MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR NOPE FOLLOW
The opening text of Nope, quoting a Bible verse that says "I will make of you a spectacle," makes it apparent what the focus of this new Jordan Peele directorial effort is. Peele has set his sights on the kind of spectacle that dominates not just movies, but just the world in general. We love to watch things fall apart in funny videos on our phones, we love our movies to get bigger and bigger, and there's nothing we can't turn into a social media phenomenon. Mark Zuckerberg will turn hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico into an opportunity to hawk his virtual reality wares while a court case about domestic violence can be a great way for streamers to make a few extra bucks.
Nope makes this real-world trend apparent in an early scene where Ricky "Jupe" Park (Steven Yeun) shows off a secret room dedicated to a short-lived sitcom he starred in about a chimpanzee named Gordy (Terry Notary). Adorned with trophies and framed photos, Park soon recounts how there was an accident on set that saw Gordy randomly turning violent and maiming the show's cast members. It was a horrific incident, one full of terror, but, as seen by Gordy's final moments of returning to kindness around the adolescent Park, nuance. But now it's been sensationalized and turned into a Saturday Night Live sketch (with Chris Kattan crushing it impersonating Gordy), a Mad magazine cover, and some couple even paying Park to sleep in his gigantic room dedicated to Gordy. There's no tragedy we can't profit off of.
Peele is critical of the way we can use spectacle to minimize human anguish, but a fascinating part of Nope is how he's also nuanced in depicting why people are so enamored with spectacle. A film like Escape from Tomorrow, as pointed out by Jenny Nicholson, will attempt to cover similar territory, but ends up mocking uber-fans of Disney and flashy theme parks by engaging in ableism, demanding jokes about sex workers, and other nasty material. That cruelty is absent here in Nope. Instead, Peele displays genuine empathy for how Park has turned to a glossy vision of the past to help cope with the traumatic violence he witnessed. Meanwhile, the doomed spectators who come to watch Park's big UFO show aren't depicted as "slovenly" or "rubes." They're just shown to be normal people.
It's a good way to make sure the audience doesn't remove themselves from the depictions of people engaging in spectacle, but it also shows that Peele isn't looking to condemn anyone who likes a good fireworks show or a Star Wars movie. He's more asking why this is the norm in society, and, through showing the terror and bittersweet tragedy of the Gordy's incident, depicting how wrinkles of complexities can get lost in treating every part of our lives like a spectacle. This is further exemplified by the sudden presence of a conspiracy-driven TMZ photographer (whose lack of a clear face means that this person could stand for any potential member of the audience) in the climax. His sole fixation on his camera and getting a good photo, at the expense of listening to the Haywood siblings or accepting their help, ends up sealing his fate.
There's a delicate balance at work here that matches the juggling act in Nope's tone and helps to ensure that this movie can offer food for thought without coming across as mean-spirited or taking easy jabs. Meanwhile, the third-act, while maintaining its symbolism and meditative nature, also delivers a rip-roaring set-piece revolving around our main heroes trying to lure in that UFO to grab a perfect snapshot of it. I love that the UFO takes on a much more abstract form here, it reminded me of what Biblically accurate angels are supposed to look like. The distinctive look of this otherworldly entity is a great example of how Nope is able to fit snugly into the legacy of great blockbusters (there's a lot in here, especially the score by Michael Abels, that's channeling the works of Steven Spielberg) while offering something new.
I couldn't fit it into my general review, but props to Brandon Perea for his performance as Angel. That's a tough character to play, a guy whose default mode, whether he's being really sarcastic at the checkout lane at Fry's or blabbering about conspiracy theories on the Haywood Ranch, is to be grating. In the wrong hands, that kind of character can be the wrong kind of obnoxious. But Perea infuses Angel with a sense of authenticity, not to mention a great sense of comic timing, that makes the character bearable. We've all known or even been Angel at some point. That relatability wouldn't be possible if Perea didn't do such strong work committing to this role.
Also; is the UFO getting ultimately destroyed by a silly inflatable cowboy at least a spiritual nod to how the aliens in War of the Worlds were destroyed by germs? In both cases, it's entities that nobody would've ever expected to take down otherworldly invaders that become more of a savior for humanity than missiles or bullets. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I did see that as a nice tip of the hat from one great sci-fi yarn to another.