The Hotel Artemis is a black-market hospital supplying sketchy high tech services to subscribing members, that is, criminals wealthy enough to pay, with the guidance of the reclusive Nurse (Jodie Foster, who should be remembered for the punk classic Taxi Driver if nothing else) and her assistant Everest (Dave Bautista, Blade Runner 2049, Guardians of the Galaxy). One night in 2028, riots hit the streets of Los Angeles following the decision of the privately own water corporation to stop distribution. At the same time, a bank heist turned sour brings two brothers (Sterling K. Brown and Brian Tyree Henry) at the Artemis, where they get renamed according to their rooms, “Waikiki” and “Honolulu”, as it is policy at the Hotel for privacy reasons.
The Hotel already shelters the loudmouth idiot “Acapulco” (Charlie Day), as well as “Nice” (Sofia Boutella), a French assassin with a past connection to Waikiki. Tensions are high between the residents, and get even more explosive as the well-known local kingpin (and proprietor of the Artemis), “The Wolf-King of Los Angeles” (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, The Fly) arrives in bad shape to fill the last room available, “Niagara”.
Now, with that many criminal elements in the same place during a full-blown riot, things can only go south. And they do.
The first thing to say about Hotel Artemis is how clean the screenplay is. No lengthy exposition, no secondary character that overstays its usefulness to the narration, no endless epilogue. The narrative is to-the-point and is all about showing, not telling. Not much is told about the characters’ backgrounds, and yet they all feel alive and complex.
Hotel Artemis takes place in a closed location. While this is certainly a budget-imposed decision, it is also an important theme for cyberpunk: it’s a metaphor of society collapsing on itself, in contrast with the vast space exploration of more optimistic science fiction. Temporality also convey this sense of containment, as the movie is confined in a time lapse of one single night and symbolically begins with the sun setting as the riots intensify.
When the structure of power suddenly refuse to provide and those left to themselves revert to mob mentality, often there is no other choice but to think only of oneself. But “no man is an island”, the Artemis mirrors society and, while the closed set also functions as a way into introspection (some characters hiding secrets, others denying their own delusions), it is also by being confronted with others that knots can be undone.
That said, the movie still carries some of the minor flaws of Hollywood productions. Cheasy one-liners (“No man, I don’t have a plan. But I’ve got the next best thing… I’ve got a gun.” Huh.), a “strong female character” whose deadly moves involving long, naked legs would be right at home around a pole (don’t get me wrong, I love Nice – the real strong female character, however, is The Nurse, supported by a sterling performance delivered by Foster), and a useless information that ultimately redeems an already dead character for symbolic purposes only.
Furthermore, the movie follows the general moral code of the studios to the letter: characters who do good live, characters who do drugs, lie, or sin by pride and greed, die. But I’m okay with that. Having a strict moral bias would be a problem in another movie; Hotel Artemis, however, manages to run this smoothly, without overstating the message. The good guys, after all, are still criminals. And yet, right from the opening scene the male lead, later known as Waikiki, displays a rather well-balanced ethical personality for a bank robber.
Even if the riots between the have-nots and the corporate rent-a-cops quickly fade into the background, Hotel Artemis tells the story of standing in-between and trying to make due with what you can. It is not a movie about computer networks and transhumanism, it’s about how to stay human when the shit hits the fan. And it’s good to be told that this is still possible, to have a moral compass when everything falls apart, and that people will stand by your side, albeit obliquely, when you do good. We need that.
And I’m officially petitioning for “You work with what you got, not what you hoped for.” to become a cyberpunk tag-line along “Style over substance” and “The Street finds its own use for things.” Because this sentence, pronounced twice by Waikiki over the course of the movie, sums up how cyberpunk characters live, but moreover because it perfectly defines cyberpunk’s relation, as a genre, to a Jetsons-perfect future.
Oh! and the movie features the most ridiculously cool lethal use of a coffee mug you’ll ever see.
Hotel Artemis: 9/10
If you would like to purchase a copy of Hotel Artemis, you can buy it here.
This article was originally posted on May 6th, 2019.