Annapolis is about a guy that grows up wanting to be a Naval officer. Well, no, he told his mom he wanted to be a Naval officer. She’s dead now, so of course he has to pursue the path he told her he wanted when he was a child, but he also works for his dad making ships for the Navy, and he likes that well enough and can't bear letting his father or his welder friends down. Well, that’s not exactly true either. Let's try this again...
Annapolis is about a guy that wants to make it big as a boxer so he decides to join the Navy (Yvan eht nioj) to pursue his boxing career (what?). Oh, and he also tries to flirt with a girl he thinks is an escort and then it turns out she’s his superior officer. Don’t you hate it when that happens? But it doesn’t matter, he’s been told he can’t make it, be anything, go for the Naval Academy, become something, etc., all his life and so he never gives up. He’s a fighter and a winner, he’s a cliché and a predictable story line. In other words, Annapolis tries so hard to be a great and touching story that it forgets to be a great and touching story. Perhaps if any forethought were put into the film they would have included some depth. But enough about the first ten minutes…
Annapolis has a lot of strengths. James Franco and Tyrese Gibson are wonderful actors that give it their all in their performances. The realism created around the Naval Academy is well thought out, and the heart of the film is consistent and focused. The issue is that the film quickly comes across as a very thinly spread story where the viewer is not quite let into the folds of the main character, Jake Huard (Franco). We’re left watching Huard as he pursues his dream, has doubts, boxes, develops and changes to become something more refined, but that’s it. We watch. We aren’t given the opportunity to know his motivations, fears, or dreams.
For example, we know from the beginning of the film that Huard’s mother is dead. We see a photograph of him as a young boy standing next to his mother while wearing a Navy uniform. The potential depth of a story line involving her ends there. We’re never told what happened to her. We’re never told if she wanted her son to be a Naval officer. We’re never even given the slightest inclination that the father misses her. We don’t even know how long ago she passed away. It’s failed opportunities like this that make the film show on only a surface level basis. The characters were deeply taken into consideration during the creation of the script and film, but the audience was neglected. We need to know more. Most of Huard’s transformations happen inwardly, and yet, we’re expected to pick up on the subtle, outward differences. As much as I don’t care for them, Annapolis needed quite a few monologues by someone standing in a room by themselves. If that’s not possible, at least have Huard write a letter home to his father and fill the audience in on what he’s feeling and thinking.
To top it off, there is the typical love story thrown in for kicks. She’s the superior officer, cute and yet tough enough to put Huard in his place. While this is really extraneous to the story, I will give credit where credit is due. Thank you Dave Collard (the writer) for having enough sense not to throw in a sex scene, for not showing her naked, and for not representing a military woman as easy and weak-willed when an attractive guy looks her way. Thank you. That alone spoke volumes about her character and I waited the whole film to see when it was going to happen, and it didn’t, and I was glad. Thank you.
Aside from the audience feeling like an uninvited outsider, the story while well thought out, tries to accomplish so many things without explanation. It is told with the assumption that everyone knows what it is like to go to the Academy, or that everyone can tell the difference between good boxing and bad boxing (fighting versus skill), but these things aren’t noticeable unless the audience is already educated on the subject. If someone knows about the Navy and the Brigade boxing beforehand, this is probably a great film. However, if all you know of the Navy is white bellbottoms and all you know of boxing is Mike Tyson’s ear biting event and Million Dollar Baby, chances are you’ll be lost in Annapolis.
The special features for Annapolis are surprisingly better than the film. For this disc, there’s relief in knowing that it’s quality over quantity, so even though there are only four extras, they’re all good. For starters the deleted scenes actually would have given the movie more depth. One scene in particular where Huard goes to the cemetery where his mother is buried would have helped tremendously to show his emotional struggle. Another nice touch for the deleted scenes is that there is an optional audio commentary track as well as a play all feature.
The next extra is “Plebe Year: The Story of Annapolis” which is the typical “making of” for the film. What’s good about this is that a lot of the film that comes across as weak or lacking with the help of Plebe Year is explained and makes sense. It’s sad that we need the extras to enjoy the film on another level, but it does help to know these things were thought about even if they didn’t translate over to the final version.
The other feature that also helps give an understanding of the characters and Huard’s transformation is “The Brigades.” Here there’s a look at just the boxing involved in the film. It includes information about James Franco and everyone else training to look like real boxers, working on the choreography of the fights, and even mentions some of the camera techniques used to show different aspects of the fight. One interesting point to mention that I didn’t notice in the film is to consider the matches Huard is in and compare them to how he changes as a character over time, that definitely shows some thought put into the film even if it didn’t show up on the screen.
Finally there is the audio commentary with director Justin Lin, writer Dave Collard, and editor Fred Raskin. It’s perfectly conversational and there’s a definite chemistry between the three men that helps to make the audio track entertaining. Plus you get the tidbits that you wouldn’t know without the commentary. Little facts like that the wall of names of dead officers in one scene is really a list of movie crewmembers. So with Annapolis, aspects of the commentary and extras give more strength to the film, and yet, time and time again, no matter how good the extras are, if the movie doesn’t explain it for you it’s still a bad movie.