“It’s pure violence and stupidity…parts of the movie are like a bad episode of 24.”
No, these are not the dissenting words of a bitter critic reporting on Vin Diesel’s latest futuristic action/thriller
In the not too distant future, the preposterously named mercenary Toorop (Vin Diesel) accepts a contract from a Russian mobster to transport some cargo to New York. This cargo turns out to be a mysterious young girl by the name of Aurora (Mélanie Thierry) and her guardian nun Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh), insistent that she watches over the girl for the treacherous ride. As things start making a habit of blowing up around him, Toorop is quick to learn that he’s not the only gun wielding mercenary with an invested interest in the girl. While trying not to treat the job at hand differently to any other, Toorop inevitably gets caught up in mystery that surrounds the girl, determined to fight his way to the city that never sleeps so he can discover what makes his cargo so important.
Even for a film starring Vin Diesel, Babylon A.D’s plot is frustratingly underdeveloped. The film foolishly assumes that the mystery surrounding Aurora is all that is needed to keep the audience engaged. This becomes highly improbable when an hour in to the film, the only thing to have developed is the intensity of each gun battle. Frequently I was left to question whether I had missed a crucial plot point; one that might provide the slightest bit of justification as to why things were continually fire-balling on screen. Someone else who had obviously lost the plot was Academy Award winning composer Hans Zimmer. For God knows what reason, Zimmer attempts to mar the “sounds and energies of hip-hop with classical music”. If he set out with the objective to make the audience envy the deaf, he’s done admirably here.
Providing your brain stays awake long enough to see it, Babylon A.D does have one surprise up its sleeve. In its final act, dare I say an actual plot begins to surface. What’s most astonishing is that the narrative that does materialize, depicting a religion’s unconventional stance on the possibilities of gene manipulation, could have potentially been quite interesting had it been explored throughout the film and not haphazardly slapped into the last 20 minutes. However, the narrative in question is noticeably similar to 2006’s futuristic thriller, which is an unquestionably better film in every way. That being said, there was definite potential here, making it all the more painful to watch as it goes so spectacularly to waste. If this is why Kassovitz is bitter, then I can genuinely sympathise with him. Any potential message he tried to convey in the first two acts has been riddled to pieces by the bullets fired during the endless assault of action sequences.
Kassovitz can’t fault the studio for the remainder of the flaws that plague Babylon A.D. Without a plot evident in the first half of the film, the ever important job of engaging the audience is left to the character development of Toorop. At some point during production, Kassovitz must have forgotten that the man portraying Toorop was none other than Vin Diesel. In a voice that makes a lawnmower sound effeminate, Diesel himself would be the first to proclaim that the primary reason he has a career is because he more closely resembles a machine on screen than he does a man. Unquestionably, when it comes to gunning people down in waves or narrowly escaping from explosions on a ski-do, few people can make it look as cool as effortless as Vin Diesel does. The action sequences in Babylon A.D, whilst actually quite conventional, will still please those wanting their next injection of Diesel. But getting him to develop a sentimental bond with those on screen instead of killing them is not only beyond his capabilities as an actor, but unfavourably goes against what the audeince has come to expect when watching a Vin Diesel film. It’s just unnatural to see him show emotion. As Disney’sproved in spades, attempting to mix Diesel with sentiment will almost certainly have an unexplosive result.
When co-stars Mélanie Thierry and Michelle Yeoh are not running from the violence that seems to follow their on screen counterparts where ever go, they appear to be just as insipid in the scenes with dialogue as Vin Diesel. As much as Yeoh tries to bring a degree of humanity and sentiment to her motherly character Rebeka, the poorly written script ultimately sees the three protagonists move through the film like a trio of robots unable to properly communicate with one another. Even when the film implies that Toorop’s cold and mistrusting temperament has been transformed by his time spent with Aurora and Rebeka, it remains just as awkward to watch the three interact as it was when they first met.
Director Mathieu Kassovitz was right on the money; Babylon A.D is “pure violence and stupidity”. Regardless of who’s to blame, the result is a garish combination of convulted story telling, poor character development and mediocre action sequences. Even if Kassovitz had it his way and was able give the plot some substance, the shopping list of supplementary flaws would prevent the film from being anything more than the sub-par action/sci-fi film that it already is.