It’s part of the remit of this website to punish the guilty, but also to reward the innocent; Matthew Kassovitz’s career as an English-language director ended abruptly with Babylon A.D., and aside from a French hostage drama and a popular TV show, he’s not been heard of again. But having made such a splash with stark urban drama La Haine, and then scoring a considerable hit with his Hollywood debut Gothika, plus a massive homeland success with cop drama The Crimson Rivers, even this Vin Diesel sci-fi thriller must have some merit, right?
Right enough, Babylon A.D., based on the book Babylon Babies by Maurice G Dantec, is far more interesting than most junky sci-fi product. The story is set in the far-off year of 2027. The world is socially and racially divided in a bad way; drones are used to control a desperate, constantly migrating populace, people have their bodies augmented by technology, and Thoorop (Vin Diesel) is entrusted with a mission to safely deliver a young woman who may be a religious figure, but may also harbour a deadly virus. As futuristic visions go, Babylon A.D. actually gets a lot right, from the video-call screens to the streams of refugees to the global warming, and even elements like the implanted neck-passports don’t seem a million miles away.
Kassovitz disowned the results, and Babylon A.D. didn’t gain enough traction as a big, expensive, international film. But unravelling the story offers some rewards; stolen child Aurora (Melanie Thierry) has been created as a breeding machine, with her abilities programmed by super-computer. Aurora becomes the central figure in a conflict between business (her father, played by Lambert Wilson) and the church (called the Noels and led by her mother, played by Charlotte Rampling). This parental squabble is the source of the global conflict about Aurora’s future, resolved when she confirms her godliness by giving a virgin birth to ethnically-diverse twins. But it’s notable that both religion and commerce seek to cynically exploit this natural event, and the relationship between Thoorop and Aurora is the one pure thing that Babylon A.D.’s world pivots on. Gerard Depardieu, Mark Strong and the eternally agile Michelle Yeoh provide diverting support turns on the margins.
So maybe audiences found the above plot confusing, but it’s a perfectly serviceable structure to hang action on, and even if Babylon A.D. has a few horrid CGI flourishes, most of the film has an impressive physicality, from the snowmobile pursuits to the submarine rescue, and some satisfying Hummer vs Range Rover chases. Diesel knows his way around a world of punch-ups, car-smashes and growling, and Babylon A.D. is far superior to other Diesel vehicles like Bloodshot, The Last Witch Hunter, The Chronicles of Riddick or The Return of Xander Cage. Unfavourably compared to the far brainier Children of Men on release, Babylon A.D.’s warnings about the future look rather smarter now than on release, and the whole package is brisk and effective. Can Thoorop ever forget the Noels and find true happiness? Negative reviews on initial release might put you off finding out, but for those prepared to swim against the tide, there’s just enough remaining of Dantec and Kassovitz’s vision to made Babylon A.D. worth another look.