I had a former department head who, upon learning I enjoyed movies, really pushed me to see and/or show to students the 1973 Steve McQueen movie Papillon. I took his advice for myself and did see it, cementing in my mind that McQueen is just one of those actors who was always the coolest guy onscreen in every movie he made. Now there’s a remake of that movie, leading to the all-important question: can the star of Pacific Rim and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword possibly match the sheer charisma that McQueen had?
Of course he can’t. That doesn’t mean this has to be a bad movie, but Charlie Hunnam is no Steve McQueen.
Anyhoo, Henri “Papillon” Chamere is a French safecracker framed for murder and sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. The island by itself is a hellhole. The guards are brutal, it’s the tropics, and the prison is surrounded by the ocean. Even if Papillon (rarely referred to by his real name) could get free of the prison itself, he’d still need to get past whatever Mother Nature plopped down there. He has some help from a wealthy forger, and the sheer determination to get out, particularly since he was sent there for a crime he didn’t commit. Along the way, Papillon doesn’t blink no matter what happens to him or how long he’s in a cell.
Here’s the thing: if you saw the McQueen original, there probably won’t be any real surprises to this one. Heck, the original’s screenwriters get a story credit during the closing credits. I hadn’t seen the original in years, but the longer the movie ran, the more I remembered and the story became all too familiar. On its own, it’s a decent enough prison break drama, and that’s what my grade essentially reflects. 7.5 out of 10 unnecessary remakes.