“Hunter Killer” is a serviceable, if somewhat ludicrous, military action movie involving submarines and Russian coup attempts. The “ripped from the Cold War” plotlines do not match up as well today, seeing that cyber-warfare is the go to choice of many nations. The idea that a rogue Russian Defense Minister could take over the government’s power has a lot of potential, but it is all wasted here. With all of the prior suspenseful submarine movies (“Hunt for Red October”, Das Boot”, “Run Silent, Run Deep”, “Ice Station Zebra”), this movie is a clinker that can barely stay afloat.
Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) is the new commander of the USS Omaha, an American sub of the ‘hunter killer’ class. Newly promoted, he and his crew are sent to investigate the strange disappearance of both a Russian and a US sub in waters off the Russian coast. His sub is attacked by another Russian sub, and then fighting back – the crew destroys the Russian submarine. But there is no retaliation or show of Russian military power, because the Russian Defense Minister is busy taking over the country. Glass and his crew find a survivor from the first Russian sub that was sunk. They are able to save Captain Andropov (Michael Nyqvist) and a few of his crew from his crippled sub.
Back at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral Fisk (Common) and Admiral Donnegan (Gary Oldman) get prepared for war. But an NSA operative named Norquist (Linda Cardellini) thinks that a coup might be happening. She convinces them to send some Special Ops deep into Russian territory to investigate. This team is lead by Navy SEAL Lieutenant Beaman (Toby Stephens). The Seals are able to confirm that the Russian President is being held captive by the Defense Minister.
The Seals are able to get the Russian President away from the military base where he was being held. But now they need safe passage out of there, so Joe Glass will be coming in to the rescue. But the only person who knows the Russian waters, and all the tricky underwater booby traps that wait there, is the Russian sub Captain Andropov. He is able to guide the submarine close enough to create an escape route for the President and surviving Seal operatives. But getting the sub and all the people out will be a task that might prove impossible.
The Russian Minister of Defense has been trying to trick the Americans all along. He wants the US side to fire first, so he can unleash an all-out war. He had caused the first Russian sub to go down, the one that was captained by Andropov. But his sabotage did not start a major conflict. Now he wants Joe Glass to fire first on the Destroyer class Russian ship that is chasing it down. Joe Glass plays a waiting game before releasing missiles, and he is hoping for a Russian ‘ex machina’ to save him and his crew. But will he get it?
“Hunter Killer” seems like a left over concept from a time that is gone by. Sure, there are still submarine fleets, and the sub operations can be very impressive. But the Russian Federation is not like the old USSR. And even the current military has different goals and strategies than during the Cold War. Much of this movie seems to want it both ways. They want a Hillary Clinton type US President in a Tom Clancy novel world. Many parts of that equation do not add up…
But for a decent submarine action movie, this one is all right. Gerard Butler plays a fine leader of a group of dedicated men. Michael Nyqvist is great as the frail and older Russian captain. This was his final roll before his untimely death. Gary Oldman runs around looking for more scenery to chew on. Common does a very sturdy job in his role, but poor Linda Cardellini is drowned in a sea of testosterone.
“Hunter Killer” drags on longer than it needs to, and the ending is very preposterous. However, there are some decent action scenes and some tense underwater moments. So, all in all, this movie gets a little waterlogged at times, but it never sinks to the bottom.