Kevin Chan’s review published on Letterboxd:
It might be ascertained that besides the plethoric, milquetoast churning, and gargantuan studio led and driven episodic entires handed out like chocolate and snozzberries at Wonka’s factory by Feige and the Marvel Illuminati (except for the Merry Marvel Madmen at the bullpen for No Way Home, those jackasses… well, okay, them too) that drives the moviegoing audience mostly nowadays, there is one filmmaker or artiste, Jordan Peele, with a vision who can get the general audience going. Albeit for me, besides seeing two of his three films, the Key & Peele star still remains a big blind spot. Why? Because his ever so beloved Get Out hasn’t pierced through my retinas. “Oh, Get Out is so great, it’s just amazing, it’s excellent, superb, and fantastic, it’s better than my girlfriend.” Yeah, not sure if I’ll dig that one personally. But what’s for certain is that my first Peele film, Us, didn’t strike me as a great movie. Because truth be told, there was just nothing for me to feel in an artistic installment of what is an emotional medium. Peele, like Spike Lee, also loves to find ways to sneak in some political commentary that’s consumed, digested, and lovingly regurgitated by the large public. But is that something that shines through ever so clearly in this 2022 romp? Or is it more so the former idea wherein there was nothing to feel that shines through over everything else? Luckily, it doesn’t appear that such commentary shines through as much. Really, it’s an emptiness that exists.
The descendants of the man who rode the horse in Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion (1877), Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) and his son Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. (Daniel Kaluuya) run Haywood Hollywood Horse Ranch. Young Otis also has a sister named Emerald (Keke Palmer), bearing dreams of working in Hollywood. One day, Otis Sr. is killed by debris that fell from a mysterious object in the sky. After Otis Jr. and Emerald inherit the ranch, they come to know eventually the truth of what has caused their father to die. The two young’uns employ some help from a weed-smoking Fry’s electronics employee, Angel (Brandon Perea), and legendary cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott). What’s the point? To capture the footage for all to see and earn a profit? Or to save the world from a scary alien entity seeking to devour living creatures? Well, as written earlier, emptiness and a failure to deliver a true sort of blockbuster in the vein of one shoots through.
An obvious influence from films such as Signs, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Peele said,
I wrote it in a time when we were a little bit worried about the future of cinema. So the first thing I knew is I wanted to create a spectacle. I wanted to create something that the audience would have to come see.
— Jordan Peele, “Jordan Peele Was Worried About the Future of Cinema, So He Wrote ‘Nope’ as ‘The Great American UFO Story’.” IndieWire. www.indiewire.com/2022/06/jordan-peele-on-nope-title-ufos-1234736183/
The future of cinema naturally creates worry, indeed. Where is the old fashioned blockbuster that would as Peele put it, “create a spectacle” today? I know! It’s called Top Gun: Maverick. But does Nope reach that same note of the classic old fashioned and top tier scale? Well… nope. Actually, kinda.
Frankly, the care that exists is in the direction. But the care dwelling within myself as an audience member wasn’t able to exude much towards the characters of Otis Jr. and Emerald. The former, a young and reserved son trying to take care of his father’s horses and ranch and a restless girl in the latter. The care for continuing their dead father’s legacy and inheritance is there and present in Otis Jr., but nonexistent in Emerald due to a childhood memory. Ultimately, this sort of dichotomy doesn’t strike as strongly. It doesn’t help that Kaluuya’s protagonist is so taciturn that the life and charisma is so expunged from the film. Palmer’s Emerald is just annoying and unwilling to preserve the ranch of their dead father and would rather try and make herself known in Hollywood. Where is the mourning or the proof that both kids are heartbroken over the loss of their father? It’s not even there. There’s an indifference and emptiness that manifests in both of them. But ultimately, through some exquisite framing, editing, and dooming atmospheric intensity, there grows the care that a brother and sister have for each other.
Furthermore, Peele makes use of Nahum 3:6…
I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing-stock.
There is the revisitation of Steven Yeun’s character Jupe who was a child actor famous for surviving an incident of the sitcom Gordy’s Home, in which a chimpanzee wreaks havoc on the cast, crew, and live audience… except him. And years later Jupe is capitalizing off his time on the show by establishing his own carnival (which is near Otis Jr.’s ranch) to exploit his story of survival. But this odd alien entity is here to cast its wrath. In some sense, this might be the most substantial takeaway from Peele’s Nope — a commentary on spectacle for profit. And in this case, what is deserved due to a quite immoral act of obtaining the Benjamins by exploiting a story about not just surviving the wrath of a wild beast, but an incident in which innocent people met their demise. Yeun’s Jupe lived a trauma he’ll never be able to erase, but being the sole person to escape an incident unscathed and earning cash at the expense of the dead & heavily injured isn’t something that would or should be met with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. If anything his fate is ultimately a fair one — deserving of abominable filth as written in The Book of Nahum.
For a new blockbuster, it’s not difficult to notice the elements inspired by older horror and sci-fi spectacles. Michael Abel’s score works quite well, especially towards the end. But besides the substantial care that shines through in a brother and sister caring for each other and Jupe’s fate, it goes back to the aforementioned questions…
What’s the point? To capture the footage for all to see and earn a profit? Or to save the world from a scary alien entity seeking to devour living creatures?
Saving the world isn’t even the main motivation of the entire film despite a fleeting comment by the high Fry’s Electronics employee Angel, but rather it is trying one’s darnedest to capture footage for profit. Again, it goes back to Jupe’s demise. There’s not exactly a motivation by normal townspeople to try and stop a world threat. Instead that motivation to stop such a dominant creature seems to just magically fall its way into place during the motivation to capture picture proofs that a UFO is real… for fame and glory. Overall, Peele’s new feature, while well-made, is quite empty and soulless. Nope. Should I watch Get Out finally? Maybe. Don’t know. Maybe my thoughts will change on this one. Slim chance, though.
Lastly… the VFX on that monkey is terrible. Three Planet of the Apes films not too long ago, and just two scenes featuring a mo-capped monkey looking close to Gumby juxtaposed with reality?