I have made no effort to hide my disdain for the aesthetic flattening that goes on in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it has its plus side, too. Namely, it acts as a control: a film might have a pretty severe ceiling on how good and/or creative it can be, but it also has a very definite basement on how out-of-control bad it can be. What does this have to do with Cherry, an extraordinarily bloated and addled-minded addiction drama that has been crapped into being by Apple TV+, among the saddest of all streaming services playing the original content game? Simply that it is the first post-MCU film directed by brothers Anthony & Joe Russo, who have become the most typical example of "Marvel directors" on the back of their four films for that company: Captain Americas: The Winter Soldier & Civil War, and Avengerses: Infinity War & Endgame. They are not, despite the best efforts of a PR that has remained somehow inexplicably dignified despite being caked in flop sweat, artistic visionaries: they're TV guys, and well-respected TV guys at that (best-known for several of the most-admired episodes of Arrested Development and Community), but it's always been clear enough that they got the keys to the most important Marvel properties precisely because they came up through a medium that favors house styles and playing by the producers' rules rather than possessing, let alone expressing, personal style.

Cherry, then, is their attempt to come up with such a style. And to be as blunt as I can be, it is a disaster. The film is an adaptation of Nico Walker's memoiristic 2018 novel about a nameless young man (who is, briefly and really only in one context nicknamed "Cherry", but we'll use it in favor of avoiding constructions like "the young man" over and over again) who was a bit of an impetuous hothead as far back as his freshman year of college in 2002, but only got worse after he served in the U.S. Army as a medic in Iraq, and came back with a raging case of PTSD that he treated with various opioids; in a last-ditch effort to make sure he could keep affording those opioids, he became a bank robber. That is, quite literally three different movies, and I suppose part of the appeal of Cherry is the epic scope of just how much befell Cherry before his 24th birthday. And maybe defter filmmakers than the Russos and screenwriters Angela Russo-Ostot (their sister) and Jessica Goldberg might have been able to turn the sprawl of the story into something that worked, either because of its craziness or its fatalism or something. In the case of the film we have, it's just a long, bloated waddle through an unconscionable running time of 141 minutes (so much for that sitcom training), of which well over an hour has passed before any particularly noteworthy actually happens in the story. In fact, one can very easily break the film into its constituent parts, since they have been neatly lined up for us into a 2007 prologue, a chapter on Cherry (played by MCU vet Tom Holland) falling in love with fellow student Emily (Ciara Bravo), a chapter on basic training, a chapter in Iraq, a chapter on getting addicted, and lastly, the longest chapter, on bank robbing, all wrapped up with an epilogue that is at least amusing in that it offers us the one-of-a-kind sight of Holland with a mustache desperately trying to add at least a couple of years to his tiny smooth baby face.

The movie basically doesn't start until the third chapter, so that immediately starts to suggest where some merciless trimming might have been beneficial. But the rot in Cherry goes deeper than being ludicrously bloated and shapeless. As I said, this feels very much like the Russos, riding high after directing the highest-grossing film in the history of cinema, have decided to stretch their wings and play around and see just what they can do with style and tone. To that end, they have seen fit to use all kinds of style with very little sense of what it does or how it plays with all the rest of the style. But damned be if there isn't so much of it. Most notably, the film is having a love affair with wide-angle lenses, using them here and there and everywhere, regardless of what it does for any particular shot to be filmed that way: the stand-outs are panning shots which move uncomfortably fast as it is, and coupled with the bulbous fish-eye of wide lenses positioned close to their subjects, makes the whole world feel like it's morphing around the camera movement.

Regardless of what lens is being used, the filmmakers are generally keen on putting the camera awfully damn close to the characters, leading to scene after scene of action crammed together in the foreground while the rest of the shot trickles off into hazy, out-of-focus oblivion. There's no oxygen in the compositions. And this, as well as the wide lenses, feels like it could be doing something, stressing the intensity and high stress levels of Cherry's life. But it's all applied so inconsistently as to be meaningless. And that's true of basically everything else going on in the film, from its curiously dated music cues to its random attempts to pop some color into a film that generally boasts the same muddy, medium-contrast brown-on-grey look of the directors' superhero movies.

The worst of it is the stylised narration, to which we're introduced right from the first seconds of the film, as Cherry narrates us through a kind of stream-of-consciousness blob of observations about his life and the world that feels very much like the kind of thing that seemed cool and indie right in the immediate wake of American Beauty, but just comes across as strained now, and is not helped at all by the directors' muggy, morbid tone, and Holland's sullen, mumbly line deliveries. It's the kick-off to a whole film that keeps spitting out little bits and pieces that feel like they're supposed to be snottily energetic and ironic, in God knows how many ways - onscreen text merrily transcribing drill sergeants' insults, jokey names for banks, direct address. But the film is so entirely allergic to irony, or energy, that none of it plays. Holland is abandoned by his directors, giving the kind of grim performance full of sweating and cursing that cute young male actors trying to make the jump to serious adult roles often give; it's unconvincing, and someone badly needed to step in and help him find a different path into the character than just biting his teeth harder and harder. As it is, he's only helping to contribute to the airlessness.

Between the indiscriminate application of '90s film-bro style, the artless heaviness, and the extremely overfamiliar broad strokes of the story, Cherry basically sets every single foot wrong it can. If there's anything to admire, it's that Holland is really trying to do something against the grain; he gets on the wrong track early and never corrects himself, but it's not "Spider-Man but he's a smack addict", and that's something to be thankful for. Such a tiny thing, though, in such a mountain of misjudged, sluggish horseshit.