Babylon A.D. is, in a nutshell, awesomely awful.
It’s so incredibly big, loud and dumb that I couldn’t help but stare wide eyed throughout, with a big grin stuck on my face. It slammed itself into me repeatedly, causing my brain to spin at how it was possible for one movie to prove with every scene to be such a consistently glorious mess.
If that sounds like a critical contradiction, then god help you when you see the film.
Babylon A.D. (or B A.D. if you prefer) will, I imagine, be unanimously mauled by the critics. Never before have I heard a room full of them laugh so hard and so regularly during a press screening. From Vin Diesel’s opening monologue to a closing scene that manages to be more retina-burning in its kitsch visuals than the end of Mars Attacks!, it just seems oblivious to everything. The film seemed so insanely unaware of how bad almost every part of it was, that I can’t for the life of me figure out where it all went wrong. So for the sake of everyone’s sanity I’ll try and break down each part of the films’ problems to give you an idea of what to expect.
Firstly the dialogue.
The lines spouted forth seem to be mostly made up of hackneyed clichés. They’re so utterly predictable and delivered so earnestly that you can’t help but laugh as Vin Diesel’s character Toorop (which sounded remarkably like ‘tulip’ the first time I clocked it) starts talking about how his rule of survival is kill or be killed, or how a mercenary only has his word and his balls (“and I’ve still got both” he quips before shooting an adversary). It’s not like I went in expecting anything approaching intellect, but neither did I expect such badly written one liners. If Diesel can’t make them sound intimidating and bad ass as he growls them, what hope has anyone else got? This also has the effect of shattering any emotional outpouring by the characters. Poor Michelle Yeoh suffered most in a scene where she describes how she raised the girl that Toorop/Tulip is smuggling out of the country as her own (for the plot, see Children of Men. In fact, just watch Children of Men instead if you haven’t). The more emotional the characters become, the more it shows up the dialogue.
Then to the story.
While I respected the film’s initial avoidance of any preamble, it soon became clear that no part of B.A.D.’s setting or the characters’ background would actually be explained in any coherent fashion. Now I stated above that I didn’t expect any intellectualism from a Vin Diesel film, but I didn’t expect any pretention either, and pretention in an already stupid film is a very bad idea. Mostly because it makes you question the amount of fun and enjoyment you’re actually having.
If the film had intentionally contained xXx‘s over the top, tongue-in-cheek attitude it would have worked far better. Instead it attempted to make the film seem epic, and contained allusions that pointed towards films such as Blade Runner and Terminator rather than, say, Men In Black 2.
Blade Runner is also worth mentioning as if you haven’t seen it (shame on you), you’ll actually have no idea what’s going on when people start talking about replicants, or the fact that there are clones of animals in existence. In fact even if you have seen Blade Runner you’ll still be baffled by what exactly is happening during the film, and no one is going to tell you either. There seem to be so many interesting ideas here with no clear backing. I spotted a news subtitle on a TV screen mentioning bird flu, which suggested part of why animals were being cloned. Then there’s a reference to a super virus, but with no context. Indeed, only the press release notes have any description of how the world has changed and evolved, or what Toorop’s back story is, explaining his character’s detachment from humanity. But not having these details in the actual film isn’t really going to help an audience.
But now for the worst offender in Babylon A.D.’s already rusty cannon – the editing.For a film claiming to be an action adventure I was looking forward to seeing Diesel doing what he does best, but the twitchy editing combined with the restless camera movements would induce a seizure ina caffeinated teenager suffering from ADHD. All the action scenes from fights, car chases and shoot outs will barely register, as each shot seems to last for a maximum of two seconds. They employed a team of Parkour experts, which is always a joy to behold on film (see District 13 or even Casino Royale to witness how great it can look), and yet the film still failed to capture it with any grace or style. And bearing in mind that the Parkour team can perform their skills live, it really didn’t need jump cutting to make it look more impressive. All it did was diminish the impact.
To really express how confusing things get on screen I can tell you that during a car chase I remember thinking the following:‘Wait where’s Vin gone – uh oh there’s another big bald guy climbing out of a car – wait who’s smashing whose car? – er why’s there a shot of a flashing phone on the car floor? – wait that’s Vin – oh it’s a bomb not a phone – *BOOM* – someone find the editor and hurt him – help!’
The film at times felt like Diesel’s equivalent of Arnie’s The 6th Day, but a far better comparison would be to the Matrix Reloaded, which really isn’t helped by the presence of Lambert Wilson (who played the Merovingian in that film). It suffers from the same befuddling and failed attempts at existentialism, while the protagonists babble unintentionally hilarious dialogue as action scenes loudly knock you senseless.
Yet despite all of the above I just can’t hate the film as I was so thoroughly entertained by its fantastic badness, though may I recommend you see it drunk with a group of friends as that was the one thing missing from my experience – it has ‘drinking game gold’ written all over it.
Which just leaves the rating. Some years ago I liked the concept of giving the best one star movies a single gold star, as they truly are the best at being terrible, films that you really can’t recommend in any critical sense yet leave you with the unnerving feeling that you’ll watch them again against your better judgement, and Babylon A.D. is one such movie. However, in the absence of a gold star I still can’t give it two stars for the fear of people risking paying good money and then hurting me if they skip to the end, so as sad as makes me… one star.