Hamfisted anti-military message, broadly-drawn characters, near-violent tugging at the viewer’s heartstrings-this is a James Cameron film alright. Despite these annoyances, there’s much to like in The Abyss. And even if it could be far more gritty than it really is, well, if I’m being really honest, the schlockier moments do have a reassuring charm.
The film is, unsurprisingly, great to look at. With some notable exceptions, the often groundbreaking special effects hold up well. The underwater sets are always convincing, which goes a long way toward keeping up the tension in the action sequences involving flooding and drowning.
The three leads help to make the viewer buy into Cameron’s sentimentality and sledge-hammering. Ed Harris is hugely likeable as the fairly simple, matter-of-fact Bud, and delivers some truly intense scenes. Michael Biehn makes sure his Lt. Coffey, the villain of the piece, continues to seem like a human being rather than a caricature despite representing everything Cameron abhors.
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey, meanwhile, isn’t as iconic as some of Cameron’s heroines, but it is a strong role. She’s a hot-headed but intelligent and empathetic scientist, respected even by those who resent her. Though she initially appears in a business outfit with heels, she quickly changes into sensible clothing. She’s constantly hands-on in dangerous situations and can simultaneously be brave and vulnerable. Despite not being physically formidable, she has a Ripley-esque moment when she goes climbs into a large machine and uses it as a weapon. She’s also a heroine to like and sympathise with. Kudos to Cameron.