Tag Archives: review

At the Movies: Annihilation

There are a lot of spoilers in this, so if you are real serious about Annihilation maybe stop.

I remember ranting in the car at my poor girlfriend shortly after we left the theater. I also remember feeling kinda bad since she initially wanted to re-watch Black Panther before I convinced her maybe we should try this. Going into the film trailers painted a movie where an alien contact on Earth summons Natalie Portman and crew to investigate a potential alien infestation. What I thought would ensue was a mindfuck adventure from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. It’s true it comes with a lot of confusingly gross creatures and at times hauntingly pretty locales, finding ways to distort the familiar into things impossible. However the plot goes nowhere and one by one characters die off for no other reason than to mercifully come to an end.

Spoilers ahead but honestly, tl;dr meh.

Natalie Portman plays Lena, a former Army veteran and current day academia professor. She is haunted by the loss of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) a fellow soldier and (I think?) black ops operative(?). Most of their exposition is watching Portman and Isaac fool around in bed, then we jump to the threat named The Shimmer threatening to infect our world. It’s not as steamy as it sounded, you can safely go back to watching Fifty Shades of Free.

After disappearing for a year and seemingly dead, Lena finds Kane just walk right into their bedroom and act like an obvious clone. A short conversation follows then says he needs to go to the doctor because he’s spitting blood into a cup of water. On route to the hospital big-ass-obviously-government SUVs detour them and kidnap both Kane and Lena. We are introduced to psychologist, and extremely Xanex’ed, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who musters enough energy like a 14-year-old girl looking at you stupidly like of course you don’t know what the fuck she’s talking about, explain a very serious alien infestation threatening to very slowly but assuredly eat up maybe a town in around 40(?) years.

Lena, distraught her newly returned husband dying seemingly for real this time, decides to venture into The Shimmer strapped up with Chicago paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) and Dr. Ventress – probably secretly looking for a lost cache of Xanex within The Shimmer because she’s abused her right to have prescription pads like Dr. House.

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Thing is I can’t fault the actresses (even the extremely high Dr. Ventress) for trying to bring as much horror and enthusiasm to a movie with all the charisma of a instructional  technical book. Oh look: a human being split in two with a giant butthole flower grown from where his torso once was. Let’s get some swabs of it and get some sleep (this literally happens). There are quick sputters of violence, which happen for no other reason than to wake us up. In perhaps the strangest scene in the film, they are confronted by a mutated bear with human bones grafted to its face and it’s roar is a literal human plea for help. This was perhaps the only interesting and possibly cool thing to happen in the movie. After this one of our protagonists has leaves growing out of her skin then just disappears period.

We don’t see much other wildlife aside from some pokemon-looking deer, and we learn that maybe the person who Lena thought was her husband may actually not even be a human after all. If this sounds boring it’s because the movie provides  no weight to anything that happens. The film would’ve been serviced with a sub-title: Shit Happens. The movie relies on random gore and creepiness to lull us back into a story really bored with itself.

Kane is obviously gone quite often since he’s a military operative, and we immediately at the start of the movie are introduced to Lena’s co-worker Daniel (David Gyasi) trying to holler at her, but the movie makes a point to establish Kane and Lena’s closeness, then introduces an affair with flimsy context. The love triangle goes no where and takes up time that probably should’ve just been cut entirely. I might’ve been able to forgive the movie had it been 30 minutes shorter.

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The only real conclusion I can come to was the writers were written into a corner, then left to get coffee. I’m convinced there must be another hour of footage out there that was meant to be the second half of the movie. The film comes to climax with Lena being forced to confront an alien-copy Lena shortly after seeing a video recording of her husband killing himself with a phosphorous grenade while recorded by a clone copy of him. Yes, I meant to explain it like this did it fuck your mind?

Real Lena slowly learns Alien Lena is learning from Real Lena how to act human, including fighting back when Real Lena tries to kill it. I think this was meant to be a moving moment, but eventually Real Lena kills Alien Lena with a flare grenade thereby seemingly ending the alien plot line. If none of this sounded exciting, it’s because it wasn’t. Nor was there any real suspension in the moment building up to it.

Annihilation builds up suspension to do nothing with it or even bother making elements sensibly tie together. What was the whole point of detailing Lena’s affair (twice focusing on when she was having sex with Daniel, only to just hate him immediately and throw him out when it was recognized she seemed equally at fault for this, THEN to just drop it all together and daydream about having sex with Kane? Why didn’t we get to see the bear again or anything interesting like that again?

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Lena and Kane reunite at the end after being the only to escape, but now with us knowing the (real?) Kane died within the Shimmer we are left with an intentionally opaque ending trying to seem like it was designed to invoke mystery and some sort of thoughtfulness. Lena knows this guy isn’t really him, and we know she’s irreparably mutated after spending too much time in the Shimmer. Neither are probably ever going to escape the facility, but are we to assume the infestation continues? I don’t know. And I don’t think Alex Garland does either. If you do, please inform both of us.

I’m sure an argument about unsaid subtext and themes going over my head could be brought, and you might even be right. The whole film is built on distorting our perceptions of the world as we know it including what makes us fundamentally us, but at some point I began asking myself if I was making the story up in my head or I’m actually using what’s provided. Was that maybe the point?

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At the Movies: Black Panther

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As usual I try to keep this spoiler free but I sometimes reference stuff so if you’re trying to keep your mind virginal until you see the movie, maybe stop now.

Up to this point in the MCU, global catastrophes have largely been concentrated to (or originate from) New York City. Sure, Doctor Strange took us locations like Nepal  and bizarre alternate dimensions, but ultimately the final showdown happened where? New York City. The Avengers even began their career defending what? New York City. Avengers 2 took us to Sokovia, but where did everything start?! That’s right. New York City. Black Panther represents our first genuine worldview into the MCU away from North America and the Avengers.

Black Panther’s fortunately continues the trend of better storytelling in MCU films, and represents a pleasant departure from the seemingly cookie-cutter nature of past MCU films. The movie doesn’t feel like another origin story instead focusing on a post-Civil War T’Challa coming to grips with his new position as king of Wakanda. What unfurls is plot that keeps things grounded to themes such as family and legacy in a very trippy, high-tech adventure.

Wakanda is an absolutely stunning location: an unfamiliar yet not totally alien mix of modern fashion with impossible future technology. It’s fun to see a world even Tony Stark (presumably) doesn’t know of, with technology that makes his inventions look like cheap crap.

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I came to really enjoy Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, a somewhat reluctant hero only in that he is comfortable pummeling people but is well aware fighting and leading a nation are two wholly different things. This makes T’Challa, in my eyes, the most compelling character the MCU has at the moment. Yes, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk are all symbolic heroes, but none have the literal ability to enact widespread change quite like T’Challa can, who is an actual leader.

Like the last few Marvel films, women have taken an increased role in the fun, especially this time around with the stunningly badass head general Okoye (Danai Gurira) and T’Challa’s at-times unavailable love interest Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). They aren’t the only ones kicking ass throughout the film, but they share a good portion of Black Panther’s 2hr 14min runtime in meaningful ways other than being given screen time to jack people up.

Ok, so some minor potential spoilers going forward.

I’m thankful Black Panther gave us a villain with actual reason other than insane global/galactic domination dreams. Erik Killmonger, despite what his name would imply, is a very sympathetic character. Orphaned at a young age and abandoned by the royal family he would come to learn of, Killmonger is driven by the knowledge he was literally thrown away to cover up a devastating secret for T’Challa’s father. Forced to be raised as an orphaned black boy on the streets of America, Killmonger became embittered and rage filled at the idea there is a place that could help disenfranchised blacks around the world but instead opts to live in secrecy with their technology. Admittedly at the same time, while I understood why Killmonger a total fuck boy, it felt a little too much especially when it came time to be taken serious as a regicidal usuper.

At the film’s core are two sons fighting for their fathers’s legacies: T’Challa seeking to be a great ruled like his father, while Killmonger wishes to proliferate vibranium weaponry worldwide to literally cause an armed uprising among blacks worldwide. T’Challa goes through the heroes journey of learning it was a mistake to want to follow in the past’s footsteps and must pay for its sins in the form of an overwhelmingly devastating Killmonger.

And because it’s the Internet, I’m sure there are some crocodile tears over the seemingly “racist” nature of Black Panther being a predominantly black-casted film. In no other uncertain terms, much of Black Panther is lifted by the cultural elements infused in nearly every pore of the film. This isn’t meant to be familiar, this is meant to show an extraordinary world within an already large, extraordinary world. By the end of the film (as much as I want to spoil it), it really feels like now that we know of Wakanda it’ll be hard to ignore how much it will definitely influence the MCU in years to come.

Without spoiling too much (more), my largest regret was how quickly Andy Serkis’ villain, Uysses Klaue (or better known in the MU as Klaw), came and went. Serkis easy captured the scenes he was in, even if sometimes it felt difficult to understand his maniacal gibbering. Regardless, he was gleefully evil presence in a movie filled with lots of gray space.

Black Panther is a legit fun movie and a breath of fresh air for a genre I feared was getting stale. While much of our good will shall eventually give way to the orgy that is Infinity War I and II, for now its exciting to see where Wakanda can take the MCU before the aliens start dropping from the skies again. We’ve been to outer space, to the edge of metaphysical reality, but we’ve yet to visit a place so culturally distinctive (and frankly as critical) as Wakanda.