Over the years there have been many different adaptations of Jolly Old St. Nick, some more true to his legendary tale and others that are more imaginative. It was only a matter of time before Chris Cringle got the gritty action treatment and so we have received such a film in 2020. “Fatman” mixes black comedy with action elements to showcase a more grounded, gun-toting Santa Claus fighting off a vengeful assassin. Directed and written by Eshom and Ian Nelms and starring Mel Gibson in a return to his action roots as Chris Cringle, “Fatman” makes a bold attempt to paint a new and unique picture of the famed Christmas icon but fails to take full advantage of its concepts choosing to focus more on the most basic idea resulting in a fun, but ultimately underwhelming gritty Christmas offering.
“Fatman” stars Gibson as Chris Cringle in a modern world where children have become more rotten than ever and Santa’s magical livelihood is on he brink of collapse due to a lack of funding. Santa has become a worn down has-been who spends his free time contemplating the state of the world and brushing up on his shooting prowess in his back yard. After he leaves a lump of coal for one particularly nasty young child named Billy (Chance Hurstfield) who hates to lose, Santa becomes the target of Billy’s hired assassin (Walter Goggins) who holds a grudge against the Fatman for failing to grant his childhood wishes. The movie becomes a cat-and-mouse game as Santa tries to save his business and the assassin tries to hunt down the secret location of the North Pole for the big showdown. The idea of a gritty, aged and conflicted Santa Claus is really cool and Mel Gibson is a perfect choice for a badass Cringle. While many may still find it hard to forgive Gibson for his misgivings off the screen, and I personally wouldn’t blame you, there’s no doubting his action movie cred and few actors could pull off a badass Santa like he does providing us with an aged, hopeless Christmas figure who feels the world has left him behind and finds it hard to maintain his sense of purpose.
In fact, Gibson is probably the best part of this entire movie. His Chris Cringle feels that the world, especially the young children, have only gotten worse and forgotten the spirit of the holiday and how to treat each other properly. Much of the film is devoted to exploring his depression and search for a renewed sense of purpose, especially since he finds himself at the mercy of the U.S. government having to resort to manufacturing military weapons in order to maintain his workshop’s funding. Honestly, I would have settled for just a character study of Cringle himself. I kind of liked this character. I felt for him, identified with him and Gibson does a decent job grounding the holiday legend making him feel more human than other fantastical adaptations ever seemed to manage. There was potential here for an interesting story delving in to how far we’ve fallen from the true spirit of the holiday. Instead the film tries to go a different, more action-oriented route which is fine, but the final result is much less exciting and feels more drawn out and uninspired than many of the individual ideas only barely touched upon making this a prime example of how the pieces can sometimes be greater than the sum of the parts.
Instead of a deeper dive into Cringle’s humanity or an in-depth exploration of the corruption of society and its effects on the holiday spirit, “Fatman” devolves into a pretty generic action piece where an assassin, played by a fully on-board Walter Goggins, tries to find his way to the North Pole to take on Santa one-on-one. This could have also been interesting if we had received more character development for Goggin’s assassin, but he’s very watered down and more comic relief than complex villain. It all adds up to only minutes of actual action as we wait just over an hour and twenty minutes for Cringle and the assassin to finally face off culminating in less than ten minutes of the violence promised. So even as a subversive action flick that attempts to put a gritty, violent take on the Santa formula “Fatman” fails to fully shine. What we DO get though is a lot of fun but there’s a lot of waiting and buildup to what amounts to a pretty lackluster finale that ends up having few true stakes for Cringle in the end.
It’s sad because I feel like there were some great directions this movie could have gone that would have made for an awesome alternative Christmas cult classic. Maybe they could have had Santa, now with his facility rented to the U.S. Government, lead a charge against an insurgent opposing military. We could have had Goggin’s character be his own man, seeking out Santa after years of planning rather than taking the job from a little brat of a child creating a more interesting dynamic between himself and Cringle. Maybe they could have taken the character-driven route I mentioned earlier focusing more on Cringle’s attempt to reestablish his faith in the holiday using Goggin’s character as an oppertunity for redemption for Santa rather than as a generic opponent, or even take it further. Have Cringle take on a band of evil children in an attempt to straighten out a selfish generation once and for all, an idea that would fit right in with the black comedy style and would have felt timely and insightful. Any of these could have and would have made for a great movie concept putting a unique spin on Santa’s legacy and helping further build on his importance to maintaining the Christmas spirit, but what we got instead was sadly generic and felt like a phoned in attempt to produce a film based on an interesting idea that wasn’t fully fleshed out in the writers’ room.
Even with these criticisms “Fatman” has its moments and offers little bits of something that made it worth the viewing. There are glimpses of more intriguing and promising ideas and concepts, any one of which could have made for a cool movie on their own, but instead the final result feels safe and generic overall. The action we do see it pretty fun and the actors feel completely on board with the bonkers idea of a Santa-versus-an-assassin concept making the most of the script and screenplay they had to work with. I expected a lot more and maybe future additions to this potential franchise could build off this foundation and give us something more enjoyable and complete, but looking at what we have to settle for right now “Fatman” feels like a merely passable time waster that fails to take full advantage of an inventive concept and potential. A disappointment to say the least, but still an enjoyable time for the right audience.