While it may seem questionable to name a Christmas movie after the codename for the nuclear bomb detonated over the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945, it doesn’t explain how fashionable it seems to be to dismiss “Fatman” as a bit of misanthropic humbug, no matter how the idea of Mel Gibson as Santa Claus may strike you. While it’s certainly not a conventional Christmas story, there’s an oddly endearing quality to how fiercely it clings to the mythology of Santa Claus while telling its own brutal story.
While Santa Claus (Mel Gibson) fights to save his declining business, an entitled, spoiled kid called Billy decides to hire a hit man to kill good old Saint Nick after receiving a lump of coal in his stocking.
Gibson is terrific as the the world-weary Santa Claus, in this incarnation a surprisingly grounded and down-to-earth version of the character although while the magic may be kept on the downlow, it’s still very, explicitly present.
There are dozens of clever ideas buried in the background details of the film, from Santa’s arrangements with the US Government to the presence of elves on the farm. Oddly, its in the movie’s very raison d’être that it seems to suddenly lack the courage of its own convictions and the inevitable final confrontation comes surprisingly late in the day.
It doesn’t disappoint, though, and while it might have benefited from a little more magic and sparkle – and certainly a more generous dash of humour, it’s a satisfyingly bloody and brutal way of bringing the throwaway joke from that start of “Scrooged” to scarlet-streaked snowy life.
There’s an undeniably metatextual air to a movie which finds itself torn between a yearning to be very, very grown-up and a desperate desire to continue truly believing in Santa Claus but it means “Fatman” ends up in an uncertain middle ground where it doesn’t quite hit the mark for either audience. It does have the added benefit, though, of being that rare Christmas movie which may play better after the big day as it deals with the aftermath of Santa’s Christmas night delivery run more than the run-up to it.
As with all true festive films, it ends with someone learning an important lesson about the true meaning of Christmas and if nothing else, adds real menace to the old lyrics “You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why…”. Although the chances are slim, I’d love this to be the start of a trilogy of Mel Gibson festive ass-kicking. After all, if this is “Fatman Begins”, why can’t we have “The Silent Night” and “The Silent Night Rises”?