A lot of people wrote off this film right after seeing the first trailer. I understand why they were perplexed and just assumed it would be horrible judging from the ads. After seeing it, I think the reactions and reviews are too harsh. This does not deserve an 18% critic rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Truth be told, Cats is very mixed bag. The best way to sum up this film adaptation of the Broadway play is when it works well, it works very well… and when it doesn’t, it really doesn’t.
Cats kind of just drops you in the middle of this story and you aren’t exactly sure what’s going on for a while. The first 20 or 30 minutes is jumbled and lacks direction, which gave me serious concern for the rest of the film. Thankfully it gets better as it goes along but, whoa! that beginning is in serious need of revision. It’s really just a series of 3 or 4 not so special musical numbers strung together and none of them seem to have that much meaning. These beginning musical numbers don’t have the Broadway gravitas that would be expected. Although, once you get through the beginning, things do start to improve. When Judi Dench arrives, the film’s quality improves and it actually starts to get entertaining.
Once Dench’s character comes onscreen, the plot thickens and the Broadway style numbers begin. There are some specific numbers in the middle and end that land very well and remind me that this film is based off an acclaimed Broadway production. That’s the thing, you knew from the get go that a film like Chicago is based off Broadway… you can’t tell that this film is for quite a while. But I will say that once you reach this point, those specific numbers are very satisfying. Taylor Swift’s main number is very well performed and choreographed. Her song brings that grand feeling of snazzy fun and the visuals assist in delivering that feeling, complete with a lot of sparkles and fitting set devices.
Another one that I liked and thought delivered very well was Railway Cat song, I liked how they created the sound of a train on the tracks by tap dancing, very cool in my opinion. Lastly, the best musical number and by far the best part of the whole film is the main song Jennifer Hudson sings at the end. Hudson is a timeless talent. We saw that in her show stopping performance in Dreamgirls and we see it here. Her voice is just so powerful and she brings everything she’s got in her singing here.
Idris Elba plays a villainous role in which he does well in, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot with it. Yes he’s good when onscreen but the film doesn’t provide his character with any depth; it’s all very surface level. To be honest, all the characters here are surface level, Hudson’s is the only one that has any sort of depth and even her’s is minimal. That is one of the issues with Cats, the characters are blank and it’s hard to care much about them because we don’t know anything about them and they’re all pretty much the same.
This is another reason why the beginning is such drudgery. Not only do we not know what’s happening but we also don’t know these characters, it makes it hard to care. The film also tries to be funny at times and that really doesn’t work. Every time a character cracked a joke I just thought to myself oh please stop. We already have other issues going on. Don’t add bad comedy to the list. One thing that is consistently great throughout is the visuals and the set design. They’re all stunning from start to finish, the colorful campy style works well with the tone.
So is Cats a complete dumpster fire? No it really isn’t an awful film but it is a mixed bag. It’s not consistently good or bad, to be honest about 50% of it works and is entertaining and then the other half you just want to fast forward through. If only the entire film was like Jennifer Hudson’s ending musical number.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!