'Death Stranding' review: This is just an incoherent 'The Postman' reboot
In a post-apocalyptic American wasteland, one man has to mend a fractured human society by delivering parcels that might re-establish essential lines of communication between people who have lost hope.
Yes, this is essentially the premise to the new video game Death Stranding, but nobody seems to realize that the game’s creator Hideo Kojima has totally stolen his elevator pitch from an under-appreciated Kevin Costner movie from 1997 called The Postman, a film that one reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes said was “a good idea hopelessly strangled by Kevin Costner’s earnestness.”
Kojima brings many of his greatest influences to the table with Death Stranding, namely Monster Energy Drink and the many times Mads Mikkelsen has cried liquids that are not human tears — such as Casino Royale and Doctor Strange. But The Postman feels like the most prominent influence so why won’t Kojima just come out and say it already?
In The Postman’s dark and distant future of 2013, Kostner’s nameless drifter trades Shakespeare performances in the Oregon flatlands for food and water — like any of us would. Militaristic clans of raiders control everything, and they’d prefer if a structured American society never returned. (Just like in Death Stranding!) The Postman’s version of this post-apocalyptic society feels like someone poured vanilla soy milk into the engine of a Mad Max war rig instead of gasoline. Whatever the opposite of hi-octane is, that’s The Postman.
Truly, there is no apocalypse so pure as this one where Costner’s character feels as meandering and contemplative as an old buffalo.
Costner accidentally restores the United States government by delivering a letter to someone, and “The Postman” is born (yes that becomes his name). His actions inspire hope in dozens of people, eventually inciting a rebellion against the local warlord. There are no creepy ghosts or portable bottled babies or anything like that in The Postman, but at least its themes are delivered to the viewer in a straightforward manner like a mailman handing over a totally normal envelope with a totally normal letter inside.
Death Stranding is obtuse, dense, and so subtly subversive that it hurts. The Postman is straightforward, bloated, and so blunt with its message that it might bully you into falling asleep.
It’s very easy to laugh at The Postman because of how ridiculous and bland it is as a sci-fi apocalypse, but it might seem preferable to those of us who like digestible stories.
Death Stranding is now available for the Sony PlayStation 4.