I was drawn into the world of Children of Men by the production design. It believably established a near-future high-tech world gone to pieces. Modern buses and rickshaws travelling side-by-side through grey, battered London streets, the only spot of colour being the ads displayed on the electronic billboards of both. Commercials warning against the influx of illegal immigrants to England, the sole country to weather - barely - the chaos that a world without children brought on. Or advertising "Quietus", a suicide solution, for those who decide to succumb to the futility of being a member of the last generation on Earth.
Geek moment: I want one of the computer screens from this movie.
The world-building in the first act is textured and highly effective, if anything slightly too dense, reminding me a lot of the work Alan Moore and David Gibbons did on Watchmen ("Nostalgia: Oh how the ghost of you clings..."). In fact, the dystopian world of this movie is what the V for Vendetta adaptation should have looked like. But that's a topic for another day.
It's no surprise that the inciting incident of the movie is the discovery of a cure for the global sterility that infested the world in 2008 during a flu epidemic. But the treatment of this discovery again focuses on the personal journeys of the characters, and on the political implications of this discovery on the so-called "fugees", the illegal immigrants noted earlier.
In this world we meet Theo (Clive Owen) whose cynicism is made evident by his reaction to the murder of "Baby Diego", at 18, the world's youngest person, and whose death hits like the death of a Princess Diana or JFK.
Theo's journey to someone who truly cares for those - and the world - around him forms the spine of Children of Men, and the fact that the personal and political journeys are central to the story is one of the things that immediately elevates the movie above most genre films.
I'm beginning to believe that Clive Owen can't turn in a bad performance - he was the best actor in Closer, very good in The Inside Man and also in this. Julianne Moore - shockingly underutilised - and Michael Caine (as a political cartoonist exuberantly eager to make up for the fact that he was too young to experience the stoner 60s and 70s first-hand) add star-power credibility. Chiwetel Ejiofor again plays a man whose belief in a cause leads him into the moral abyss, though his characterisation is quite different from the philosophical intensity of Serenity's The Operative. Pam Ferris is like a more earthy Judi Dench. Claire-Hope Ashitey as the unsubtly named Kee is effective as a young woman thrust into a position of vast responsibility. There's a real sense of elevating tension as the cast is pared away. Sure, it's a traditional structure for a chase movie, but by the time each character departs you feel like you know them, and so feel the loss.
I note in passing that while there's violence and gunfights aplenty, Theo himself never (that I can recall) picks up a gun, even though he has opportunity to do so. He is not your typical action hero.
And in some ways this is not your typical action movie, featuring one of the most interesting escape/chase scenes in recent memory. The escape from the safe house verges on, but never crosses into, the ridiculous.
Other sequences hit you in the face like a sledgehammer. The stunt work and pyrotechnics are first-rate, especially in the climactic urban battle at the Bexhill (echoes of V's Larkhill?) internment camp. It's a sustained tour de force approaching the impact of Saving Private Ryan's D-Day sequence, though on a much more intimate scale.
I will say though that the escape from Bexhill was implausible at best, downright stupid at worst. One of the few moments when the movie reached for poetry and (just) missed. The soldier's reaction upon seeing Kee worked. Their total failure to notice her and Theo slipping away didn't.
Children of Men - as mentioned - is not your typical Hollywood SF flick. It has a dour, sardonic, decidedly British sensibility. Would a Hollywood picture ever run the Jarvis Cocker track "Running the World" (google it) over the end credits?
In case it wasn't obvious, I really liked this movie. One of - perhaps the - best science fiction movies of recent years.