What does the alien want? Although it mirrors Natalie Portman’s actions and appears to commit suicide, the final scene reveals that actually, it doesn’t share Portman’s suicidal urges. In its own weird way, it saves her marriage.

The alien’s modus operandi is ‘refraction’ – the scrambling of reality to create new forms. It is creative whereas the humans in the film are (self)destructive. We may experience these effects as annihilation, but from the alien’s perspective it is exactly the opposite.

It’s hardly a comforting thought to assume the point of view of a cancer, which is why this film lacks the charge of Garland’s Ex Machina, where male power was overturned by a sympathetic ‘alien’ female. Here the alien may just represent Eros defeating humanity’s Thanatos – the (supposedly) impulsive way Portman’s sabotages her marriage being replaced with the will to save it. It doesn’t quite work because the marriage feels unreal to begin with, and ‘impulse’ is not a great explanation for Portman’s infidelity.

Garland has done better before. In its structure Annihilation is similar to the Garland-penned, Danny Boyle-directed Sunshine, where the characters spent less time explaining who they were, and their cabin fever environment made better sense of their descent into madness. There are some shudder-inducing moments in Annihilation, as well as a few beautiful sequences, but nothing that compares to the thrill-ride of Sunshine’s final 30 minutes. That it went straight to Netflix in Europe is somehow fitting – it’s not as good as Garland’s previous work would suggest it should be.


"In Britain at least, changes of government are precipitated not by a burning sense of right and wrong but by a vague feeling that things have gone too far in one direction and that some kind of correction is needed to bring them back into balance. After a while, voters bank the good things that a government has given them and look to the other party to deliver them from the bad things. They got the welfare state from the Attlee government, for instance, but after five years of sacrifice they were longing to do some shopping. They got something like full employment from a series of Labour and Conservative governments but they also got higher taxes and over-mighty trade unions and so turned to Margaret Thatcher. She and John Major sorted out those problems but kept health and education on such short rations that voters in the end elected New Labour, at least in part, to build them back up again. It did so, but did little or nothing to tackle the underlying vulnerabilities of a growing welfare state reliant on an economy built increasingly on debt and immigration, as well as an unwarranted confidence that the good times could ever end." - Tim Bale, The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron


Black Panther

There is a striking parallel between Wakanda and Themyscira – faraway hidden utopias which flip the privileges of our world. In Black Panther the attraction of that idea is brought out a bit more than last year's Wonder Woman. The little boy who grows up to be the villain sees the glow of a spaceship in the sky, the possibility of escape and the hope of a new world. Wakanda becomes a way to transform present day iniquities and right historic wrongs.

The best villains are those who have motives you can sympathise with. Andy Serkis is a cartoon in this film, but the revolutionary agenda of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is born out of a sense of righteous anger, which pickles into murderous resentment. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa has to walk the line between his cousin’s urge to overthrow and institute new empires, and his father’s desire to remain detached from the concerns of other countries – isolationism par excellence. Weirdly, by making Wakanda into a superpower, the film imposes on it many of the foreign policy responsibilities the United States takes on as the world’s policeman.

T’Challa’s dilemma is overlaid with a personal responsibility to a cousin abandoned by his father, and by his fatherland. The absent father is a common experience in the black community, which the film broadens out into a failure to express solidarity generally. Wakanda’s problems are partly of its own making.

These ambiguities are what make the film such an intriguing watch. T’Challa manages to quash Wakanda’s imperialistic turn, but also opens up the country through humanitarian outreach – there are aid programs but no military bases. Difficult questions (on foreign intervention, reparations, the legacy of slavery or the return of cultural artefacts) are referenced but remain unresolved. Then again, there’s only so many digressions a superhero film can sustain without becoming ponderous. Black Panther takes on some heavy ideas, but wears them all lightly. It’s a finely balanced piece of work, and yet more proof that Marvel Studios know exact what they are doing.