Noah: "Yes, my son. And after we finish building this ark, the movie will get very boring for a very long time."
Darren Aronofsky's Noah feels less like a Biblical story and more like a mashup between a superhero film and Lord of the Rings. We're dropped into a world of pure good and pure evil, where the children of Cain murder Noah's father just because they're big meanies. Years later, Noah and his family are out hunting for food—they're strict vegetarians, apparently—when Noah receives a message from God: Build an ark and save the innocent animals from the coming flood. Which is all stuff that just about anyone who had to sit through a Bible class knows, more or less. But you probably did not see the misshapen rock monsters coming. They're called Watchers, and they're angels who have been damned to live on Earth because God, basically, is a big dick. They're much more interesting than the typical movie angel, because they're ugly and visually fascinating in the way they shamble across the screen. This is digital gimmickry at its best.
The first hour of Noah is pretty crazy, focusing as it does on Noah and the rock monsters and the building of the ark. It's a straight-up wonky fantasy film with a thrilling high-casualty battle scene. But when the rains finally come and the ark sets sail, the movie gets really boring really quickly. For example, Noah deals with the animals in a disappointing way: When they climb on board, Noah and his family burn a spice that puts the animals to sleep for the duration of the trip. I suppose this might be a pragmatic way to save the movie from turning into two solid hours of Russell Crowe shoveling shit, but watching Noah's family deal with caretaking every type of animal on earth would've been a decent way to pass the afternoon at a multiplex. Instead, the animals are all snoring on the floor of the ship for the second half of the film and Noah gets really mopey, insisting that humans were meant to die and that he and his family only were spared so that they could save the creatures.
Part of the problem is Russell Crowe, who isn't one-note so much as he's only capable of playing a single note at a time. One moment, he's a loving, caring father and the next moment, he's a murderous, brooding psychopath. Crowe doesn't offer any connective tissue between those moods; he never demonstrates that he's capable of holding more than one emotion at once, which makes his conflict boring as hell, especially when he turns into a self-loathing Kenny Rogers clone at the end of his journey. (The rest of the cast is equally bland. Jennifer Connelly brings nothing to the movie, Anthony Hopkins's berry-obsessed Methuselah is a slightly impish take on the stock Anthony Hopkins character, and even Emma Watson, who at least has the vivaciousness of youth on her side, fails to create an interesting character.)
The only person who walks away from Noah smelling like a daisy is Aronofsky: Though it's painfully flawed, there's an ambition to the film that should be rewarded with your attention. Aronofsky brings a hairy, 1970's-style filmmaking flourish to the movie. The centerpiece of Noah is a gorgeous cinematic collage that tries to unite the creationist and the scientific understandings of the birth of the universe. The score is made up of an antagonistic, conceptual series of orchestral pieces that evoke both Ennio Morricone and Gerald Fried. Though the movie lies there like a lump for its last hour or so, it at least looks and sounds great as it's lying there, which is more than I can say for most blockbusters at this time of year.