Along with the usual legal language about how any resemblance the characters have to people living or dead is purely coincidental, This Means War's end credits would benefit from a disclaimer stating that any resemblance to anything remotely approaching real life is also a coincidence. It would be unsurprising to learn that the film’s screenwriters Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg had spent their entire lives living in a box in the woods, with no contact from the outside world except for access to a television showing nothing but dire 80s action movies and the worst romantic comedies ever made.
A story about two best friend super spies (we know they’re best friends because every ten minutes or so one of them will say “you’re my best friend” to the other) who fall for the same woman and resort to increasingly sociopathic methods to win her over, This Means War is set in a bizarre land without logic or consequences. Spy Kids 4 is a more accurate depiction of what spying is like, even though it featured Ricky Gervais as a talking robot dog. Shark Tale is also a more accurate depiction, and it’s about a streetwise shark who gets involved with mobster sharks. The film has no relationship to anything that has happened or will happen to any actual human being, and takes place in a world that exists solely within the hackneyed minds of two lazy screenwriters.
Writing about its complete lack of sense induces a strange sort of pity: it feels like kicking a particularly stupid dog in the face. This Means War is depressingly bad, not because it’s poorly written or directed – although it is both of these things – but because of its resolute determination to not mean anything at all. It is filmmaking at its most cynical and basic.
The film’s problem isn’t that it’s unrealistic, or that it’s light – although it would blow away if you accidentally breathed on it. Light, silly films provide happiness for a few hours: Singin’ In The Rain is a light film. Duck Soup is a light film. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a light film. It would be inconceivable to have Cinema without the blissful release of escapism. Instead, This Means War’s crime is that it is absolutely content to be fist-bitingly inane. It isn’t light, it’s empty: a film that taunts you for having had the temerity to pay money in order to see it.
It would be easy to blame the screenwriters, or the director, McG, who embodies the old proverb that you should never trust a film director who calls himself McG. It would be even easier to just blame everyone involved for being complicit in something so meaningless, including its charming and game cast (Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy), all working for a paycheck as they fill a gap between better films.
This Means War is everything bad about studio filmmaking, and the fact that it’s pretty watchable and has a few adequate scenes doesn’t change the fact that it is without any sort of soul. It doesn’t respect you, and no amount of incoherently-shot action sequences will make up for that. It has no heart, no meaning, no joy; it has no purpose other than to sap time from your finite life and take some of your money whilst doing so.