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Civil War Looks Like A Mess, But I See What You’re Going For

The trailer for Alex Garland's latest movie dropped, and based on his output I am pretty sure I know how this one is gonna go.

Jesse Plemons wearing some really tacky glasses with an assault rifle.

I think I can figure out what’s going down here. Credit: A24

Alex Garland is a known quantity: Sometimes what he does works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I know some Alex Garland shit when I see it. Civil War is some Alex Garland shit. Depending on which Garland we get, it’s going to range from “bad” to “pretty sick if you don’t think about it too much!” And if it is halfway decent, I will be eating that garbage.

If you are not familiar with Garland’s career, he is a British novelist turned screenwriter turned producer/director. His first novel was The Beach, which was eventually adapted into a movie by Danny Boyle. It’s pretty fun but also not very smart. It has an unbelievably good soundtrack (Orbital AND Badalamenti? Oh mama). DiCaprio plays a jaded tourist who finds a secret, pristine island in Thailand with a commune of other jaded tourists. The intentional community has a detente with the local Thai weed-growing farmers that they will mind their own business and keep the island discreet, and in exchange the westerners have a sick lifestyle. 

A bunch of British Tourists.
The Beach depicts tourists as a Cancer that eat everything. Correct! Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Though The Beach is wildly lumpy and has aged tremendously poorly in parts, there is a seed of something biting and satisfying about it, a throughline of everything Garland’s ever touched. After living on an idyllic island (with Tilda Swinton no less!) Dicaprio’s character returns to the mainland for supplies and is exposed to the grotesque, throbbing mass of tourists he left. He’s disgusted and vows to return to his paradise, and do anything to prevent them from taking over his island. Despite it descending nonsensically into Lad of the Flies, that part rules! He’s right! Tourists are scum. That’s classico Garland. It’s a theme made tremendously ironic by the fact that the titular beach of Maya Bay on the island of Ko Phi Phi Le was bulldozed, landscaped and littered on in the process of making the movie, causing a lawsuit that dragged on forever and inviting a scourge of the very same parasitic tourists that DiCaprio’s character was disgusted by

Annihilation rocks even if it's uneven. Credit: Paramount Pictures

And while “The Beach" was Boyle’s film and only Garland’s novel, in it you can see the contours of the rest of Garland’s career.  He would go on to pen the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine with Boyle, two good movies with debatable degrees of success and fantastic soundtracks that are probably more influential than the movies themselves. He wrote Dredd, which kicks tremendous ass precisely because it is an R rated hyper violent movie that limits its scope to a single building and a single day. Eventually he would take a directing turn of his own with Ex Machina and Annihilation, the latter of which has some lamentable dialogue but an unreal soundtrack and some of the hardest acid imagery ever put on screen. He also did Men, which everyone kinda hated. Can’t win ‘em all!

This part is so sick.

I would be remiss as a games writer if I did not mention two of the biggest “I see what you were going for” moments in Garland’s career, namely Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and DmC: Devil May Cry – both of which Garland co-wrote. Despite both being kinda huge messes, they rule in their own way. There’s that huge boss fight in DmC where you break into a television world, platforming on the flying right wing news graphics and fight a bloated Fox News style anchor’s head like he’s the MCP from Tron. I can’t say it’s good, but c’mon, that rules.

Oh c'mon. Credit: A24

This brings us back to the latest trailer from the twisted mind of Garland, Civil War. I can see the outline of Garland’s brain all laid out. Hell, the poster alone will hit you like a cement truck, screaming “Get it? Don’t you get it!?” And that’s fine, you know? 

In the trailer, we see a near future America, torn apart, with California and Texas having seceded (Together? Alright) from the States. At one point Wagner Moura’s character asks an indifferent shopkeeper, “Are you guys aware there’s like a pretty huge civil war going on, all across America?” Looking over her book, the shopkeeper says dryly with an up inflection, “We just try to stay out. With what we see on the news, it seems like it’s for the best.” You see a bunch of war shit. Jesse Plemons is racist in a pair of very silly sunglasses.

There’s a lot to like here! I will never say no to Kirsten Dunst and especially Jesse Plemons, who looks particularly goofy and terrifying in this. I remember really liking Wagner Moura in Elite Squad but haven’t seen that movie in ages. Stephen McKinley Henderson rules (Thufir Hawat, my favorite part of Dune!). Nick Offerman as a president greenlighting the decimation of half the country is conceptually very funny, the most Reddit-ten-years ago president turned into a horrible war criminal. And Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury are doing the music, which means it’s probably going to rule in the same way the Annihilation soundtrack did.

Will it be subtle? Oh Christ no. But I know what I am going to get: Kinda bad dialogue that’s bleakly funny sometimes! Ham-fisted sorta liberal-leaning social commentary about the growing fascism of the United States! Some tremendously sick explosions! One or two really good scenes that sing in an overall pretty uneven movie. Will the ending totally fall apart? Very probably! Maybe I’m wrong and this is Garland's masterpiece, but I have consumed enough of this man’s creative output to know what I’m in for: a pretty OK, British Gen X take on the state of an increasingly reactionary America with some tremendously sick parts.

I’m sure it’ll be, like, fine.

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