With a laughably bad title like Hunter Killer, it’s easy to dismiss this movie as a wannabe submarine thriller straight out from The Asylum-like mockbuster playbook. But the reality is, the word “hunter-killer” isn’t a silly made-up word but actually a military terminology refers to an attack submarine. Then, there’s Gerard Butler playing the lead role — which doesn’t really inspire much confidence, given his record of appearing in numerous Hollywood stinkers.
Which is why I initially had a zero expectation prior to watching this movie. But Hunter Killer turns out to be — surprise, surprise — better than I expected! Sure, the movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel that we haven’t seen it before in a submarine genre. I also have to admit the premise — which involves Butler’s Joe Glass, a submarine captain onboard the USS Arkansas on a dangerous mission to infiltrate the enemy waters, while the Navy SEAL team (among them are Toby Stephens, Zane Holtz and Gabriel Chavarria) on the ground trying to save the Russian president (Alexander Diachenko), who is held captive by a rogue Minister of Defence (Michael Gor) — does feel like a relic belonged to ’80s era of B-grade action movies starring Chuck Norris. If that’s not enough, there’s even a word “World War III” mentioned by one of the characters.
And yet, Hunter Killer remains entertaining enough for a submarine genre. Donovan Marsh, an acclaimed South African director whose award-winning titles like Dollar$ + White Pipes (2005) and iNumber Number a.k.a. Avenged (2013), does a great job staging some effective set-pieces, notably during a suspenseful moment where Glass and his crew must remain silent to avoid detection while the submarine navigates through the enemy waters.
The movie also benefitted from Michael J. Duthie’s nifty editing as Marsh’s well-timed pacing, in which he successfully juggled the movie’s sprawling narrative that moved back and forth between the underwater and ground (Navy SEALs, the Pentagon and the Russian base) sequences.
As for the cast, Butler delivers an engaging lead performance as the no-nonsense submarine captain Joe Glass. The late Michael Nyqvist gives a strong support as the Russian submarine captain Andropov, while Gary Oldman’s otherwise phoned-in minor role as Admiral Charles Donnegan actually does make quite an impression. It’s a shame that Michael Gor’s antagonist role as the rogue Dmitri Durov is reduced to a standard B-movie villain caricature.
The special effects are decent enough for a US$40 million-budgeted submarine thriller, even though some of them tend to look too spotty (particularly during the final sequence).