The lion-dragons of Babylon: “Manticore”

February 28, 2012

Well, it looks like the military phase of our misadventure in Iraq is pretty much at an end, so what better time than to look at Manticore, a movie set in the desert warzone in the early part of the war when we were still looking for WMDs. The political and diplomatic ramifications of failing to find those weapons, weighs heavily upon the action of this film, and the desperation to find something—anything—to justify the war casts a heavy pall over what is ultimately a tragic military confrontation. PSYCHE! Ha! I’m just screwing with you. No, this is a cheapo monster movie featuring the dude from Star Trek, the chick from The Blair Witch Project, and a bad CGI lion-dragon.

Well, the first part of that description is accurate: the movie follows a small, weirdly co-ed army unit whose mission is indeed to find WMDs. Actually, that’s sort of in the background. When we meet them they’re busting dudes who’ve stolen artifacts from the museums in Baghdad. The Sergeant, played by Robert Beltran of Star Trek: Voyager (the one with the soccer mom running the ship, and also this). His unit consists of a bunch of fairly generic dudes and, inexplicably, a woman named Kinks (Heather Donahue from Blair Witch).

Nothing in this picture makes sense.

We got a long windup introducing us to some Iraqis thieves who speak in English all the time. These guys get their paws on a special amulet which they take to a cult in the desert which then uses it to bring forth a monster that eats our two luckless, English-speaking Iraqis. There, I saved you, like twenty minutes of screen time right there.

So, Sarge and company get sent on a special assignment to go after a news crew that’s following a hot tip on WMDs in a small town “on the border.” They head up there, but get ambushed by a dying dude in a trashed car along the way. They light up the car and the guy inside, but in the process one of them gets picked off by the monster. Of course it’s still early in the film, so no one quite sees it, despite it being broad daylight and fairly open terrain.

Still, it's got to be better than acting opposite Kate Mulgrew...

They get to the town, but find it mostly populated by disemboweled corpses. Weird, right? But a little kid brings them to a safe house with some survivors and the news crew. Okay, crew might be a little generous. It’s just a cameraman and a reporter. But, hey, the reporter is played by Chase Masterson (mmm…Chase Masterson…she’s girlfriend material). Anyway, they’re holed up hiding from the beast that the kid identifies as Manticore, a mythical lion-dragon beast that has, apparently, emerged from the caves to eat everyone. Oh, and it’s unstoppable. And unbeknownst to them, the cult leader who brought forth the Manticore is hiding amongst the survivors. He has the amulet that protects him from the beast, so he’s sitting pretty.

Oh. My. God. Marry me!

Okay, so the rest kind of goes like you’d expect with the Manticore gobbling people down one or two at a time, and the soldiers learning time and time again that their guns aren’t terribly helpful against mythical beasts (Rumsfeld gets a pass on that one, I guess). Ultimately, they decide to call in an airstrike, which levels just about everything except the Manticore, and Sarge, who used himself as bait (heavy ordinance doesn’t do shit in this movie).

Well, eventually, the cult leader is exposed and kills a couple people, but loses his medallion and gets well and truly Manticored. But not before he spills that the only way to kill the beast is for it to see another Manticore. Problem is, there aren’t any, so they go plan B. Plan B is kind of a wash, but Plan C is showing the thing its image on the cameraman’s digital camera, and it turns to stone. Then they blow it up with a grenade—the only explosive that damages anything in this movie.

Nice kitty...nice winged monster kitty...

Yeah, this is a crappy movie. Sure it’s got a stupid plot, buy beyond that it knows nothing about the military. These guys all wear uniforms from the 1990s (and not the standard ACUs) and carry old M-16A2s. If I didn’t know better, I’d think it took place during Desert Storm, not OIF. I mean, c’mon, how hard is it to get these details right when  you can watch them on Youtube? What else we got? Here, I have a list:

* Aside from wrong uniforms and guns, they’re wearing swimming goggles. On top of that, they wear little suspenders on their kit (I kid you not), and have no plates in their vests, as one guy gets stabbed through it. Jesus, filmmakers, you can’t read a Galls catalog?

* When they come under fire by insurgents, Sarge shouts “Weapons hot!” No shit? As opposed to what? Download?

* The town id described as “Near Babylon…on the border.” Problem is, Babylon is in south CENTRAL Iraq. Trust me on this one.

* The airstrike is carried out by a Stealth fighter, and not, say, a pair of Apache gunships, which the Army would actually have at their disposal.

* In one scene, a Black Hawk flies in to extract the team, but the Manticore has somehow gotten into the helo. It kills the pilot, and the thing crashes in front of the expectant group. One dude promptly freaks out. Yeah, filmmakers, Aliens really was a great movie.

* Heather Donahue’s not a bad actress. Pity she gave up acting to start a pot farm.

* One dude wants to shoot video of the bodies for Faces of Death. Um…did we invade Iraq in the mid ‘80s too? Who the hell has watched Faces of Death in the past 20 years?

* The Manticore pounces on one dude, who empties his Beretta into it. Then he throws the gun at it! What? Reloading was so hard? Dude, you’re gonna effing die!

* They kill off Chase Masterson…man, what a waste. She’s so witty and hot and wrote funny articles for Sci-Fi Universe. She’s girlfriend material. Did I say that already?

* Sadly, we never find out the origin of Kinks’s nickname. I like to think it involved a Batgirl costume and a slinky (don’t judge me, you were thinking the same thing).

* Before he films Manticore and kills it, Sarge snarls “Smile, you sonofabitch!” Yeah, Jaws really was a great movie.

* Man, that sucked.

Okay, so apparently the Manticore does exist, but it was a Persian deity, and if you have the slightest geographical knowledge, then you know that Babylon and Persia are two different things. If the movie makers wanted a Babylonian monster they should have gone with Marduk. He was a Babylonian deity, often symbolized by a snake/dragon figure. He shows up all over Babil Province, where Babylon once stood and even in the ancient ruins themselves. There’s a great monster movie waiting to be made about Marduk, Sci-Fi Channel.  You’re welcome. E-mail me and I’ll tell you where to send the check.

Stick with me kid and I'll make you a star.

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