Monday, March 5, 2018

Alex Garland's ANNIHILATION proves pretty much the annihilation of Alex Garland

A sophomore slump for the record books in which the writer/director of the wonderful Ex Machina descends to ham-fisted, lugubrious and spell-it-all-out silliness, ANNIHILATION proves such a tiresome and obvious piece of science-fiction that you may have to watch Alex Garland's first foray into both writing and directing a second time, just to recall how classy, subtle, dark and intelligent a genre piece can really be.

His new film is dark, all right, but that's about all it has in common with its superior predecessor.

I admit to being completely befuddled as to why Mr. Garland, pictured at right, has chosen to be so tiresomely expository in terms of how he verbally explains so much to his audience. Initially, at least, he refrains from this, and it is not until maybe one-third of the way into this overlong, two-hour movie that we start getting the lectures by one character to another that make certain we understand what is happening plot-wise, "science"-wise and -- oh, yes -- morally speaking, too. Any ring of truth in terms of genuine conversation goes missing even as we're fed all this expository catch-up material.

Sure, the film is slow-moving (very, and it seems to grow slower even as it moves along), but intelligent adult audiences usually can put up with that, provided the plot and/or characters are strong enough to maintain interest. Here, the plot only grows more tiresome, while the characters are lucky to have a single defining feature.

Annihilation's plot has to do with a soldier husband (Oscar Issac, above) who disappears while on a top-secret mission then comes home to his scientist/professor wife (Natalie Portman, below) a mere shell of a man who then drops near-dead at the dining room table. So wife determines to discover what hubby was up to and what has happened to him.

This means becoming involved in that secret project, about which we learn much much more, and then traveling into something called "the shimmer" (below), about which we learn even more. Nothing looks promising in terms of anyone's survival here, including actually all of humanity. But on we go, as our Natalie joins a quartet of women who venture into this new kind of abyss, only to get picked off one by one. Hey, that's original!

Step by step everything that's going on is then explained to us, and the film -- which, throughout, has been a slough punctuated with a couple of scenes of suspense and slasher/monster thrills -- finally concludes with a bravura display of special effects that goes on so long that it achieves the kind of significant boredom that only CGI can these days manage.

The supporting cast supports as best it can, and Garland caries his theme home as expected. Perhaps he works better in the smaller scale of Ex Machina rather than in the much-bigger-budget realm of supposedly blockbuster sci-fi.

In any case, Paramount who is releasing this 120-minute movie, seems to have yet another dud on its hands. Too bad. The film hit theaters the last week in February and may still be playing at one or two near you. Click here to find out.

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