Pierre Morel deserves a lot of credit (and some of the blame) for the current state of action movies. His smash hit thriller Taken made studio executives realize the simplicity that can come with the action movie setup. More specifically, put a well-known actor in the lead role as they seek revenge against villains that are obviously evil with no room for interpretation. But somehow, Peppermint manages to fail in this pursuit.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Pierre Morel
Written By: Chad St. John
After her daughter and husband are tragically gunned down at a local carnival in Los Angeles, Riley (Garner) seeks justice for the violent act through the legal system. But after the criminals are acquitted of all charges due to a few technicalities, Riley is out of luck. Almost immediately, she disappears.
Cut to five years later and an unknown figure is cleaning up crime-ridden areas of the city. As law enforcement quickly finds out, it’s Riley, and she’s been training…and she’s hungry for the justice she was denied.
If you’re a younger movie fan (or are more of a casual viewer), odds are you would only know Jennifer Garner as your movie mom…or the nice lady from the Capital One commercials. Ever since Juno, whether it was on her own volition or not, Garner has been typecast as a movie mom. She was even in Love, Simon earlier this year as a mom!
I don’t blame anyone for doing so, but we forget that most of her early work was in action movies. Maybe it was Daredevil and Elektra that did her in on that front (it probably was), but it is nice to see Garner go back to her roots in a sense. It’s time for her to become a commanding presence in film once more, don’t you think?
We Need More Badass Roles from Jennifer Garner
Right on cue!
Jennifer Garner got freakin’ jacked for this movie! Given all the problems that Peppermint has (which we will certainly get to), Jennifer Garner isn’t one of them. Well, her character is very poorly written, but she’s not the one to blame for that.
Garner is one of the more convincing action heroines of recent memory. Not only do you believe in every punch she throws, but she adds a certain vulnerability to the action that makes her believable as an actual human, not just an action movie superhero that is impervious to everything from bullets to punches to general fatigue. Her reactions to getting hit are so great that it makes it that much better when she actually lands a punch.
Honestly, I want more from Jennifer Garner in general. We’ve come to a time where an entire generation of people only knows her from commercials. Peppermint is such a great reminder of her talents as a performer. By the end of the movie, she is physically and mentally exhausted. I would’ve been ready to take that journey to exhaustion with her if she was in a better movie.
Peppermint‘s Form of Morality is Completely Wrong
I think we can all agree that, to some extent, all vigilante, Taken-esque revenge films are morally irresponsible on some level. However, we go along with a lot them because, for one thing, they’re movies, but also because of the clear line that these movies draw between good and evil, separating them so distinctly that we have no choice but to root for a protagonist as they dive headfirst into film’s version of a seedy underbelly of society.
And with that obvious line in the sand comes one other massive key point: retribution. The classic “eye for an eye” sense of logic creeps into these movies, and we feel that the main character is just in their bloody acts because they restore balance to the universe within the film. John Wick is one my personal favorite examples of these vigilante movie codes of ethics coming together perfectly.
But with Peppermint, it skips over the juiciest parts of the vigilante movie mold; you don’t see the retribution onto those that actually killed Riley’s daughter and husband. Instead, the movie is full of long, drawn-out sequences of Riley torturing those that are indirectly tied to the death of her loved ones. Combined with the wish-washy nature of Riley’s own moral code (she routinely acts as only those tied to the murders will get their comeuppance yet then proceeds to splatter the brains of anonymous henchmen all over the ground and joke about her willingness to kill), Peppermint becomes icky rather quickly. There are even signs that Riley has severe mental trauma which makes it even more troubling that she is on a killing spree.
Yes, these mobsters are bad people, but the complexities of the character’s situation and how Pierre Morel presents her journey to redemption is completely wrong. We aren’t building to a satisfying final death that finishes this character’s arc. Rather we’re waiting for semi-complicit people to get shot in the face. The connection created between the mob and Riley wasn’t even that strong from the start. What’s even worse is when you add just how stereotypical the Latino gang members are into this already horribly imbalanced equation.
Peppermint Feels Like Two Movies Crammed Together
The moral issues of Peppermint are mostly due to the fact that Peppermint plays like two movies in one, forcing the actual movie to skip over what was its closest thing to a satisfying kill and leaving more time for racial stereotypes in the second and third act. Pierre Morel directs action very well, but he might want to think about getting involved in more of his scripts. Remember The Gunman with Sean Penn? Oof.
Taken had Luc Besson to keep it together just enough to make everyone forget that Liam Neeson kills incredibly stereotypical Eastern Europeans for its entire runtime. Every one of Morel’s directorial effort since have been so muddled from a structure perspective that those icky elements are too undeniable. There’s little rise in tension and establishment of stakes given how the movie feels like it was split in half.
The amount of thought put into the film’s structure and pacing is mirrored in its title. “Peppermint” isn’t a reference to a nickname or anything else that is gravely important to the main character. Her daughter liked peppermint ice cream. That’s it.
Go home movie, you’re drunk.
While I’m clearly not a fan of Peppermint, I’m a fan of Jennifer Garner, and I hope that she can pivot towards more action vehicles. She has the physique and the acting chops to lead another action film to a bloody good time.
But that’s a conversation for another time. For this discussion, Peppermint just needs to go away. I don’t have the same amount of venom in my distaste for this movie as other critics have. To Pierre Morel’s credit, there are some well-staged action bits here; I cannot bring myself to call Peppermint utter garbage. However, I will not stop anyone from hating this movie. Its issues are far too clear to ignore.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on Peppermint? Comment down below!
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