For the better part of a decade, Anthony and Joe Russo had been living in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting in 2014 with Captain America: Winter Soldier, the Russo Brothers went on to also make Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, three critical and box office smashes and some of the most important movies in the MCU franchise. But with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the Russo Brothers made the biggest film in the history of cinema. Endgame was the epic finale of a series of films that spanned over a decade and included dozens of characters, huge set pieces, and tied up a twenty-three movie story arc.
So how do you follow creating the biggest film in the history of cinema? In an attempt to break away as far as they possibly could from being associated from Marvel and the stigma that comes with being a director on one of their films, the Russo’s decided to tackle an adaptation of a novel called Cherry, which looks at a college kid who joins the army and heads to Iraq only to come back to America and become a drug addict. Sounds like a huge leap in the other direction for a pair of directors who have become accustom to working with $200+ million budgets and thousands of visual effects and unfortunately, you can tell the Russo’s aren’t equipped to make a film like this quite yet. Cherry is an overlong mess with nothing to say.
Tom Holland stars as our main character, who’s name is apparently Cherry, though I did not know that while watching the movie. While attending college, he meets Emily (Ciara Bravo) and the two fall madly in love. When their relationship hits a rocky point, Cherry decides to join the army just years after the attacks of 9/11. He and Emily amend their relationship and get married right before Cherry heads off to basic training and then Iraq, where he sees the horrors of wars. Coming back to America, Cherry suffers from intense PTSD, which leads to a terrible drug addiction and Cherry becoming a bank robber to pay for his drug addiction. We watch as Cherry and Emily’s life spiral out of control with no hope of getting out.
Cherry has a runtime of two hours and twenty minutes and you feel every second of it. Though the Russo’s MCU movies all ran that length or longer, they don’t know how to manage that time in this film. The film is split into five parts, yet the Russo’s put parts one through four in the first hour, which include Cherry in college in 2002, going to basic training, going to Iraq, and coming home from Iraq, and spend the next hour on part five, titled “Dope Life”, which is nothing but Cherry and Emily doing heroine, throwing up, and then doing more heroine, and then finish it off with an epilogue that spans from 2007 to 2021, yet only lasts the final five minutes of the movie. What I struggled with most throughout all of these parts and the entire film was to find the point of it all. What are the Russo’s trying to say with this film? They don’t focus enough on the war and the PTSD to make a message about the effects of war, they don’t say anything about opioid pandemic in America, and they don’t show Cherry’s road to recovery at the end, something that would have added more heart and emotion to the otherwise empty film. Was there a point to this film? None that I found. Mix that with some erratic, novice filmmaking and you quite an overall unpleasant experience.
There is a bright spot in Cherry and that is the performance from Tom Holland. Known for his role as Spider-Man in the MCU, Holland gives an impressive, devastating performance unlike anything he’s ever had to do before. The material Holland was given was messy, uneven, and all over the place and he does as good as anyone could with it. Holland is engaging from minute one and he plays a character who’s arc starts when he is college and ends nearly twenty years later and he is convincing the whole way through. Holland nails the few comedic moments in the film and the overall dramatic nature of the film, and I was really impressed by him in the scenes where he breaks down emotionally, most of which happen when he’s in Iraq and when he first arrives home, which are the best parts of the film. Seeing Cherry’s bright, naive eyes go dark and dead as he sees more death and mayhem is tough to watch and Holland portrays the trauma of Cherry is enduring brilliantly.
Though Holland’s performance is excellent, it can’t save Cherry from being an overall failure. It’s too long, too messy, and at the end of it all says nothing. This does worry me about the future of the Russo Brothers as directors beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe they’re just meant to be in a franchise with a big budget, high effects, and little emotion.
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