A Man Alone: Babylon A.D.

Babylon A.D. movie poster

 

Vin Diesel has made some­thing of a spe­cialty in dystopian sci­ence fic­tion movies pos­sessed of aston­ish­ing visu­als but hor­rif­i­cally bad scripts (I’m look­ing at you, Pitch Black and The Chron­i­cles of Rid­dick). Does he seek these kinds of projects out, or has he been type­cast as a weary but action-ready man of the future? Math­ieu Kassovitz’s Baby­lon A.D. is yet more sci-fi trash with an inter­na­tional feel, not just in the spirit of Diesel’s own oeu­vre, but also very much a direct descen­dent of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Ele­ment. The pres­ence of Michelle Yeoh promises mar­tial arts ass­kick­ing that never really mate­ri­al­izes, and the pro­ceed­ings are given a mea­sure of class by Ger­ard Depar­dieu and Char­lotte Rampling.

Vin Diesel in Babylon A.D.The gog­gles… they do nothing!

The movie pre­dicts an espe­cially bleak future for Europe, wracked by per­pet­ual war and ter­ror attacks that leave the urban land­scape look­ing like Chech­nya and Bosnia. Toorop (Diesel) is a reluc­tant mer­ce­nary war­rior, some­thing like a mas­ter­less ronin from old samu­rai movies. I was pre­pared to like his char­ac­ter until he shoots a dis­armed man in the face and makes a lame Die Hard-like quip. I watched the extended unrated cut on DVD, which may explain why a full 22 min­utes lapses before the hero finally under­takes his task: to escort the genet­i­cally engi­neered girl Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) from the war-torn waste­lands of “New Ser­bia” to New York. The per­sis­tent tone of a-man-alone cyn­i­cism is some­thing else Baby­lon A.D. shares with many of Besson’s anti-heroes, espe­cially the Trans­porter films: Toorop knows he’s being used, but not by whom or why.

Michelle Yeoh and Melanie Thierry in Babylon A.D.

Some of the gen­uinely incred­i­ble shots and sequences to watch for, none of which are reflected in the pro­mo­tional stills:

  • The open­ing sequence is an unbro­ken shot zoom­ing straight down on planet Earth, hom­ing in on Man­hat­tan and into Diesel’s eyeball
  • A 270-degree cam­era move incor­po­rat­ing a CGI heli­copter and an ancient con­vent carved into a stone cliff
  • An estab­lish­ing shot of an unspec­i­fied Russ­ian city built around a giant crater, its ori­gins unex­plained (but a likely allu­sion to the post-WWIII Neo-Tokyo of Kat­suhiro Otomo’s Akira)
  • The entire island of Man­hat­tan lit up with a grossly expanded Times Square and com­pleted Free­dom Towers

The Manhattan of the Future Babylon A.D.The Free­dom Tow­ers dom­i­nate the Man­hat­tan of the future

Movies like Baby­lon A.D. always fall apart at some point, and this one finally suc­cumbs when the refugee party arrives in New York City. Aurora’s father sud­denly mate­ri­al­izes, appar­ently solely to pro­vide a mas­sive info­dump of expo­si­tion. The long, com­pli­cated back­story was barely hinted at before, if at all: Aurora is the prod­uct of an incor­po­rated reli­gion whose CEO and High Priest­ess (Char­lotte Ram­pling) hopes to man­u­fac­ture a mirac­u­lous vir­gin birth. All of this is told, not shown, which only cre­ates frus­tra­tion and con­fu­sion, and lit­tle emo­tional response.


Offi­cial movie site: www.babylonadmovie.com

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