I can’t really be held accountable for believing that the combined efforts of legendary German auteur Wim Wenders, Academy Award-winner Alicia Vikander, and the fervid James McAvoy would spawn a piece of cinema teeming with heartache and intrigue, can I? Well, as their supposed romantic thriller Submergence would have it, the thought should’ve been long purged from my mind using electroconvulsive therapy. Wenders’ deep sea exploration of love and separation, doesn’t generate enough of the former for the latter to ever matter. Dabbling in topical themes like climate change and terrorism, all while attempting to execute a Bond-esque, star-crossed lovers narrative. Submergence’s commentary ultimately conveys a whole lot of nothing.
Danielle Flinders (Vikander) is a bio-mathematician prepping for a dive into the bleakest depths of the Greenland Sea to gather specimens in a submersible. James More (McAvoy), a spy about to be shipped off to Somalia on a reconnaissance mission, takes a pre-assignment vacation in Normandy where he happens upon Flinders. They enter into a rapidly swelling entanglement, both knowing it will have to be put on hold when the demand of their respective career paths diverge.
More so unbearably simple than outright cliched, Erin Dignam’s script — an adaptation of J.M. Ledgard’s novel of the same name — tosses tidbits of exposition and halfhearted, intentional, yet ineffectively sullen discourse at the viewer without any real adhesive to combine the fragments. It is enough to put the story together yourself, if you can manage to fight off a wall of indifference, but really isn’t something worth assembling in the first place. Dead on arrival, there’s a surprising lack of chemistry between capable counterparts McAvoy and Vikander. Dignam’s atrocious screenplay and underdeveloped characters turn the film’s catalyst into a lovelorn molasses.
Wenders does his best to reinvigorate whatever credibility he could rescue with pristine scenery and symmetrical close ups of Vikander, which provide an uncannily realistic POV that seemingly allows Alicia to stare right through the flesh into your soul. Essentially, it’s the only time you’ll actually feel something. Still, camera angles and picturesque landscapes can’t resuscitate something that never had a pulse to begin with.
Submergence has not diminished my belief in the prospective talents or my admiration of the respective bodies of work of Wenders, McAvoy, and Vikander, yet it’s a bitter pill to swallow when the caliber of talent combined here make such a lackluster effort. McAvoy and Vikander’s star power keep Wenders’ latest teetering on the precipice, preventing it from completely tumbling into the abyss of the unwatchable. But it’s best we all just move past this pedestrian outing and never speak of Submergence again.
Submergence premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens on April 13.