Annihilation was one of the movies I was really looking forward to, this year, and I wasn’t disappointed by it. Visually striking and beautiful, which is perhaps to be expected from director Alex Garland. Also thoughtful, interesting and full of characters that are largely better developed than I would expect, given the number of them.

Five different women with their own idiosyncrasies and their own voices travel through a dream-like reality and carry us with them on their journey. As I told a friend just before I saw it, Annihilation is a woman-led ensemble action scifi horror movie, and is therefore what I would like to pump directly into my veins to wake up every morning and keep myself vital.

I know that there were questions of whitewashing the movie. Other people have discussed that with more depth of knowledge than I could. It does, however star five women of different ages, all of whom are portrayed with their own strengths and weaknesses, most of them are scientists. None are sexualized outside of the snippets of actual sex scenes we see Natalie Portman’s character in, and those are well-placed in an emotional context.

So: problematic, yes. But I enjoyed it anyway. I liked seeing women as strong and as intellectual on the screen. I liked seeing them get to be emotional and seeing the ways they dealt with those emotions.

In its treatment of women it was a nice change from the only other of Garland’s films I’ve seen so far, Ex Machina. That bought hard into some deeply irritating sexist tropes. It may have been attempting commentary on them, but I’m not convinced it succeeded.

I keep thinking I should watch Ex Machina again, considering that, unlike the majority of movies I didn’t enjoy watching the first time, it has really stuck in my head and kept me thinking, which I believe is a point in its favor. However, there are so many things on my to-watch list, I don’t know when I’ll be able to make that happen.

But I digress.

Like in Ex Machina, setting is like an additional character in the film, driving the plot forward in the way that setting rarely does. I got a very palpable sense of the the landscape our characters ranged through. And that landscape developed throughout the film, carrying the film’s themes of creative destruction and transformational journeys within itself as well as passing it on to the people moving through it.

It is deeply a science fiction movie, full of ideas and lines of thought that raise many more questions than they answer. The plot doesn’t fully resolve at the end of the film. I don’t know if that’s an artistic choice or because Garland is planning to adapt the other two novels in Jeff VanderMeer’s southern reach trilogy  into films as well. After seeing this one, I hope he does. And I’d like to read the novels themselves, though I understand there are lots of differences between the screen version and the original written one (as there almost always are).

Annihilation is a rich tapestry, with a lot to take in. More, I suspect, than can be absorbed in one viewing. I certainly would be open to repeat watchings to try to take in more of its layers.

It is also very definitely a horror film. Things that happen in the dream-like, ethereal landscape are in hard contrast to the landscape itself. The horrific things that happen (and how they happen) are frequently vital clues for our band of scientists on the screen, moving the plot forward with the information they bring.

In the film landscape, there have been a slate of Big Idea Scifi films over the past several years. And I am in love with them. In love, really with the whole new hard scifi film movement that brought us GravityArrivalInterstellar, and The Martian. I would definitely place Annihilation in this movement as well.

As much as I enjoy a good space opera (a fuckton, for the record) it’s nice to see some science fiction cinema that has a lot more intellectual depth and which sticks a little closer to home. It’s nice to see some bigger budgets invested in Idea Genre Fiction in general.  I hope we’re starting to get past the era of snobbery in which genre fiction isn’t taken as seriously as ‘realistic’ fiction.

All fiction that works deeply for the audience is based more in emotional truth than in factual reality. Science fiction and horror can bring us just as much emotional truth and deeply relevant themes as any random award-seeking biopic or Work of Art.

The upshot of all this is that I enjoyed Annihilation a lot. It was effective as both scifi and horror. It had lots of intellectual badass women characters. It’s beautiful and thoughtful and emotional — pretty meaty as an experience.

[This post contains one spoiler for Thor: Ragnarok.]

I saw Thor: Ragnarok this weekend and really enjoyed it. I’m not going to review it cause you already know whether you’re going to see it or not.

It did introduce one of my favorite concepts from the comics, though it did it more or less in passing and failed (as the movies often do) to explore or address the implications of it.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Bruce Banner finds he has been under and living as the Hulk for multiple years and he has this moment of deep fear. While he used to feel both he and Hulk each had a hand on the wheel, he said, he feels like this time “Hulk was in the driver’s seat and I was in the trunk.” The tension between Hulk and Banner having to share one body and having totally contrary needs, goals and pleasures is one of the things I find most fascinating about the character(s).

Bruce Banner from the movies saying 'I'm not even sure.'

Bruce Banner in Marvel comics is a bitter, bitter man (when he’s alive, which is a whole other discussion which we’ll sigh and file under “because comics”). He resents the Hulk for taking huge swaths of his life. He fears the return of the Hulk as this force in himself he can’t control or make decisions about.

comic panel from Indestructible Hulk
Bruce Banner speaking to Maria Hill in issue one of “Indestructible Hulk”

It’s a really excellent metaphor for living with a mental illness. Mark Waid, the writer of some of my favorite Hulk stories explicitely compares it to managing a chronic health condition. If you can’t kill it, you have to find a way to live with it as best as possible.

Panel from issue one of Indestructible Hulk

One of the things I hate the most about my depression is the time and energy it steals from me. I think about where I could have been and what I could have achieved if I wasn’t constantly battling with this force inside of me that tries to make my decisions.

It’s a chronic thing I have to manage and figure out how to live with. There have been times it takes up so many resources I feel like the only thing I’m getting done is staying alive. It’s demoralizing.

Bruce Banner spent decades in the comics universe trying to figure out how to get rid of the Hulk. He evenutally realizes it’s not possible and starts to try to figure out how to manage it. And to manage his condition, he seeks help. He knows he can’t do it alone. The Hulk, by definition, is out of his control.

That doesn’t mean he has to be outside all control.

I mean, the metaphor does break down. I only wish my depression gave me near-invincibility and near-infinite strength as powers instead of “has to berate myself for 45 minutes to get out of bed” or “doesn’t think I deserve to eat” powers.

But even one of the ten smartest people in the Marvel universe knows you can’t go it alone.