Revolutionary dystopia may be the most ambitious movie genre. Creating a believable world that incites fear is difficult enough, but creating an uprising that is both sympathetic and realistic is near impossible. This 2016 French sci-fi movie currently on Netflix rivals V for Vendetta in its political messaging, but is also an unexpectedly great boxing movie.
Ares is a 2016 French sci-fi thriller set in Paris in a future where Big Pharma is even bigger. The government still exists, but pharmaceutical companies really pull the strings. New laws regarding human autonomy mean members of the public can sell the use of their bodies for testing new drugs.
These drugs are displayed and advertised through a brutal system of boxing where performance-enhancing drugs are not only allowed, they're practically mandatory. Corporate sponsors pump their competitors full of PEDs for the entertainment of the masses while protests boil over in the streets.
Caught up in this mess is Reda, a former boxer who suffered a stroke as a side effect of the drugs pumped into him by his sponsor. While he takes gigs working as a riot cop, his sister and niece protest in the streets against the widespread poverty and income inequality.
When his sister gets framed for a crime, Reda must venture back into the ring. Throughout his journey from fight to fight, he exposes a massive conspiracy that puts him and his entire family in danger. It sounds like a great movie on its own, but everything is elevated by the narrative choices the plot takes.
Usually, a movie like this follows a strict formula. The main character gets pulled back into an old business, suffers struggles along the way, and ultimately succeeds. Ares doesn't follow that formula. While it does borrow elements from boxing movies, conspiracy thrillers, and dystopian satires, it also takes sharp turns that will leave you shocked.
Visually, the dystopia is semi-futuristic. Yes, user interfaces are now holograms, but people still gather to watch boxing fights on televisions and smartphones. This means that while this "near-future" is enough of an escape to suspend disbelief, it feels like a world that's only a few years away. The emphasis put on widespread protests and police brutality just underline this aspect.
Ares is an ambitious project, balancing sports, conspiracy, and politics. It nimbly navigates this unexpected crossover while doubling down on its own gritty realism, creating a heart-racing thriller with an ending that will stay with you for days afterward.
Ares is now streaming on Netflix.