The one thing you can never criticise Robert Zemeckis for is making shallow movies. He may not have distinctive style like Kubrick or Fincher, but Zemeckis is great at making films with solid stories and impressive visuals that are actually important to the plot. He's not an artist - he's a story teller and that's what makes him one of my faves.
While from a filmmaking standpoint he's once again created a very well crafted and engaging film, the subject matter just isn't as interesting as it could've been. The film kicks off with an average 'setup' which is pretty standard for the first 20 minutes to show the workaholic Hanks and his life - Hunt's beauty shines in these scenes though. After a quite gripping and FX-impressive plane crash sequence for the next ten minutes, the film really begins with the next hour of the movie being Hanks by himself alone on the island with only a volleyball to keep him company.
There's very little dialogue so the challenge is to basically keep the action interesting and the visuals certainly do help at that. In fact its surprising how enjoyable these scenes are which basically show Hanks trying to be a 'survivor' and learning techniques - most of which have been seen in other movies, but still prove fun to watch.
Hanks does well but there are a few cases where what he does makes absolutely no sense in real life - being rational and logical is the key to survival, but several times in this both elements are thrown out the window. He spends a good 10 minutes of film time walking through rock pools on a tropical island barefoot before he even considers putting on some sort of protection for his feet, he gets numerous cuts and gashes which don't seem to get infected, more than once he risks his life for a volleyball, and he bleeds regularly in seawater in the middle of the Pacific - yet there's no sharks in sight.
When things finally return to mainland after four years of isolation he doesn't seem affected by his time gone at all except a little more patience - basically he's gone through a 'sea change' (a re-assessment of his life) which most people go through anyway at some point in their life - where are the scenes we should see where he's emotionally breaking down due to the sudden re-introduction into society? After all he was personally attached to a deflated piece of rubber only a short time before - a subplot that you know right from the first appearance of the ball is going to happen as after all, this is a Hollywood movie and you got to put sentiment in it (as well as something for the main star to have some dialogue with - and no his penis doesn't count as this is PG-13 after all).
In fact the last 20 minutes or so back in the real world, a fact spoiled by the way too revealing trailer, are disappointing with the love story tied up poorly and everything feeling very anti-climatic (though I do like the quiet ending on the country road). The studio and filmmakers go on and on about all the deep themes of isolation, the struggle to survive, etc. which is basically bullshit concocted in order to fill in gaps in press kits and to make interesting sound bites for ET, AH, etc.
The truth is those themes are brought up but none of them really break any new ground - its fun to watch Hanks do all this, but one never feels the desperation of the situation - he just accepts it too easily. Its a very well-crafted but rather simple and while its enjoyable for the Christmas holidays, its certainly far from Zemeckis' best. In fact if the movie kicked off with the plane crash and ended with him being rescued, it'd be more enjoyable.