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What's the Deal with Babylon?

"How’s the movie, Jack?"
"It’s shit. A giant swing at mediocrity."

If three trains collided in Chernobyl on Black Tuesday, it would be a smaller train wreck than this pile of elephant dung.

Pretentious Best Picture hopefuls are stumbling into theaters, because producers think an 11th-hour movie has a better chance of getting an Oscar.

Of course, that strategy is as ignorant as it is desperate. A casual glance at the winners over time shows that it doesn’t matter when your movie is released.

But I digress. In case you're wondering about the plot (none of the trailers bothered to mention it), Babylon follows the lives of a few actors and movie execs during the end of the silent movie era. If you watch closely and really squint, you might actually notice this plot peeking out between the extended party scenes and bodily fluid exchanges.

It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’m going to make a list. Strap yourself in.

-Let’s start with the good: Margot Robbie is more talented than everyone in Hollywood put together.

-Babylon follows five or six characters whose disconnected stories do not gather to make a whole and do not come to interesting conclusions on their own. Each narrative is over crowded, like McMansions pushing out their own lawns. These endless, twisting stories would be better suited for television, and could easily fill an entire season. (Or five seasons, if it's British television.)

-Someone gets bitten by a snake and then someone else comes along to suck out the poison. Because people in Hollywood don’t know how snakes work. City folk.

-Obesity is played for laughs a few times. Inappropriate.

-For all their talk of progress and feminism, the movies made by Hollywood’s best and brightest still rely on the sexual exploitation of women. From beginning to end, Babylon parades naked young women around every inch of the screen. And if they’re not displaying their naughty bits, it’s because they’re busy pleasuring gross men. Uh, full stop? Isn't this exactly the side of Hollywood that we’re supposed to be toppling? Why are we celebrating Harvey Weinstein-style filmmaking?

-Every now and then, the sound cuts out. It’s supposed to be an artistic callback to silent movies or some crap. I don’t know. It doesn’t work.

-The human body can produce quite a few liquids. While watching Babylon, you’ll get to see all of them escape one person and land on another.

-In the opening scene, an elephant craps on someone, and, it... keeps happening. It’s not funny or interesting, and the scene simply will not end. Which is exactly how you’ll feel for the remaining THREE HOURS of Babylon. The crap just keeps coming.

-Every other word is “fuck.” Because this is a TotALly eDgY FiLm.

-This movie is desperately loud. Like a toddler begging for attention, every door closing or phone hang up pushes the theater's speakers to the loudest volume.

-At one point, Margot acts across from Samara Weaving, which is hilarious because these two actors look identical. Since the camera cuts back and forth instead of showing them together, it actually looks like Margot Robbie started playing two different roles.

-Olivia Wilde is barely in the film. What a waste.

-Babylon spends a lot of time getting an elephant onto a trailer to take it down the road, because apparently elephants can't walk.

-To quote the great Tom Servo, “Never show a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” Babylon, in an effort to celebrate Hollywood’s contributions, includes clips from Singin' in the Rain, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and even Avatar. (Why two clips from James Cameron?) They are stark reminders of better films. (Maybe not Avatar.)

-Every now and then, the screen is just a blue or red rectangle. Because art.

-The idea that old Hollywood was a center of bad boy parties and non-stop, Caligula-style orgies has been long discredited, making Babylon a love letter to a Hollywood that never existed. But what better way to pander to the Oscar crowd (who always favor movies about themselves) than to pretend that Hollywood insiders are really popular?

-Having run out of ideas, the movie shows us lava lamp closeups for a while after the climax instead of just ending.

-Are the orgies and drugs parties a problem, or a fond memory of a bygone golden era? The early seasons of Mad Men created gripping tension in the space between living a good life and a life of dangerous excess, but Babylon never finds the drama between these two forces. It's not a cautionary tale. It's not a nostalgic romp. It's just an emotionally distant story covered in nipples. Bereft of drama, the unmoored audience is left to stare at unending party scenes that look like someone dared the director to find out how many boobs can fit on screen. (It’s a lot.)

Final Analysis: Zero out of five bodily fluids. I'm usually a generous reviewer, and I've never rated anything a zero (I gave the dumb Spirit Halloween movie four stars, for crying out loud), but not even Margot Robbie can elevate this one to a positive value. Babylon has fallen. Hard.
Adam D. Jones is a writer, musician, medievalist and cat dad.


  1. Sounds like I'm giving this one a miss. Thank you for your review, Adam. Did you really stay for all three hours of this one?

  2. Sadly, yes. I tried to fall asleep, but I'm a giant and can't curl up in a theater chair.

    I like to think that I'm performing a service, watching bad movies so other people don't have to.

  3. Sounds just awful. I appreciate you suffering through it so the rest of us can give it a pass.


  4. This sounds horrible! I'm so entranced by how horrible this sounds!

    1. The badness is amazing. I wanted to see how bad it would be, and it fell shorter than even my lowest expectations. Incredible.

  5. I’ve been following this site since Billie’s Lost reviews and make a point to come here for information before seeing many movies. In all that time I’ve never read a review I’ve disagreed with more than this one.

    Babylon is an absolutely dizzying adrenalin rush unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time - so much so that I went back and watched it the next day to better take in the spectacle. Every shot is beautifully rendered, the acting is superb, the score is fantastic.

    I agree that many of the sequences are disconnected, but I felt this was intentional as each of the vignettes was presented as separate movie styles - musical, madcap comedy, action, the ‘epic’, a little horror short, and so on.

    In deference to Adam, this is absolutely a love it or hate it film with no in between. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it, but for me I’m so glad my daughter asked me to go see it. Easily the best film I’ve seen in years.

  6. "At one point, Margot acts across from Samara Weaving, which is hilarious because these two actors look identical."

    It's funny you should say that, because when we saw the trailer for READY OR NOT, I did indeed think SW was MR.


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