The temptation to return to past glories can be an inexorable one, and in this case it seems to be an urge that director Terry Gilliam has succumbed to, as his latest work, The Zero Theorem, bears all the hallmarks of a letter-day Brazil.
In attempting to ape arguably his greatest work, however, mixed results are ultimately achieved.
Standing in for Jonathan Pryce’s Sam Lowry is Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz), a reclusive computer programmer who works day and night to solve the titular ‘Zero Theorem’, a mathematical formula tied into the ‘Big Crunch’, all the while waiting for a phone call that will tell him the meaning of life.
Along the way his solitary existence is punctuated by visits from femme fatale Bainsley (Melanie Thierry), his boss’s precocious son Bob (Lucas Hedges) and his eccentric colleague Joby (David Thewlis) as things increasingly take a turn for the (even more) weird.
One welcome side effect of Gilliam’s revisitation of the themes of his yesteryear films is that advances in special effects have allowed him to show more of his worlds.
While the futures of Brazil and 12 Monkeys were by necessity dark and forboding, the world of The Zero Theorem is neon bright – as if the urban sprawl of Glastonbury and Camden Town has somehow melded with the interior of a Shoreditch creative agency.
From billboards advertising the ‘Church of Batman the Redeemer’ to a buses with Boris Johnson plastered over the side, this depiction of a future Earth is utterly dotty, and is worth a rewatch alone to catch all the little references.
However, when it comes down to it, the subject matter of the film itself proves to be sadly insubstantial. The ruminations on the nature of existence and the effect of technology on our relationships are interesting enough, but it’s hard to shake the fact that we’ve heard it all before – and done better – elsewhere, often by Gilliam himself.
There isn’t a single duff performance among the cast (with Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton stealing scenes during their extended cameos), but even they can’t make this truly memorable.
Still, a middling Gilliam film is still far more worthy of your time than a lot of what masquerades as fantasy at the moment.