Nope, or yep? Jordan Peele’s third movie, following the superb Get Out and the thrilling-if-not-quite-as-good Us, offers more surprises and clever takes but feels like a big step down. So, the sad answer to the question is: it’s not quite a nope, but it’s not really a yep, either.
Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer headline the sci-fi thriller, about a brother and sister on a Hollywood horse farm who suspect they have a visitor. In the sky. Brandon Perea and an underutilized Steven Yeun also star.
Get Out was as lean and mean as a movie gets, while Us was the natural evolution to something bigger, with a bit more spectacle. With two undeniable box office and critical hits on his resume, it’s no real surprise that Peele takes a moonshot here. And it should be no real surprise that Nope isn’t nearly as incredible as a result.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a little disappointing.
Taking elements from Hitchcock, Spielberg, Shyamalan (Signs specifically) and others–while still maintaining an edge and swagger that makes clear you’re watching a Jordan Peele flick–Nope has a ton to like. Kaluuya is terrific as always (Palmer is good, too, though frankly I found her and her character quite obnoxious). The story, while more straightforward than you’d think, has some unique elements, and Peele definitely tells said story in a unique way. The threat at hand is also a bit different than what you’d assume.
Oh, and then there’s that chimpanzee scene.
Nope never quite grabs you the way Peele’s other movies do, but the ominous mystery and looming, increasingly violent threat makes you lean forward nonetheless. It’s always entertaining.
But in the third act, the cracks that had already been beginning to appear turn into fissures. The climax is fun, even suspenseful, but it’s a bit head-scratching. Peele has a message to tell, but it’s convoluted, and the actions the characters take really don’t make much sense. The title reference the lead character’s approach to not doing anything stupid, but the entire finale involves making decisions to put everyone at risk–just to capture video footage of this entity in the sky. The mission changes halfway through, though, adding to the confusion.
As the end credits roll, it suddenly becomes clear that this is a fairly simple movie elevated by a talented filmmaker. There are worse things out there, but there were opportunities for Nope to be bolder (I would have killed a different major character halfway through), more inventive, and more unpredictable. It’s entertaining, but Peele’s moonshot never leaves Earth’s gravity.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.