at sculptures – and these flashes become clearer with every death. I assumed this was because some of Sean’s memories were bleeding into Colter.

They’re not. They’re… spoilers, actually, so I’ll discuss them at the end in case you don’t want to know.

 

What’s the Solution?

If Colter got the idea a bit quicker that’d be a great first step, and if he stopped with all the time-travel bollocks like trying to call the Source Code centre before any of this happened. And if they didn’t go for the Happy Ending. And give us a bit more of the science; let us understand it because even if it’s bollocks it’s kind of cool. And maybe point out some of the philosophical ambiguities of thieving a person’s dying moments to save others.

Also, there was an opportunity here to show how watching a group of people die over and over could emotionally affect you and there’s none of that. Oh, a tiny bit with Christina and even then he never breaks down or comes close to. So apparently a hundred deaths in a day isn’t scarring at all.

"Oops, time to die again! Don't worry, I won't shed a tear for you."

 

Worth Seeing? 

Meh.

Groundhog Day was a better repeated-day concept, and even Deja Vu (as little sense as bits of it made) in which Denzel Washington can see into the past through Quantum Magic I found to be a more fun ride than this. It’s too action-movie and a bit too dumb. You want an intelligent character in the lead of this kind of movie, and Colter wasn’t on-the-ball enough for my tastes.

If you like who-dunnits then maybe, but there’s not a whole lot of action; the story is predictable; and there’s barely any special effects. So don’t see it for the spectacle. Or the original ideas. Or the deep probing questions.

 

SPOILERS FOLLOW. You have been warned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are they gone? Good.

Right, so, those flashes that I assumed were Sean’s memories of dating Christina? Apparently those are Colter’s future-memories, from after he saves the world. Once he stops the attacks and does the perfect Groundhog Day, he gets his handler to switch off his life-support (he’s totally dying, by the way. He’s essentially a brain in a jar. The only useful thing he can do is hop into other dimensions and save the world, but instead he tells them to turn him off. Selfish jerk) while he’s in there.

This allows him to keep living inside the parallel world.

In Sean Fentress’s body. Thieving bastard. It was bad enough when Sean was about to die and you deprived him of his final moments, but now you’re taking away the rest of his life. Oh, and you’re stealing his potential-girlfriend while you’re at it. Care to kick his cat while you’re there, Colter?

Anyway, having stolen Sean’s life wholesale without so much as thinking of the poor guy, Colter then walks off into the sunset with Christina. Right to the arty sculpture he’s been seeing every time he dies.

That’s right. The sci-fi film which has shown no precedent for supernatural goings-on has decided it was Fate that they would be together and he’s been… what… guided here?

I call bullshit. This film should have ended with them switching off his life support and on the sweeping stillshot of Colter and Christina kissing aboard the train which didn’t blow up. If Colter chose to die (daft person, but anyway), then the film should end with that choice. No magical get-out-of-death-free cards.

You cheated, filmmakers. And you didn’t even have a scientific reason for it. You just did it anyway because… well, because you wanted a happy ending rather than one which made sense in the universe you’d created.

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