There’s no question: Limitless is a story for the 21st century. A modern man, unable to match the pace of his modern world, ingests a modern drug, achieves modern perfection, and enters the pinstriped ranks of the modern elite. It’s a superhero tale, except the superhero doesn’t help other people; he helps himself. What could appeal more to a generation of young consumers raised on celebrity reverence, pill-shaped miracle cures, and the supreme law of instant gratification?
Of course, that’s not to say Limitless is some corrupt production encouraging people to be shitty. At its core, it’s just 90 minutes of dumb fun based on a concept that appeals to anyone who has ever struggled to do anything. Life is hard, yes, but what if you could take a pill and become the most awesome person ever, for whom life is just one big thrill-seeking shit-show and challenge is merely a nine-letter word? That would be great, right? Here’s a movie about it.
Okay. Now what? That’s where things get sticky. The filmmakers seem to have thrown all their resources into answering the question “How cool would it be if” without ever stopping to consider the bigger picture. Once the hero takes the pill, achieves his dreams, kicks the world in the nuts, and turns back to do a victory lap, the only thing left to explore is the rather obvious terrain of the pill’s unforeseen medical side effects. And while watching a person slowly deteriorate under the crippling effects of drug dependence is certainly an interesting sight, it’s not the kind of thing that carries a movie very far. So they introduce some bad guys, too, and the bad guys do bad things, namely trying to steal the hero’s pills.
But wait, isn’t the hero kind of a bad guy too? Isn’t he acting selfishly and cheating at life and using money to solve his problems and all around just being a bit of a dick? No, no, no, because, you see, he’s a good guy. Not only is he super likeable and funny and kind of a goof ball, he also wants to help people. He states quite overtly at one point that he has good intentions — some pre-conceived plan to achieve some greater good with his newfound powers. That plan, however, is never actually explained. We’re force fed the idea that the hero is meant to be a good person, the guy we all root for, but his motivations are vague at best and his ultimate goal — to do something “important” — comes off as just another empty statement designed to advance the plot and keep the film rolling along. It’s as if the filmmakers turned to one another halfway through shooting the movie and thought, “Wait a minute, this guy might come off as kind of a prick. Better make it seem like he has a grand altruistic vision. Can’t think of one? It’s cool. Let’s just never explain it.” And they never do.
Then again, nobody is going to walk into this movie expecting a thought-provoking analysis of society’s bankrupt moral system. People are going to see this movie because it’s kick-ass fantasy — shameless cultural masturbation at its best. Like all masturbation, however, it’s better done in private. Once yo extract the fantasy, blow it up on the big screen, throw in a cast of supporting characters, and tell all your friends about it, you begin to realize just how empty and sad the whole thing really is. Unless you happen to be taking anti-sadness pills, in which case that shit is nothing short of incredible. Boo-yah, bitch! Now where’s my Lamborghini?