In case you, like me, watched the trailer for Hotel Artemis and thought, Oh, a fun John Wick knock-off, allow me to disabuse you of the notion. Despite obvious similarities, particularly in the “hotel for criminals” vein, Hotel Artemis isn’t really a John Wick knock-off. There’s a likeness, to be sure, but Hotel Artemis is not the wall-to-wall action of John Wick, it has a rather surprising amount of exposition. For what is basically a B-movie that could easily get by on action alone, writer/director Drew Pearce—making his feature film directing debut—invests a lot of time in the world and rules of the Hotel Artemis, where criminals go to get medical treatment in relative safety.
Pearce comes from a screenwriting background (notably Iron Man 3 and The Martian), so the world-building in Hotel Artemis holds up passably well. It’s the near future in Los Angeles, and water distribution has been privatized (feasible), which is leading to enormous riots as companies shut off water access (also feasible). The Hotel Artemis exists in this world, a members-only club that doctors and hides bad guys. The set up works, and really, the world of the Artemis only gets silly in regards to the medicine, which is so advanced it’s basically magic. They have 3D printed organs and nanites that can heal pretty much any injury, the latter of which does lessen the stakes. One hotel guest has an eye injury that could be played for weakness but no, the nanites are on it. He’s fine. Not sure why Pearce bothers starting out anyone injured since it doesn’t matter.
The guests at the hotel use their room names as aliases, and this includes Acapulco (Charlie Day), a generally shady rich dude; Nice (Sofia Boutella), an assassin; and bank-robbing brothers Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry: A YEAR). The Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs the hotel-hospital with the help of an orderly, Everest (Dave Bautista). Hotel Artemis is a bottle episode in movie format, with a small cast stuck in a single location, bouncing off each other for ninety minutes. There is not a lot of meat on the bone with Hotel Artemis, especially since the action is relatively slow to kick off, so much of the fun of the movie is watching this cast work together. Sterling K. Brown is obviously enjoying the sh*t out of playing the (anti)hero, but Bautista and Boutella are the stand-outs. (Sofia Boutella is just SO watchable and fascinating on screen.) And Foster makes a lot of interesting choices in the areas of accent and movement that work out a lot better for her here than they did in Elysium.
Hotel Artemis is profoundly dumb and will make a great basic cable action movie someday. It has some style and some kind of cool ideas, but though Pearce puts more story into it and his future-dystopia setting works to give Artemis its own vibe, it undeniably loses points for not measuring up to John Wick. Artemis is a B-movie, where John Wick only pretends to be a B-movie, but the action bar has been raised because of the Wick movies, and Artemis is playing in the same arena and not hitting that bar. Boutella makes her action look GOOD, but even though the movie is only ninety minutes, it drags a little because there isn’t quite enough plot or action to maintain momentum. Hotel Artemis is the type of movie that makes a great trailer and forgettable movie.