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Whether it’s a guaranteed blockbuster like Multiverse of Madness or a surprise hit like Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film needs one element to bring the masses to the theater these days: “Spectacle.” Jordan Peele’s Nope is a cinematic spectacle in the spirit of Spielberg’s Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jurassic Park. However, it’s also a commentary on the dark nature of spectacle, as well as human nature and animal nature. Going back to Spielberg, the film’s central spectacle is like the Ark of the Covenant. It’s too enticing for most not to look inside, but it’ll be the last thing you see.
Even the main character’s name alludes to a certain media spectacle. Daniel Kaluuya plays OJ Haywood. While Nope keeps the OJ Simpson jokes to a minimum, it’s hard not to make the connection, especially if you’re a privileged white person. OJ loses his father (Keith David) in a freak accident where coins and keys rain from the sky. He attempts to run the family horse ranch, but his lack of charisma is a hard sell for Hollywood. Meanwhile, Keke Palmer beams with magnetism as OJ’s sister Emerald. However, she lacks his work ethic. They balance each other out well, but it takes a most unusual event to make them see eye to eye.
The opening scenes between Kaluuya and Palmer play out like The Montana Story if Rod Serling rewrote the script. The Twilight Zone element comes in the form of a UFO swarming around the ranch. Determined to get the money short – or “the Oprah shot” – the siblings enlist a Fry’s Electronics salesman (Brandon Perea) and a documentarian (Antlers Holst) who talks like Robert Shaw. Although this review is littered with Spielberg references, Nope is very much a Jordan Peele movie with dark satire and inventive terror. While Nope isn’t as clever as Get Out or as spine-chilling as Us, it’s his most ambitious film yet. Of course, “ambitious” can go two ways.
In addition to a UFO, Nope gives us a deadly sitcom chimp and Steven Yeun as a former child star turned western theme park owner. Do all of these elements come together? It’s hard to explain without going into spoilers, but for me, it’s a resounding “yep,” although that may be a personal preference. It’s been two decades since M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, which still divides people with its third act. Likewise, the finale of Nope will have some cheering and others asking, “Wait, wahhh?” While one particular design choice might be sillier than Peele intended, the climax still had me hooked thanks to the emotional journeys of the characters and the spectacle of it all.
Say what you will, but nobody can deny that Peele is an original. Sure, parallels can be drawn between Nope and Spielberg, as well as Hitchcock’s The Birds. Tonally and aesthetically, though, Peele’s latest is in its own league. Most alien invasion movies blend in with all the other little green men. However, the imagery and sounds of Nope are so distinctive that they’re bound to become iconic. Just as Top Gun: Maverick put the audience in the cockpit with Tom Cruise, Nope similarly creates the sensation of a close encounter. It’s a spectacle in every sense, but there’s also a personal story about family driving the story. This prevents Nope from being spectacle over substance, delivering an event picture with heart.