There is not a single original beat in Finch. This does not mean that it is a bad movie, but it does mean that I spent much of the film less interested in consuming it as a piece of storytelling, and more interested in trying to figure out how many scenes, moments, and ideas were ripped directly from other movies I’ve seen.
“Hey, he made a big doofy robot who takes care of him. It’s Baymax from Big Hero 6!” “Big apocalypse that’s a metaphor for climate change with a junk collecting robot rolling around? Wall-E!” “Oh an ambush as he’s collecting supplies. That’s I Am Legend!” Etc.
And given that Tom Hanks stars, I was pulling in connections to his previous films, too. “Okay, he’s by himself, befriending inanimate objects, trying to survive a harsh environment. It’s Cast Away.” “Hanks playing with a dog? Turner and Hooch throwback!” “Now that the robot is talking, this is kind of a mismatched buddy comedy like Dragnet.” And so on.
I know it’s lazy criticism to just list off other movies as comparisons. But that’s just the kind of movie Finch is: so formulaic and pleasantly watchable that it’s unlikely to inspire anything but the most basic intellectual engagement.
That’s not to say it’s bad! In fact, if you’re going to tell a story this by-the-numbers, you could do a lot worse than casting Hanks in the lead. That alone raises both the floor and ceiling for how good this movie can be.
The film’s premise is that the world has suffered an apocalypse via a solar flare destroying the atmosphere, rendering the daytime uninhabitable due to extreme temperatures and UV poisoning. Finch (Hanks), a robotics engineer, wanders around with his dog, Goodyear, looking for scraps to survive.
Finch is dying of UV radiation poisoning (which I would consider a spoiler, except Hanks gets a nosebleed in the first ten minutes, so you know something bad is afoot), and wants Goodyear to have a guardian when he passes. So he builds a sentient humanoid robot named Jeff and teaches him the basics of his apocalyptic life in St. Louis.
Things get hairy when a super-storm threatens to destroy their HQ, so Finch and his dog and his robot head out for the west coast or else face oblivion. Oh yeah, this is a road trip movie, too. Add Road to Perdition to the list.
Although this is grim stuff on the surface, Finch is surprisingly breezy. It’s jammed with needle drops and fun gags about Jeff the robot learning the rules of human life with the innocence of a child (The Iron Giant: check). The movie is content to ride the wave of Hanks’ prodigious charm.
Finch saves its best material for its final act. And, if nothing else, I’ll give credit to Finch for refusing to pull any punches. (This is a dog movie, after all; you think no tears would be shed?) After almost 90 minutes of emotional detachment, I was a bit surprised to feel the gut punches on a few of the final twists.
Visually, the movie is perfectly competent. It’s got that professional digital video sheen to it where you know that it had at least a little budget. The highlight is Jeff the humanoid robot: I believe he’s 100% mo-cap CGI, but he fits seamlessly into the film universe.
My one nitpick on the film’s visual profile is that the color grading towards blues and oranges is a bit zealous; I got some late 2000s/early 2010s vibes.
As much as I don’t have any strong opinions, positive or negative, about the generic and somewhat disposable Finch, I’m glad that Hanks is still taking a wide variety of roles for movies both big and small, commanding and elevating films just as much as he did during his imperial reign of the ‘90s and ‘00s. I just hope his next selection gives me more to think about than what movies it’s ripping off.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective