Hot Take: Visually, Everest is a stunner. (IMAX 3D… WOW!) The story itself mirrors the mountain. It takes a long time to get there, it’s painful at times and it is overloaded with characters to the point where many get lost in the shuffle. The payoff, in the end, is solid but there’s a lingering question of was it worth it?
From the moment the movie starts, Everest‘s visuals smack you in the face. It’s reminiscent of a documentary filmed specifically for an IMAX experience. Throughout, the movie relies heavily on the stunning visuals to immerse the audience into Everest rather than the deep, talented cast it has access to.
Here’s the challenge Everest has: How do you tell a tale about a group of mountain climbers where any of a handful of characters could take the lead but no one is truly compelling enough to make it necessary for them to become the focus?
It’s the opposite of Black Mass where, although it is obvious the main character is James “Whitey” Bulger, you’re intrigued by the supporting cast. In Everest, you have Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the head of Adventure Consultants, one of the many groups capitalizing on the lucrative guided climbing expedition market in 1996. The group of amateurs he’s leading includes Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a sometimes mailman who has already failed making it to the top of the mountain once. There’s Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a rich Texas adventure junkie who says he didn’t even tell his wife he was going to Everest because she said he’d divorce him. There’s Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a 47-year-old Japanese woman who has reached the highest summit in six of seven continents with Everest being the last to accomplish. There’s Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), Hall’s friendly rival who leads his own expedition. Notice how oversized this paragraph is getting? There’s been no mention of Hall’s pregnant wife, Jan (Keira Knightley). Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), the base camp coordinator. Andy “Harold” Harris (Martin Henderson), Hall’s right hand man. Peach Weathers (Robin Wright), Beck’s wife. Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly), the magazine writer along for the climb and the story. Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar E. Sigurdsson), the climber who don’t need no stinking oxygen. Dorjee (Ang Phula Sherpa) and Lopsang (Pemba Sherpa), the Sherpas who lead the way behind the scenes to make the dangerous trek as safe as possible for the climbers. Am I leaving anyone out?
But that’s the challenge of Everest. The challenge Everest fails to accomplish, sort of. With so many characters, the film acts as a cinematic memorial rather than focusing on telling a great story. This thrusts the mountain into the spotlight and while Mount Everest is cold, terrifying, dangerous, daunting, majestic and humbling, it’s also immovable. There’s no catharsis for your main character when it’s a massive mountain standing 29,029 feet tall.
Even with it’s storytelling flaws, it’s likely you’ll attach to someone in the movie. For me, it was the family and friends of those climbing the mountain, especially the wives of Hall and Weathers. By the time Everest summits, it’s likely to tug at your emotions more than you’d expect. At least that was my experience.
Going in to Everest, my initial thought was “Why the hell would someone want to climb Mount Everest?” In the end, I was left thinking this question is rhetorical.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Visually Worthy of the IMAX Upcharge
If you have the option to see Everest in IMAX, it’s worth the extra money.
- It’s Immersive
While some will criticize the pacing, it’s important to remember the film covers 40 days and tells the story of a climb to the highest mountain on the planet… it would do a disservice to the subject matter if it was rushed.
- The Performances Are About As Much As You Could Ask For
All things considered, the cast is invested and deliver strong performances. Outside of cinematography, it would be unsurprising to see Everest shut out of the Oscars but it’s not due to effort or execution from the acting side of things.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- There’s Little Effort to Answer Why
What’s the motivation for attempting to climb a 29,029 foot mountain? Especially when the journey frequently has a fatal ending. There’s little satisfaction provided here. Basically, because it’s there is the most satisfying response.
- Respect Gets In The Way
The story has an underbelly the director never gets into. Watching Everest, there’s an obvious respect for what the climbers are doing and who the climbers are but, because of that, the movie never digs into some of the grittier issues.
- So Overcrowded!
As previously mentioned, you’ll probably get attached to at least one of the characters. However, there’s a chance the character you get attached to might disappear with little explanation.