In the Babylon 5 film “A Call to Arms,” this is ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of warfare, terrorism, genocide, consent, and racism.
Oh my god, this was SO GOOD??? I have one complaint that I’ll open with so I can spend the rest of the review gushing, but WOW. I was not ready for how suspenseful and emotional this film was going to be. The previous two I saw were fine, and while this doesn’t really work as a standalone movie either, it’s a lot closer to that. There is a conclusion, but it’s one that rips open a whole new storyline, one that might be covered in Crusade? I DON’T KNOW! I still have no clue if this film or “The Legend of the Rangers” is what spawned the spin-off show, and I’m glad I don’t know. It’s more fun this way! Anyway, there’s so much to discuss here, so let me start off with some criticism.
I realize that the nature of television production and film production means that some things make it to screen without an intent. In this case, it’s entirely possible that JMS wrote Anderson’s characterization and arc before he ever knew that Tony Todd was a part of this. That’s why it is important to talk about unintended use of stereotypes or tropes because… well, it’s just a reality of this medium. So, if we assume the best case scenario here, that means Anderson was always designed to sacrifice himself to save Earth. It’s a noble story, of course, and one that fits in neatly with his origin story. Anderson did not side with Sheridan during the civil war with Earth, and his guilt is what compelled him to go AWOL to help Sheridan this time. But we can’t ignore that these four people—the Drazi, Dureena, Sheridan, and Anderson—were deliberately drawn into this because Galen, a technomage, felt each possessed a quality that would help this mission. We know why Sheridan was a part of this, and Dureena’s abilities as a thief end up being important. The unnamed Drazi was the first to believe Galen and the first to make it to Daltron 7, verifying what Galen and the technomages suspected. So… what was Anderson here for? Was it because he had a family back home? Was it because of his guilt? Did Galen figure that of all people, he would be most willing to do what was absolutely necessary to win the fight against the Drakh?
Even if that’s the case, there’s still the unintentional optic: one of the series’ only Black men sacrifices himself to save everyone else. I know I didn’t say much about this until the end of the show’s run, but Babylon 5 is a very white-casted show, so when a person of color dies, it stands more than it might otherwise. Plus, it’s a very well known trope that in horror/suspense films, the Black character dies first. Soooooo! This was the one thing in this whole film that completely took me out of the narrative. And like, I get it from a story perspective, since Anderson was set up as the character who made the wrong moral choice during the civil war. But it just isn’t a good look in execution, you know?
So, while I see that as a major flaw in the film from a personal standpoint, I felt that this was the strongest of the post-Babylon 5 films. Easily! It certainly helped that this felt like a story that was deliberately dedicated to those of us who had seen all of the television show. It is so deeply reliant on five years’ worth of storytelling. I imagine that if you happened to catch this on TNT without having seen any of the show, it must have been confusing to an extent. There’s enough background info here to suggest the greater story that played out before this, but it still operates so that the viewer should have an understanding of a lot of things: the coming of the Shadow War (and the fact that the Technomages just up and left the universe to avoid being used); the Shadow War itself; the destruction of Z’ha’dum; the propaganda war that President Clark waged against Sheridan; Sheridan’s history of being a key piece for numerous universe-changing events; the Drakh war and the Centauri involvement in it; the Telepath War; I COULD LITERALLY KEEP GOING FOR A WHILE, Y’ALL. Because of this, the script for this film doesn’t spend a whole lot of time explaining things to the audience; we’re just supposed to know. Thus, there’s far more spent on exploring the mystery at hand:
Why have the Technomages reached out to four people across space to warn them of a disaster?
UGH, so much of Babylon 5 as a whole examines complicity. Who is responsible for what? What things are we to be held accountable for—either by others or ourselves? Near the start of the second season, the Technomages appeared on Babylon 5, Londo fucked everything up, and then they disappeared, headed off to some unknown place to avoid a conflict. WHICH I NOW KNOW WHAT THAT IS. Oh my god, and this film directly addresses that: the Technomages didn’t help during the last conflict, so how can they just sit around, knowing what they know? And in this is a direct parallel to Anderson’s journey, which makes it all the stranger that we don’t really learn what was in the dream Galen sent Anderson. Did Galen address the guilt that Anderson had? Did Anderson see himself in Galen or vice versa? Either way: COMPLICITY. The Technomages escaped to beyond the Rim so they would not be exploited in the Shadow War. But what if they’d intervened? How many lives could have been saved? That’s exactly why the Technomages decide that inaction is no longer advised. They can’t just sit around and do nothing! At the same time, it was realistic that even though they’d decided to get involved, they were still reluctant. The other mages aren’t keen on Sheridan being invited to meetings of the Circle, and they are certainly not as aggressive as Galen was. Ugh, y’all, is this the prequel or set-up to Crusade??? Because lord, I would absolutely love to see more of Galen and the other Technomages, but I have no idea if I’m going to get that.
As I mentioned before, this films seems to intentionally draw attention to the fact that over the course of the show, Sheridan was often at the center of some weird, mystical nonsense. Which turned out not to be nonsense at all!!! But I feel like half of the exasperation we see from Lochley and Garibaldi is because they both know that this shit seems to follow Sheridan ALL THE TIME. In Garibaldi’s case, that was a source of significant friction in season four, though I don’t want to ignore that Bester forced the issue to the forefront through his manipulation of Garibaldi and his violation of Garibaldi’s consent. And I also felt like this was slightly in conversation with Lochley’s take on matters concerning the station, particularly in light of “The River of Souls.” She’s just trying to run a normal station! Why do these two characters keep bringing CHAOS to Babylon 5? Can’t they just leave her alone? POOR LOCHLEY.
Anyway, I love that the main reason why Sheridan gets roped into this isn’t because of a special ability, or because he was destined to help out, or even because he’s the president of the Alliance. No, Galen’s justification is rather simple: Because Sheridan is curious. Who else is as captivated by a mystery and as dedicated to solving it as Sheridan? It’s such a deceptively simple reason, but you know what? I love it. A LOT. Sheridan doesn’t get involved because of some grand scheme; he does it because he’s intrigued and because he’s always ready to do what he sees as the moral thing. When Galen warns him about the tests and the destruction of a world, Sheridan doesn’t have to be convinced that this an injustice. He also didn’t take that much convincing, you know? So much weird shit has happened to Sheridan that his threshold for weird shit is pretty low. So he was the perfect person to enlist, at least from Galen’s perspective.
And once he does become enlisted, he’s tenacious. That quality is important, too. Dureena’s involvement has a more personal angle that is unique to her: the Shadow’s planetkiller was used on her world once, and she is apparently the last of her kind. She has the anger of a character like G’Kar, for instance, someone who had to deal with genocide and surviving it. (Obviously from a different context.) So her role here makes a ton of sense because she wants to avenge what was done to her world. And what better way than to determine who used the planetkiller and to destroy it?
The Drakh Threat
I think a second watch of this series would also help me piece together the Drakh timeline. I don’t disagree with my assertion that I didn’t actually need the show to fill in all the pieces of the Drakh War. There’s enough here to assemble a fairly damning portrait. So I’m assuming, then, that no one ever figured out that the Drakh controlled people through Keepers; they just needed to know that they were responsible for setting up Centauri Prime to fall. But this would still be a significant development! The Alliance knew of the Drakh’s involvement because of who controlled the ships that attacked Alliance shipping lines. This was just the next step, but the target changed. The Drakh didn’t need to annihilate the Centauri anymore; they’d already done that. And that Drakh we saw at the end of season five did say that they were willing to wait a long time to enact their revenge.
Which is exactly what this film is. Except now, the target is Earth, and this is all a retaliation for the destruction of Z’ha’dum and the dispersement of the Shadows. Y’all, I still can’t get over how fulfilling it is that practically every action committed by the people on this show has lasting ramifications that are almost always dealt with in the universe. So, given the context for this Drakh attack, I knew that the stakes were already high, but GODS BLESS the suspense of this entire film. I was riveted by the action; I know that the whole main guns thing is LITERALLY there to make things more thrilling, and I DON’T CARE. A gun that makes your whole ship have to recharge for a full minute and you’re totally vulnerable? Oh, I’m sure it makes no sense, but GOD. What a clever way to inject suspense and build up to that moment where Anderson and Sheridan have to TAKE TURNS against the planetkiller! And then Sheridan’s shot MISSES?!?!? OH MY GOD. WHY IS THIS MOVIE LIKE THIS.
Poisoning the Well
I can tell all of you with 100% certainty that I expected Sheridan to win and all would be well. I absolutely did not, in any known or unknown universe, expect what the Drakh did at the end. It is a horrifying conclusion to this battle, and I was in shock until the credits rolled. We do get some closure, sure, and this is still a story on it’s own. But it’s also a set-up to a terrifying future: there’s a virus in earth’s atmosphere that is delayed by up to five years. At some point, a plague will wipe out everyone trapped on Earth. EVERY. ONE. The Drakh always aimed to commit genocide, but here, they do so out of pure spite. And that’s THE END OF THE MOVIE!!! The Excalibur will be sent out to find a cure, but THAT’S IT. That’s what I’m left with, and if Crusade doesn’t deal with this, I will personally get revenge on ALL OF YOU.
The video for “A Call To Arms” can be downloaded here for $1.99.
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