Mark Wahlberg (né Marky Mark) has enjoyed one of those careers that ebbs and flows. As an actor, he’s found chunks of success, both critically and commercially, and every few years he’ll star in one or two good projects, with longer stints here or there (2006-2013 for example). And despite his fair share of “losing streaks,” over time he’s accumulated enough of a resume that we can look back at his career and say that he’s made his presence felt.
In the midst of his latest attempt at yet another resurgence, Wahlberg stars in Infinite, the second theatrical-styled blockbuster for the new streaming service Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access), which isn’t looking all that great right about now.
The concept seems promising early on. Evan McCauley (Wahlberg) is a diagnosed schizophrenic, unsure why he feels like he’s always been inhabited by many different people at once. It turns out he’s one of only 500 Infinites in the world – people whose souls reincarnate again and agian. However, unlike the other 499, Evan struggles to remember his past lives completely.
Of these individuals, there are either the Believers, who believe that this is a God-given gift to make the world a better place over time, or the Nihilists, who consider reincarnation a curse and are seeking a way to destroy all life so that there’s nothing left to reincarnate into.
Apparently in his previous life, Evan stole a doomsday device known as “the Egg,” which Believer-turned-Nihilist Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor) had made to end this never-ending cycle. He’s grown tired of continuously witnessing humans’ weaknesses and the redundancy of their inevitable fallibilities. After getting arrested for wielding a sword that only he would know how to craft, Evan pops up on the rest of the Infinites’ radar, and now the Believers bring him in to protect him from Bathurst while also trying to get him to remember his past life and the location of the Egg.
With a story as unique and involved as this one, how well the audience receives it will almost always come down to how well the filmmaker can explain its details. Director Antoine Fuqua, working with a script by Ian Shorr based on the novel The Reincarnationalist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz, takes abstract concepts and presents them in a way that’s confusing. He never quite finds the essence of the story, and typically compensates this by giving us too much information. Fuqua wants us to understand every single aspect of this story, throwing in details that never really matter.
It’s difficult as a storyteller to forget your own omniscience for a second in order to tell a story to an audience who knows nothing about it, but it’s also just as easy to obsess on every single rule and feature of the intricate world that you’re introducing.
Watching Infinite, I couldn’t help but think about last year’s Christopher Nolan head-scratcher Tenet – perhaps the most abstract and confusing film I’ve ever watched. Where Nolan often explains things through a deluge of verbal exposition, he also shows the audience other aspects of his intricate world through action. Fuqua, on the other hand, resorts to explanatory dialogue at all times.
There’s a gun that Bathurst uses to capture souls onto a bullet-shaped hard drive so they can no longer reincarnate. Rather than showing our villain kill somebody and then loading the bullet into a drawer with the soul’s name on it (which happens anyway), a different character, who literally never encounters the gun at any point, tells Evan what it does before we can truly see it in action.
Not to mention there’s a main character, Nora (Sophie Cookson, who’s third billed), who literally only exists to be a walking exposition dump, as if she were reciting dialogue from a 1950s sci-fi movie. It doesn’t help the matter that Cookson’s performance is awful anyway, talking and moving her face like she’s starring in a student film.
It’s not that the details of the film are confusing, but the way they’re told to us is boring. Surprisingly, if you can actually follow along with the lore, it’s coherent enough to make sense. The biggest problem, however, doesn’t even lie in Fuqua’s approach or even the details themselves but in the conflict that arises from them.
Apparently nobody thought to tell any of the characters that if they never unlock Evan’s memories and reveal the location of the Egg, then Bathurst won’t be able to find it either. For no reason at all, the good guys essentially make accessible the information that will destroy life itself and now must try and save it from getting into the wrong hands. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if I ever saw one. Why not keep the Egg’s location a secret? At no point does anyone think to say, “Maybe we should just keep Evan ‘locked’ so the bad guys can’t possibly win.” And then, once Evan finally figures out the location of the Egg, he just blurts out its location loud for everyone to hear – Bathurst included.
The idea of Evan dying and being reborn to evade the villain is also never discussed. This could have benefitted the Believers, since his soul would then remember his past lives upon receiving his new one (it’s only in this life that he can’t remember his past), and thus he could potentially go into hiding from Bathurst once again. As it stands, we never see how any aspect of Evan’s current life would be affected as he has no girlfriend, wife, kids, parents, etc. Also, couldn’t Bathurst just shoot himself with the anti-reincarnation gun in order to stop his endless cycle?
The entire premise is simply one giant plot hole. And once the integrity of the plot gets compromised, especially on this level, even the most competent the audience for good.
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this premise it’s that it creates a unique motive for a villain to have. We understand why a self-absorbed person like Bathurst would want to escape his endless immortal cycle, counterpointing what the Believers are trying to do with their sacrifice for the greater good; their selfless duty.
The best part of the movie is the finale, which includes an insane Fast & Furious type of stunt with a motorcycle jumping off of a cliff onto the wing of a low-flying airplane. It’s absolutely insane and the one moment I was able to let out a satisfying giggle. By this point, however, even enjoyable moments like this aren’t worth the time it takes to get to them.
Infinite is a great example of taking a cool concept and having lousy storytelling, a fundamentally flawed story, and poor direction working against it. The film never touches on the incredible themes that a premise like this should be unable to avoid: the unlimited chances to become a better person; to look past the boundaries of mortality and transcend its limitations. Instead, we’re focused too heavily on the comic book potential and blockbuster spectacle it lends itself to. Simply put, this is a story about immortality told by people who can’t seem to set aside, for a moment, the fact that they themselves are mortal.