WHAT I LIKED: A war movie was surely the ultimate genre for Kubrick to go for - not only because it was one not previously tackled by him, but also because it's the perfect place to explore the nature of man because war sees people pushed to their absolute limits. 'Full Metal Jacket' had the opportunity to be his crown jewel because of that, but the final product seems less concerned with themes around the human condition than it does with building individual sections and set-pieces that work.
Luckily though, being Kubrick, many of those do work extremely well, as they're all executed perfectly. The first act in which we see the marines in training is genuinely hilarious (in fact it's Kubrick's funniest work of all), and when we see the soldiers enter the warzone, the overall environment of Vietnam is portrayed utterly brilliantly (though it admittedly doesn't quite give Apocalypse Now or Platoon a run for their money in that department). There are individual set-pieces that work to build tension too, and in fact in that sense it could be argued that - outside of the middle act of 2001 - we see Kubrick at his most mature and self-serious here. Even his sarcastic music choices and theatrical performances are toned down, and in the end that does make for a very well-executed war movie overall that will keep you engaged for its majority.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The strange thing about Full Metal Jacket though is that it doesn't really pack much of Kubrick's usual observational spark either, and instead of winding up as an intelligent study of man at his limits, the film is pretty aimless thematically. There is of course a nifty solution to that - developing characters that we can care about could have not only provided a proper exploration of the human psyche, it could have equally filled any voids and made for something genuinely emotionally engaging. That's never been Kubrick's forte of course, but it could have seriously put Full Metal Jacket in the company of the better Vietnam war films that it's so often compared unfavourably to.
VERDICT: 'Full Metal Jacket' strangely sees Kubrick tone down his wry observations of human-kind in service of a film that's more concerned with building individual moments that work on their own. Work they bloody do, but a great, cohesive, thematic film they do not make.