Metropia is a Swedish film that thinks outside the box. A box which in this case primarily contains shmaltzy teen dramas about alcohol, sexism, and school that local tweens think are more deep and meaningful than they really are, or crime/mystery thrillers with Mikael Persbrandt as everyone. It’s more rare that my homeland brings us something as unusual as Metropia.
This is a heavily stylized dystopian science-fiction film that, much like Hollywood pictures of a similar genre, works from the idea that your seemingly normal life is being controlled by something bigger. Aside from its looks, there’s nothing terribly original about it.
Its main character is Roger (Vincent Gallo), an ordinary, not too special guy who resides in a Europe where everything is connected by a giant system of subways. Whenever Roger goes down there he starts hearing strange voices in his head that bear cryptic messages, hence why he usually gets to work by bike or on foot. Shortly, he meets a mysterious woman named Nina (Juliette Lewis), the Trinity of Metropia, who helps him uncover the significance of the voices and the truth about Roger’s seemingly ordinary life.
Udo Kier is Ivan Bahn, the founder of the company that controls the underground railways and Nina’s father. He and his colleagues have found a way to control people’s minds using a shampoo that turns their hairs into antennae. Yeah, I dunno either. In any case, Roger tries to fight the system with Nina by his side. In the process, Roger befriends the man who was assigned to control his brain but is now trying to help by sending messages (the voices) directly into his mind – a shy man named Stefan, played by Alexander Skarsgård. Another Skarsgård to appear in the film is Stellan Skarsgård, playing an agent who does all of Bahn’s dirty work.
You will be reminded of stories like The Matrix, 1984 and, one of my favourite films of all time, Dark City, but there’s a chance you won’t find it as good.
This isn’t the first time a Swedish filmmaker has made a remarkably Matrix-esque film, though. There was also a movie called Storm in 2005, directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, which was similar in look and tone to a Hollywood sci-fi mystery. Maybe Matrix knock-offs is becoming another Swedish filmmaking cliché we can include amongst all the formulaic crime thrillers and corny teen dramas?
As you might have gathered, the plot is somewhat easy to predict, given what stories it’s drawing inspiration from. We’ve seen stories that address paranoia-inducing concepts of humanity being monitored or controlled by a higher power, sometimes within the government, numerous times before and Metropia doesn’t do much of anything clever with it. There are some cool ideas, like the massive subway empire, but also some weird ones, like the shampoo that turns hairs into transmitters.
Then of course there’s the stylized look of the movie. The character designs, I suppose, are cool, but the animation itself is not any more appealing than those Angela Anaconda cartoons from Nickelodeon’s classic Kablam show. It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of scantily clad women with anatomies that make me, well, confused. If you’ve ever wanted to see Angela Anaconda sexualized, you won’t have a problem with it. Don’t worry.
It’s cool that they got a hold of such actors as Udo Kier and Vincent Gallo, I guess, and obviously we cannot have a Swedish film without Stellan Skarsgård these days. Despite the good cast, though, most of the characters are as stiff as their animation and don’t leave much of an impression. I ultimately don’t find myself being all too excited about this movie, even if it’s cool to see filmmakers of my homeland try out something like this.
Make no mistake, I see potential when I look at Metropia. I’m fully sure that these same filmmakers might one day bring us a deep and edgy science fiction extravaganza. Metropia is, unfortunately, not that film.