Man versus nature is a cinematic staple with a revival of sorts with the likes of San Andreas rising to the top of the box office. Spectacle is the chief aim of the genre with the audience clinching their chairs and mouths agape throughout the movie’s entirety. While not going for wall-to-wall action, Everest carries the tradition of the man versus nature spectacle with relative ease — substituting falling buildings for rolling avalanches and tricky aircraft piloting for sudden moments of doom for the climbers of Mount Everest.
While keeping up with what makes the genre work, Everest is never interested in separating itself from the general fare, electing to use its icy concept as the differentiating element but forgetting that investment in the characters and personality traits will compel the audience to wraith in agony as much as god-like storms do.
Everest follows the dueling missions by two men — Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) — in 1996 as they lead their groups up to the top of Mount Everest. With conditions, and the addition of multiple parties ascending the mountain, leading to the groups working together, a powerful storm forces every person to face their own challenge as they try to make it back down.
The cast is extensive with Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Michael Kelly, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, and Sam Worthington rounding it out. With so many characters, Everest and director Baltasar Kormakur do their best to give each one their moment to shine, but this is a tall task for a film wrapping up right at two hours. Because of this, strong actors such as Knightley, Watson, and Wright are relegated to telephone duty with the occasional tear showing either the emotions of the scene or the strain that having a phone on your ear does to you after two hours.
Among the cast, the leader is Clarke, who gives the most nuanced performance solely because he is given the most time to form a persona around Rob Hall. This isn’t the case for other actors such as Gyllenhaal or Kelly, who use their archetypes to aid with the annoyance of giving unique characteristics to a specific character.
But the true star is the mountain, cascading over the cast like a menacing cloud. Kormakur does his best with the script, but the direction feels even keel, as if he is giving just above the minimum amount of effort to capture this tyrannizing beast. Once the storm happens, and characters are being picked off, the terror is clouded by snow and icy wins — as I’m sure it was during the actual event — but that defaces any sort of personality, save it for Clarke, of the characters and leaves you trying to decipher who lives and who dies among the remainders.
Where Everest does excel is leaving out any semblance of a traditional antagonist amongst the characters in order to make it a true man versus nature affair, but that doesn’t supplement the fact that there wasn’t much there in the first place and having nature be the villain is just natural to the genre.
There isn’t anything glaringly wrong with Everest, and the faults could be seen as indicative of the genre rather than just this particular film, but this movie never seems inspired enough to rise above normalcy and is happy wallowing with the rest of its siblings. Man versus nature movies are fine, but just making the disaster is different this time, that doesn’t make the movie any more interesting and Everest doesn’t learn this lesson.
Much like most of the main cast, we are left to wait for this genre to revolutionize itself.