The Bad Batch review — Style isn’t always enough

Written 5/20/17

Music can seriously help a film, but it can’t completely carry it.

A great trailer can seriously help a film, but it can’t completely carry it.

A great idea can seriously help a film, but it can’t completely carry it.

These three things together can seriously help a film…can they completely carry it? I’ve started writing without actually making up my mind, so we’ll see what we decide by the end…

I got in line to see The Bad Batch right after coming out of Like Me at the Overlook Film Festival. The line was jam packed. Bad Batch was the first film I saw in the lineup for Overlook that made me truly excited to go. I’d been seeing trailers for months and waiting with bated breath for something that, if nothing else, had a pristine trailer. It seemed like everyone else in line was of the same mind.

Similarly to how I felt about seeing Loving directly after seeing Certain Women, I think that perhaps I’m being harder on Bad Batch because it followed such a perfect film. Maybe if I’d seen it before Like Me my opinions would be different. As it stands, however, I thought this film was great. Not perfect, not amazing, but pretty damn good.

While the world building was stellar, and the production design was viscerally terrifying, the characters felt underdeveloped; mysterious to the point of disinterest. Everything that was wonderful about this film was floating around the core of what it needed. The costumes were beautiful, the music was powerful, the cameos were fantastic, the cinematography was striking, but the screenplay, character development, and frankly any kind of heart were sorely lacking.

I want to be able to write a long piece about how the metaphor of this film spoke to the division already in affect (and threatening to get much, much worse) in our country. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get much in the way of social commentary from this film. Not to say that Ana Lily Amirpour needs to be saying anything; she can say or not say whatever the hell she wants as long as the movie ends up good, but without a solid metaphor to lean on, there’s no excuse for the flat characters. I have no problem with stylistic character development which leads to mysterious badasses (and a world like this definitely calls for closed off personalities), but you need to justify your style. These characters felt lazy, like they were less important than the world that they were guiding us through. Perhaps they were, in Amirpour’s mind. Her world definitely overshadowed any thin back-story. I didn’t care at all what happened to these people, just how it happened.

Not by any stretch a failed project. This was an interesting, beautiful, stylish, imaginative film that I would happily watch again. I would urge Amirpour to work on her characters, not because her films aren’t any good without them, but because she would be a formidable force in Hollywood if her worlds continue to be this good AND her characters are relateable. I say this without having yet seen her previous work, so maybe after I catch up on that I’ll eat my words. Either way, I would absolutely recommend The Bad Batch for its energy, beauty, and inventiveness.

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