Another quirkfest from Wes Anderson, this is filled with imaginatively charming images and Anderson's trademark oddball characters from a mix of cultures. They all speaking in his signature corkscrew speech and react as though no two of them speak the same language. Anderson is great with situations, visuals, and deadpan delivery of weird, almost absurd, dialogue. But increasingly, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou all seems to be tricks without any meaning or insight behind them, cleverness for the sake of cleverness, without any heart or soul. Or art. College students can deconstruct to their hearts' delight, but it's their own meaning they will bring to the movie, not Anderson's.
Anderson benefits tremendously from the always-engaging production design by Mark Friedberg, a delightful score by former Devo-ian Mark Mothersbaugh, and the always-engaging performances by top-notch actors clearly enjoying themselves, especially Goldblum, Dafoe, and Blanchett. The script, by Anderson and Noah Baumbach takes some bad turns in the last half hour that feel sour and unsatisfying. Anderson is getting close to Emperor's New Clothes-time here, and eventually someone is going to point out that when it comes to the substance, he has nothing on.