Fight Club stands to be the most talked-about film of the year simply because there's so much that can be said about it. Wildly inventive, exceptionally cast and undeniably controversial, there's an endless list of subtexts and viewpoints which will fuel student pub debates for years. It might be about the soullessness of corporate America or the moral vacuum of consumerism. There's enough obvious Nazi imagery in it to argue that it's a metaphor for the rise of National Socialism. But there are also enough unexpected laughs to make it a satire on modern society. Of course, maybe it's just an impressive movie about nothing more than a bunch of frustrated guys who realise they enjoy beating each other up to prove they're not turning into a bunch of lily-livered quiche-eaters.
This smart, genre-splintering movie courts controversy not just by suggesting that men might want to do this, but also by pulling no punches in showing that none of the participants are pulling their punches. Every skull slamming into concrete, choking blue-lipped face and knee-shattering kick comes complete with splattering blood and meaty wet sound effects. Does it glamourise the gladiatorial ideal? Only in the same way that Trainspotting initially made heroin look like a blast. As Norton's character admits: "With a long enough timeline, the probability of survival is zero."
Surprisingly, though, the nightly gatherings of Fight Club form only part of a sprawling story which encompasses America's obsession with militias, a Pitt/ Carter/Norton love triangle and the role of friendship in the modern world. Most of this stuff is extraordinarily clever and unexpected - it will smack you in the face with alternate shocks of revulsion and humour, and we're skipping over it now only to allow you the pleasure of finding it all out for yourself. Be warned though: several magazines and newspapers have already printed complete plot breakdowns, so be very wary of what you read between now and seeing the film.
Any lingering doubts that Alien 3's lameness was despite David Fincher's involvement rather than because of it will finally be dispelled with this textbook example of the director stamping his style all over a movie and improving it immeasurably in the process. The opening shot is a zoom-out which starts on a synapse within a brain and pulls back through the head, out of a sweat gland and ends with the audience looking down the barrel of a gun in Norton's mouth. That's got to impress.
Amazingly, this level of invention pervades the entire movie. Fincher not only shakes the camera and downplays the lighting, he distresses and wobbles the fabric of the film itself, adding scratches and bubbles to the print and even rattling the frame so hard that sprocket holes appear onscreen. He combines furious location-jumping, manic fight sequences and a multi-strand story to propel you through the movie with rarely an idea of what the next scene will be like, let alone the conclusion.
With only a single female lead and a plot driven by the millennial male fear of gender redundancy, Fight Club's surely going to become a hugely influential film for the same set of people it portrays, doing for disenfranchised twentysomething males what The Breakfast Club once did for moody teenagers. And while The Daily Mail's inevitable middle-aged, middle-class outrage story has already blasted it with the headline ""This monstrous film brutalises men everywhere"," they've overlooked the fact that it's actually very funny.
At the end of the day, you could argue that Fight Club is a celebration of corrupted masculinity as vehemently as the opposing view that it's a parody of these ideals. It won't make any difference though because, either way, this is a thrilling, intelligent and shocking blasterpiece.