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The First Reviews For Will Smith’s ‘Emancipation’ Are A Big Yikes: ‘An Over-Inflated B Movie’

Following the infamous Oscar slap, one of Will Smith‘s prime concerns has been that the viral moment would overshadow the collaborative effort of his latest film, Emancipation. What he probably should’ve been more worried about is whether people will even like director Antonie Fuqua’s slave thriller because the reviews are pretty bad.

Despite the non-stop headlines about The Slap, Smith’s performance actually seems to be one of the film’s highlights, and his presence doesn’t appear to be bogged down by the baggage of the Chris Rock fiasco. What isn’t going over well with critics is the attempt to marry America’s greatest sin with a B-movie action plot. The combination just doesn’t work under Fuqua’s direction, according to critics, and ironically, the whole thing smacks of trying to get Smith back onto an Oscar stage.

You can see what critics are saying about Emancipation below:

David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

An over-inflated B movie with little gold delusions of grandeur, Antoine Fuqua’s thoroughly Oscar-pilled “Emancipation” is the kind of immaculate misfire that could only happen because Hollywood is spinning off its axis. Because the American film industry has sacrificed medium-budget programmers at the altar of monolithic franchise blockbusters, original stories can only expect to be told if they feed into the awards machine and/or manufacture a sense of cultural significance. That’s how you wind up with the director of “Olympus Has Fallen” making a stiff-jawed slavery epic that desperately wants to be something a lot smaller — and a little less important.

Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter:

Hampered by a spare and spiritless screenplay, Smith gives a performance marked by facial expressions, physical movement and a Haitian accent that struggles to shake its studied quality. A perpetual frown and scrunched eyebrows communicate the harshness of Peter’s life, while an erect pose displays an unwavering self-possession.

Ross Bonaime, Collider:

But for all its intentions and unusual choices, Emancipation suffocates under a wooden script full of banality, a director who doesn’t know how to keep the momentum of this story going, and cliches that border on parody. Emancipation is a story that requires a certain amount of care and presentation that Fuqua just doesn’t have.

Carlos Aguilar, The Wrap:

As stark corroboration that this country was built on hatred and death, “Emancipation” successfully rattles you, but it can hardly be described as revelatory. Still, some could argue that today, as segments of society willfully wish to ignore the past and to prevent new generations from learning about it, a ruthlessly straightforward reminder is needed. For interested audiences watching the film on Apple TV+, enduring it might prove an uphill task.

Peter DeBruge, Variety:

Whatever you’ve heard about slavery can’t compare to witnessing it. For many, until they’ve seen the brutality for themselves, slavery remains an abstract concept — something taught in schools but not fully processed. “Emancipation” corrects that, putting searing images to what Peter and millions of other enslaved people endured. But it is also an adventure-style survival saga, and on that level, the movie seems reluctant to entertain at times, despite a host of B-movie contrivances.

John Nugent, Empire:

The film is, undeniably, singular and sometimes overly simplistic in its approach. Fuqua, like Tony Scott or Zack Snyder, is primarily a visual storyteller, led more by his heart than his head, and there is possibly a version of this story from another director that could have been more probing, more insightful. (There is also, ideally, one that is less desaturated, the filmmakers opting for a washed-out sepia colour grade that aims for ‘historical tea stain’ but just looks a bit drab.)

Nick Schager, The Daily Beast:

Emancipation is well-intentioned but painfully overwrought. Worse, despite a middle passage in which Peter frantically strives to evade capture (and death) at the hands of Fassel, it’s largely inert, trudging along at a gait that allows for constant consideration of Fuqua’s showy techniques and no actual tension.

Valerie Complex, Deadline:

Honestly, the thought of walking out crossed my mind several times. Not because the film wasn’t up to par, but seeing so much Black death onscreen is exhausting and painful, and there is only so much I can take — even if the ending of a film is hopeful. These types of films are fine if there is something beyond the generic. Is there something new to expect from what the audience is going to see? Is there anything else besides seeing relentless violence? The story of Whipped Peter and the impact he had on the culture of war and American slavery live on to this day, but there has to be another way to tell these stories. There has to be another way.

Emancipation starts streaming December 9 on Apple TV+.