Fatman fits the year 2020 perfectly. The past few years have produced some Christmas films with potential to become classics. Klaus (2019) and The Grinch (2018) are wonderful animated Christmas films that I intend to watch every year for the foreseeable future. Krampus (2015) will serve like a horror chaser for when the Christmas spirit is swirling but the children’s movies get to be too much. Fatman looks to enter the Christmas movie canon as an action-adventure shoot-em-up, and it’s a wild ride.
First and foremost, any film involving Mel Gibson is going to be some form of problematic. Whether it’s bad history (Braveheart, The Patriot), questionable use of religion (Signs, Passion of the Christ), or at the very least,some odd stereotyping (Get the Gringo, What Women Want). Fatman contains all of these to a small extent, but the only egregious Mel Gibsonism to note is the molding of Santa into some boomer MAGA ideal. The Colloquial recently wrote about the real St. Nick here. Now, the Americanization of Santa is certainly not a reason to cancel this film, but it’s an important aspect to point out early on. It really helps build anticipation into the hilarity of tropes this movie decides to use.
Santa, or Chris to his friends, drives an old red pickup truck. He lives in rural Alaska and is known to the locals as a bit of an outsider. He only rolls into town to check his P.O Box, which seemingly gets a ton of mail this time of year, and to visit the bar for a few drinks. We learn that Chris’ work is subsidized by the U.S government, and dammit if those government suits aren’t skimping out on what they owe him. Like Sarah Palin’s ideal small town American, Santa just wants to do his job and be left alone with Mrs. Claus (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).
Since Santa’s subsidy payments are no longer enough, the military cuts Santa a deal to keep funding his business so long as they have access to some of that sweet elf labor. We are then exposed to the believable awkwardness of soldiers and elves working side by side. A moment perfectly summed up in the Colonel and Elf Foreman arguing over the elves’ sugar rich nutrition.
Our villains need little character development. A spoiled child with daddy issues who uses anger to suppress his loneliness (Chance Hurstfield) hires a hitman to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal. Our hitman’s (Walton Goggins) motivation is not purely professional as he never got what he wanted from Santa as a kid and has had vengeance on his mind for years. As I mentioned earlier, the conflicts and character arcs are a hodgepodge of overused simplistic tropes. But, for some reason, the complexity of their interactions keeps the plot chugging along.
The bloody climax of the film occurs just after Santa has some much needed relief from Mrs. Claus (yeah, Santa sex). Goggin’s has finally reached Santa’s Alaskan hideout and proceeds to declare all-out war on the compound. Soldiers and elves don’t stand a chance. Luckily for the viewer, the director has peppered in enough obvious “Santa is a tough guy” hints that we know he’s ready for a battle. Treating his own gunshot wound after Christmas Eve, repairing the bullet-filled sleigh, or hitting the sand out of the heavy bag in the barn; this is one badass Santa!
I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone that isn’t a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, but there are some parts that are redeeming. The montage of Goggins traveling through Canada on his way to Alaska is wonderfully shot and includes a pretty great road trip playlist. Santa rediscovering his own Christmas spirit is surprisingly poignant in a year that many of us probably aren’t our own jolly selves. And Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes a fantastic Mrs. Claus. If you want a bit of absurdity this Christmas, watch Fatman.