Spectral is a science fiction action film produced by Netflix that features a “soldiers vs. ghosts” premise. But it’s absolutely less hokey and more fascinating than the phrase “soldiers vs. ghosts” suggests.
The plot centers on Dr. Mark Clyne (James Badge Dale), a brilliant DARPA engineer who is asked by the US Army to consult on a bizarre phenomenon that US soldiers have encountered while deployed in the ongoing Moldovan War. Arriving in Moldova, he is shown by General Orland (Bruce Greenwood), commander of US troops in Moldova, and Fran Madison (Emily Mortimer), the CIA officer running Delta Force covert missions in the Moldovan capital, footage of humanoid apparitions that can kill by just their touch. Invisible to the human eye, these ghostlike creatures – now called “hyperspectral anomalies” by the Army – can only be vaguely seen through the soldiers’ standard-issue high-tech goggles (which Clyne designed). Locals deem them “Ghosts of War”, souls of the casualties of the horrors of war, while Madison thinks that their enemies are in possession of highly advanced cloaking devices. Now, it’s up to Clyne to determine what they really are, and figure out a way to equip the troops with the means to stop them.
As a science fiction action film, there is a lot of promise in its premise. There are moments when Spectral keeps everything intriguing. The “soldiers vs. ghosts” action scenes, for one, are definitely where it’s at its most exciting. However, to solve the story’s predicaments, it relies on heavy exposition scenes and irritatingly too convenient coincidences. In addition, there isn’t anything remarkable about the characters.
In short, the problems of Spectral can be traced to the fact that its writing doesn’t measure up to the terrific potential of its premise. If the script has been written in a way that makes the narrative smarter and the characters better realized, the movie would definitely have been an excellent, stand-out science fiction action film.
Spectral is cool and interesting enough to entertain. But significantly better writing – and, to a lesser extent, bigger stars – would have projected it to something much bigger and much more special.