As The Bikeriders Hits Theaters, Critics Are Impressed With Its ‘Intoxicating Atmosphere’ But Still Have Some Issues

 Screenshot from The Bikeriders' trailer.
Credit: Focus Features

There’s something undeniably intriguing about motorcycle gangs, and moviegoers are about to get an inside look at the outlaw motorcycle club Vandals MC when The Bikeriders hits the big screen this Friday, June 21. The film, which stars Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy among others, is inspired by a 1968 photo book and shows the transformation of the club into a gang whose dark intentions vary wildly from its founder's original intent. The movie has screened for critics, so let’s see what they have to say.

The Bikeriders’ release date was originally supposed to be in 2023, but it was delayed, at least in part, due to the entertainment industry strikes. Now, we’re finally going to get to see the crime drama whose trailer promises a scary look at a motorcycle gang’s inner workings. In Mike Reyes’ CinemaBlend review of The Bikeriders, he says the movie is more vibes than story, but that’s not an overall bad thing, and audiences won’t walk away unaffected. He gives it 3 out of 5 stars, writing:

The sprawling bike club-centric narrative at this picture’s heart plays as a crossroads between a Scorsese-esque crime story and a counterculture historical drama. Think of it as a mashup between Easy Rider and Goodfellas, with the former film ultimately winning out in the tug of war between these dueling influences. It’s a formula that pushes the finished product to embrace more of a feeling than an actual plot.

Neil Smith of GamesRadar, meanwhile, gives it 4 stars out of 5, saying you can practically smell the asphalt, as The Bikeriders’ encapsulates the motorcycle club’s camaraderie and solidarity in a brilliantly authentic way. Smith continues:

Comer does most of the narrating in this chronicle of the Vandal club’s rise and fall, in a broad Midwestern accent some may find grating. But that’s the only false note in a yarn that otherwise exudes authenticity, from the metal stallions its characters take onto the highway to the dirt-smeared denims they love to wear.

Haadiza Ogwude of the Cincinnati Enquirer praises all three lead actors but says Jodie Comer is the clear star, and while the critic has no experience with motorcycle gangs personally, Ogwude was drawn into the plot and deeper themes. In the critic’s words:

Although I have zero affiliation with motorcycle culture – I can't even ride a traditional bicycle – I was entranced by the Vandals' stories and saddened by their losses. The Vandals are not good people. They're seedy rule breakers who paved the way for the dangerous criminals seen in FX's Sons of Anarchy. Still, I found myself drawn to them, shedding a tear for every curveball life threw their way. I empathized with their desperation to fit in and stand out. They're contrarians, hiding behind the anonymity of the Vandals' tag and uniform. But through the rev of their engines, they also demand to be seen, respected and feared.

Jake Coyle of the AP gives the movie 3 out of 4 stars, pointing out several dualities that make The Bikeriders work, including romance and rugged masculinity, throttle and brakes. It characters embody both the glory and uneasiness about American freedom. Coyle writes:

[Director Jeff Nichols] is less compelled to build a narrative around his bike gang, the Vandals (based on the Outlaws) than summoning an intoxicating atmosphere reminiscent of those old photographs. The Bikeriders eventually becomes saddled with heavier plot mechanics — you can almost sense his riders growing weary from having to strap narrative devices onto their bikes. The movie wants to ride, but it’s not sure how much story to pack for the trip. But this is a vivid dramatization of the birth of an American subculture.

Beth Webb of Empire is experiencing that duality in her piece about The Bikeriders, as she says the movie is exquisitely shot, but its conflict isn’t strong enough to propel the story forward at an engaging pace. Webb gives it 3 out of 5 stars and says:

It is, though, an exquisitely shot film, bathed in sun-baked hues. Nichols’ long-standing cinematographer Adam Stone largely studies The Vandals’ convoy from a distance, occasionally adopting a documentary-style approach. Yet this distance works against the vitality of the gang: the punches thrown, the spilt blood, the ice clinking in the bottom of a rapidly drained glass of bourbon all feel strangely sterile. Comer proves a lively narrator with her animated Chicago accent, but there’s a distinct lack of thrust given it’s a film that spotlights the unruly energy of a group of lawless men. There is at least plenty to admire through the handsome quality of filmmaking, and this is a slick showcase of Butler’s burgeoning star power. But when it comes to bottling the spirit of its subjects, The Bikeriders proves a rebel with some flaws.

All of the critics seem to have found good and bad things to say about The Bikeriders, but it sounds like most of them think the movie is still one worth checking out. That seems to be the consensus for more than just the above assessments, as the film holds an 86% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Bikeriders premieres in theaters on Friday, June 21, and be sure to also check out our 2024 movie release schedule to see what else is coming soon.