It seems the hottest new trend in action movies is bureaucracy. The base desires of assassins, thieves, and gangsters are yesterday’s news, their gun-toting antics mere grist for the story mill. What audiences really care about is the infrastructure around those pulpy antiheroes. At least, that’s the lesson Hotel Artemis appears to have taken away from films like the hugely successful John Wick series. It’s an action movie that’s far more interested in world-building than it is in gunplay, a genre flick that derives its greatest pleasures from explaining the funny ways in which its universe works.
Though it’s not quite as delightful as it may sound, the writer-director Drew Pearce deserves some credit—he’s made a fun summer watch with a wonderful cast and a script that has nothing to do with existing franchises, popular books, or rebootable media properties. Hotel Artemis is an airy, silly 94 minutes at the movies that could stand to be even airier and sillier. This gritty sci-fi film sets out the rules of its world elegantly, but when the action finally does kick off in the last act, the emotional stakes are oddly flat—a problem that John Wick never had.
The hotel of the title is a run-down establishment in a grim near-future Los Angeles, a city beset with riots over the privatization of its water supply. As angry citizens gather in the streets, some of L.A’s most notorious criminals retire to the penthouse of an old hotel that’s been repurposed as a hospital. The place is run by Nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster), a cantankerous, no-nonsense type who patches up the lawless denizens of her makeshift facility—as long as their membership dues are paid in full. Pearce’s film follows one long, crazy night at the Artemis as L.A. devolves into chaos, though the events indoors never really sync up with what’s happening on the streets.