It’s been almost five years since Joe and Anthony Russo ushered Tom Holland into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, kickstarting what would be his most iconic role in a the young actor’s career; despite being in films since 2012, Holland found true fame as the latest screen incarnation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man which he’s now carried into two solo films and two Avengers films. Holland is now synonymous with the role, even with films such as The Lost City of Z and The Devil All the Time under his belt, as well as his voice work in Pixar’s Onward. Now a star of the superhero world, he’s reteamed with the Russo brothers for a far gritter, but unfortunately weaker outing in crime drama Cherry.
Holland stars as Nico Walker, a college student who, in the midst of a painful time in his life, drops out and enlists in the US army to find a sense of purpose. He returns to his wife Emily (Ciara Bravo) a different man, suffering from severe PTSD which leads him to an opioid addiction. Out of options, Walker turns to a life of crime, robbing banks to fund his addiction whilst carrying the weight of the damage he’s caused to his partner.
In 2019, discourse arose when Martin Scorsese offered his opinion on comic book movies, a genre that the Russo brothers have been key players in for the last five years with their entries in the MCU, and it’s a discussion that still continues to be brought up in discussion today. In his New York Times piece, Scorsese describes cinema as being “about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves”. I’m not here to reignite a debate or side with anyone, but it’s fascinating to see the Russo brothers – Who were defensive towards Scorsese’s comments – pivot from superhero cinema to a film that, on paper, matches the criteria Scorsese listed there and have failed miserably at it. With that context in mind, it’s hard not to view Cherry as something of a response to that rather than a new endeavour for the directors, as though they were eager to prove they had it in them to produce a more intimate, character based film.
If this is the case – And even if it isn’t – they’ve missed the mark by quite a bit as Cherry is an incompetent mess from start to finish. For a good while, the film itself even feels like a poorly put together Scorsese picture, with a complex criminal protagonist narrating his life, long takes and montages that feel ever so similar to his work. When it doesn’t feel like it’s his aping his style, the film is layered with a lot of nonsensical stylistic choices, be it peculiar editing, visual imagery, a sluggish and overbearing score or an obnoxious overreliance on slow motion to cover up the hollow corpse of a film underneath. It wants to be a film about addiction, about masculinity, about armed forces etc. and it uses these moments to pretend they’re saying a lot when they’re actually saying nothing. The most egregious gimmick used is that of Nico’s occasional fourth-wall breaking which isn’t consistent enough to be interesting or have any real connection with the audience, especially when the character is narrating the story anyway.
At the centre of this mess is Tom Holland, who leads the film having been left out to dry by poor directors and a script that does him no favours. On paper, it’s a relatively intense role that asks more of him than his most famous roles have; the actual quality of the writing doesn’t quite match up to that assessment but, even still, Holland feels incredibly unprepared for it. It’s like a child wearing a suit that he’ll grow into, which sounds very infantilising but that’s not a reference to his age. Holland is an undoubtably talented actor going onto great things, and I’m not suggesting at all that a 24 year old man shouldn’t be aiming for mature roles, but he doesn’t feel at home in this characters shoes. It’s clear that he’s giving it everything though and, with a tighter script, we may even be having a different conversation. I have more sympathy for poor Ciara Bravo who feels like a hostage in this film; undeniably talented but chained to a character who is practically non-existent until her story shifts in asinine way. I am no expert on addiction and would never claim to know exactly what I’m talking about but, if there is even a hint of realism to the second act shift her character undertakes, she deserved much better writing and direction than the melodrama we get in that scene.
Whether it was an attempt to hit back at detractors or simply a desire to try something new, Joe and Anthony Russos’ transition from blockbuster cinema to hard-hitting character study is as far from graceful as you can get. A clunky, contrived drama with nothing to say and a lot of making up to do because of it. In terms of meaty starring roles, I think Tom Holland has a brighter future ahead of him than what his had to offer.
Cherry is available to watch on Apple+