Review: 'Submergence', James McAvoy & Alicia Vikander Can't Rise Above Wim Wenders' Dull Drama

Those hoping for a return to form for revered German director Wim Wenders may want to go find one of his recent documentaries, instead. Submergence continues the filmmakers' extended streak of subpar narrative features, somehow managing to make a movie about a long-distance romance, Middle Eastern terrorists, and deep sea diving pretentious, boring, and pointless. The only reason it remains remotely watchable is the presence of Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, although they struggle to rise above this painful drag.

A strangely literal romantic drama about disparate lovers, Submergence stars Vikander as Dani, a brilliant and flirty scientist (she's constantly putting on and taking off her nerd glasses) obsessed with the bottom of the ocean. She's on the verge of the biggest submergence of her career, in which she's expected to make a huge discovery about...something. But she just can't focus, staring off into the gloomy distance before telling her nosey colleague “I realize I’ve never been lonely before."

Well, that's one way to steer the conversation away from the job at hand and onto something totally unrelated. And weird.

Dani longs for James (McAvoy), a handsome gent she met only recently at a French resort and struck up a passion with. "Passion" in the sense that she won him over with overly scientific jargon about the "mesopalogic zone", which she coos with erotic potential.  She can't stop talking about her work, while he's always deflecting about his. He says he's a water engineer, helping to get clean water in places overrun by terrorist factions. His job is considerably more James Bond than he lets on. When she asks about it, he spins it into witty Scottish charm.

She asks, "What's your favorite body of water"?

His response, "The human body…well, it’s MOSTLY made of water.”

Ugh. On that note, they hit it off like gangbusters. For like five minutes before they are separated by their careers, but not before promising to make a go of their newfound relationship. Now she stares at her phone like a nervous schoolgirl hoping to a message from him. It's been a month without hearing a word, and she worries she's been tossed aside.

It never makes sense her obsession with James considering their brief dalliance, especially in light of the major breakthrough she's about to make in her life's true passion. Visualized in somber tones throughout, Dani is "submerged" by the emotional void left by James's absence as much as she is the inkiness of the ocean's depths. Meanwhile, there's an incredible imbalance in the torment the characters are going through, as James finds himself the hostage of a terrorist cell. The silent despair she feels inside her submersible is nothing like the actual torment he faces, with the threat of death a daily constant.

And yet, even the potential for violence against James or the danger of Dani's drowning can't shake Submergence from its dull stupor. Penned by screenwriter Erin Dignam, who last wrote Sean Penn's abysmal The Last Face (Hey Hollywood, learned your lesson yet?), the film lacks everything we used to love about Wenders' early work. He used to tell personal stories rich with character and infused with the flavor of a specific region, but there's nothing to find here but emptiness and the feeling that potential is being seriously wasted.  It's not offensively terrible like Wenders' Everything Will Be Fine, but it certainly won't remind anybody of his Happy, Texas glory years.  Best to not submerge yourself too deeply in this one.

Rating: 2 out of 5